December 22, 2011
Controversy Over the ABA Denying Provisional Accreditation to Duncan Law School
Duncan Law School of Lincoln Memorial University was recently featured in David Segal's Dec. 17, 2011 NYT article For Law Schools, a Price to Play the A.B.A.’s Way. In fact, the article opened and closed with comments from Duncan Law Dean Sydney Beckman.
Opening paragraphs from the article:
The library at the Duncan School of Law may look like nothing more than 4,000 hardbacks in a medium-size room, but it is actually a high-tech experiment in cost containment. Most of its resources are online, and staples like Wright & Miller’s Federal Practice and Procedure — $3,596 for the multivolume set — are not here.
“We have a core collection,” says Sydney Beckman, the school’s dean, “and if someone needs something else, we provide it.”
Duncan, which opened two years ago, has 187 enrollees, all of whom have wagered that this library — and everything else about the school — is up to scratch. Because before these students can practice in every state, Duncan needs the seal of approval of the American Bar Association, the government-anointed regulator of law schools.
That means complying with a long list of standards that shape the composition of the faculty, the library and dozens of other particulars. The basic blueprint was established by elite institutions more than a century ago, and according to critics, it all but prohibits the law-school equivalent of the Honda Civic — a low-cost model that delivers.
Closing paragraphs from the article:
On Dec. 2, Mr. Beckman and six colleagues from Duncan traveled to a hotel in San Juan, P.R., where the A.B.A. held its latest council meeting. The school had 15 minutes at a hearing to offer its arguments for provisional accreditation.
“This is just a pet peeve,” Mr. Beckman said last week, “but there is all this talk about the cost of legal education, and they make us fly to Puerto Rico and meet at the Ritz-Carlton?”
After his presentation, Mr. Beckman and others answered a number of questions, including a few about the job market for lawyers in east Tennessee. This bothered Mr. Beckman because, for antitrust reasons, employment prospects are not part of the A.B.A.’s standards. He pointed that out to the council.
“They didn’t really respond,” he says.
Nor did they hint at whether they would give Duncan a thumbs-up. In the past, law schools have learned a few days after their hearings. But since Dec. 2, there has been nothing. “The last thing we heard — and they didn’t mean this to be rude or anything — was at the end of the meeting in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Beckman says. “They said, 'You can let yourselves out.'“
A mere three days after the New York Times article, Duncan Law was informed that it was denied provisional accreditation by the ABA. Neither the ABA's public notice nor media inquires to the ABA provided an explanation for what certainly is a rare denial. However, in Duncan School of Law denied accreditation, NLJ's Karen Sloan reported the following:
Duncan dean Sydney Beckman said the council had identified problems with the academic credentials of the school's incoming students and the school's ability to provide academic support to those students. School administrators disagreed with those findings, said Beckman, who noted that the council's findings differed from those of the ABA site team that visited the campus.
"We demonstrated in that meeting that we clearly are in compliance with the standards," he said. "It doesn't appear that this decision was based on our compliance."
Do note the opening paragraph of the ABA's public notice (dated Dec. 20, 2011):
At its December 2-3, 2011 meeting, the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar of the American Bar Association denied the application for provisional ABA approval [by Duncan Law] ... Pursuant to ABA Internal Operating Practice 5 of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, this public memorandum is being issued within 24 hours of the time the School was notified of the Council’s decision.
Under ABA rules Duncan Law has 30 days to challenge the decision. Hopefully the school decides to do so. The denial of provisional accreditation will be stayed until the ABA's internal appeal process is completed.
In Revenge Is Best Served… Quickly: ABA DENIES Accreditation To School That Talked To The New York Times, ATL's Elie Mystal writes
I can’t believe I’m about to defend Duncan School of Law at Lincoln Memorial University, but can anybody remember the last time the ABA denied provisional accreditation? To anyone? For any reason or no reason at all?
The timing of this, three days after the New York Times published its article, creates the unmistakable impression that the ABA denied accreditation in retaliation for the school bitching to the Times. How tone deaf are the people who run the ABA?
"Whatever the merits, this certainly fits neatly into Segal's storyline," writes Dan Filler in his The Faculty Lounge blog post, Duncan Law School, Featured In New York Times, Denied Provisional Accreditation. [JH]
I'm guessing it's because someone's palm didn't receive enough grease...
-- Bret, more likely because someone didn't kiss ass, Bret. Joe
Posted by: bret | Dec 27, 2011 11:16:48 AM