Saturday, February 23, 2013
The Faculty Lounge: Loosening the ABA's Grip on Law Schools, by David Yellen (Dean, Loyola-Chicago):
The ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools establish
the basic framework within which almost all law schools operate. Many
aspects of the Standards are appropriate and unobjectionable. However,
in too many respects the Standards operate as a significant impediment
to the kind of experimentation and change that is needed in legal
One problem is that the Standards are too law faculty-centric. They
reflect too much of what deans and professors think legal education should
be, rather than what is truly necessary to ensure quality. To some
extent, this is probably an inevitable consequence of self-regulation.
However, the Standards are more protective of faculty prerogatives than
the rules of any other accreditor.
For example, the Standards require that full time faculty teach
substantially all of the first-year curriculum and a "major portion" of
the entire curriculum. Although the language of the rules is murky,
there is an expectation that a large percentage of the faculty will be
on tenure-track or have long term contracts. Every school must have a
scholarly mission and devote resources to that undertaking. To give you
one of my favorite examples, when I was on the Standards Review
Committee, I was thoroughly rebuffed in my effort to have removed from a
draft standard a requirement that each full time faculty member have an
individual office. Office sharing exists throughout the economy
today. Do law professors really have a right to insist on an individual
office as a precondition for a school's existence? ...
Another path to reform might be drawn from the charter school movement.
Charter schools receive significant relief from regulatory rules in
exchange for being closely evaluated based upon a set of agreed-upon
goals. The ABA Standards have an infrequently used (and
nontransparent) variance mechanism. The Section should consider
allowing a small number of existing or newly created schools to propose a
detailed plan for operating a quality law school without being governed
by many of the more onerous Standards. The success or failure of these
schools could be monitored and studied, and sensible reforms to the
Standards could emerge.