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Law school could lose standing

Jason D. Cox
Staff Writer

University of La Verne’s College of Law received news on May 1 that it was not recommended for full American Bar Association Accreditation approval.

Allen Easley, dean of the College of Law, received the disappointing news via a phone call from the ABA Accreditation Committee.

“It’s frustrating since we believe we are even stronger than we were when we appeared before the committee back in June last year,” Easley said.

The committee’s refusal to recommend the college for full approval does not affect its current provisional ABA approval. The college retains provisional approval through the end of June.

The college’s representatives will meet with the ABA Accreditation Council in Salt Lake City on June 11.

“We will appear before the council and we will present our case, and we should get full approval,” President Steve Morgan said. “We will address the shortcomings the ABA Predication Committee noticed and we will prove we’re in compliance with the standards.”

Morgan also said the group that will meet with the committee, which includes Easley and President-Select Devorah Lieberman, is prepared to present the programs that have been created to address the issues.

“We are being proactive and are making every effort to prove we deserve accreditation.”

In June 2010, the College of Law’s representatives appeared before the committee and the college received a recommendation for full ABA approval.

However, after receiving that recommendation, the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar deferred action on the college’s application for full approval. This was to allow the council to further investigate the college’s efforts to improve its first-time bar pass age rate, which in 2009 was only 34 percent.

The college’s 2010 first-time pass rate was 53 percent. The 2010 ultimate passage rate, the rate at which graduates eventually pass the exam, is 76 percent.

“We’ve done everything we can to improve and progress and to attract better students,” Easley said.

Another factor that may have influenced the committee’s decision is student diversity. According to a blog entry at thefacultylounge.org written by Dan Filler, Senior Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs, at Drexel University’s Earle Mack School of Law, ULV’s College of Law has maintained high levels of student diversity.

The 2010 ABA official guide shows that 31.4 percent of recent La Verne grads were members of minority groups.

One concern of groups such as the Society of American Law Teachers is that the strictness of the bar exam’s guidelines might deter schools from enrolling large numbers of non-traditional and minority students who would diversify the bench and bar.

“If the College of Law does not retain provisional accreditation, students may transfer which can have a serious budgetary consequence for the University,” Jonathan Reed, dean of the college of arts and sciences, said.

If the council chooses not grant full approval, they may instead extend the college’s provisional approval, which would grant ULV College of Law students the benefits of ABA approval as they graduate over the next 18 months.

Once provisional approval is regained, the college of law’s officials will continue in their efforts to gain full approval; a process likely to take no less than three years.

“We’re not going to quit if we are denied,” said Easley. “We will ask for an extension or go through the process to reapply for the provisional accreditation – it’s not a question of if we will become ABA approved, but when.”

“Over the last several years, the University has invested over $20 million in the law school,” Professor of Sociology Sharon K. Davis said. “We could have invested that money elsewhere, but the administration made the decision to go for the accreditation. And the faculty and staff have supported them in that.”

Measures are being taken to protect the students if this predicament ends badly for the college. Members of the administration at ULV and its College of Law are preparing financial models for potential enrollment decline.

The college will apply for California accreditation immediately. This will allow students who graduate after the ABA provisional approval has expired to take the California bar exam.

There are still several unresolved factors in this situation, but the administration is making every effort to convince the ABA council to make the right decision.

Jason D. Cox can be reached at jason.cox@laverne.edu.

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