Quite Moving but Frightening Testimony at AALS Conference

I write from the Hilton Hotel in New York City where the American Association of Law School annual conference has just ended.   The most memorable and riveting session I attended was the ABA panel presentation on proposed revisions to accreditation standards,   I knew full well that this would be an intense session and blogged about the dangers of these proposed revisions earlier in the year  here. .  The proposed revisions will change dramatically what I consider an essential facet of legal education:   the ability to acknowledge, discuss, debate, theorize,and write about  issues that are unpopular.  It will also prevent law faculty from teaching about and working with students representing clients on issues which are unpopular.   I knew this discussion would be intense but I was not prepared for  the stories of our brave peers in the academy which reinforced for me the fundamental importance of academic freedom supported by tenure or security of position.

One professor who self-identified as a female American who is Muslim reported  that she received death threats at work for appearing at a Department of Justice panel on National Security and Muslim issues.   She noted that without tenure and academic freedom, she would be at risk for firing for doing no more than accurately describing the national security legal issues.  She also eloquently explained that as a young, female professor of Muslim religious and cultural identity, she was vulnerable for receiving student pushback and bias for her assuming the position of power and authority over students.  Without academic freedom secured by tenure,  she would fear student bias in evaluations or impressions which could threaten her job security because of her Muslim identity.   A white woman who  taught at a religious school in the deep south,  movingly described her experiences. Without academic freedom supported by tenure, she found that  just raising legitimate legal issues and cases regarding property, same sex marriage, second amendment law, domestic violence or other issues could put her at risk of losing her job.  Had she not been supported by a tenure system which requires “cause” not popularity as measured by teaching evaluations or other factors, her personal and financial incentive would encourage her to avoid  teaching  important legal questions  for fear of back”pushback” .  Professor Terry Smith of Depaul College of Law presented remarks on behalf of the minority law professors section whose members attended in great numbers.  I share with you  his statement here (ABA Statement 1 4 13 ) Another member of the minority law professors section, Professor Anthony Farley,  cautioned that these issues are not “speculative” and spoke about ongoing attacks on academic  freedom, faculty governance, tenure and security of position at a particular school.  Other faculty members discussed how its hard to teach constitutional law in this country without mentioning race but that faculty who do not have security of position will find it difficult because when race is mentioned in a classroom, faculty inevitably suffer in teaching evaluations by students who are uncomfortable talking about race.

Professor Kate Kruse, past president of the Clinical Legal Education Section  noted that for many clinicians academic freedom has only been made real by the current ABA  standard 405 (c) and the  proposed revisions make no attempt to provide a “safe harbor” for the majority of clinicians and legal writing professors who also need to enjoy academic freedom.  There was some discussion by panelists and audience members about an earlier proposal which would have eliminated the hierarchical status types among faculty and questions about why that proposal was never presented for notice and comment.  See earlier blog discussion of the proposals. Past President of the AALS Clinical Section and Fordham Law’s Professor Elizabeth Cooper noted how tenured clinicians are  often asked by untenured  clinical colleagues to make points at public meetings that they are unable to make for fear of impact on their continued employment.

Members of the panel thanked those who testified for good reminders about the negative and practical consequences of these revisions. The Chair of the Council on Legal Education, attended and wanted the audience members to know that he had listened carefully to the concerns.  Past President of the AALS, Professor Leo Martinez and panel members urged  all interested parties to submit written  comments about this controversial proposed revisions on the ABA website found here.

ABA COUNCIL CALLS FOR NOTICE AND COMMENT ON PROPOSED CHANGES TO LEGAL EDUCATION

The ABA Council on Legal Education posted for Notice and Comment significant changes to the accreditation standards relating to the program of legal education, mandatory institution of an outcomes and assessment regime, and the status of and retention of faculty. Many of these proposed changes have been discussed in earlier posts in this BLOG for going on four years. I have copied here the memorandum discussing the notice and comment. WHAT SAY OUR READERS???

MEMORANDUM

TO: Interested Persons and Entities

FROM: The Hon. Solomon Oliver, Jr., Council Chairperson
Barry A. Currier, Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education

DATE: September 6, 2013

SUBJECT: Comprehensive Review of the ABA Standards for Approval of Law School Matters for Notice and Comment

At its meeting held on August 8-9, 2013, the Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar approved for Notice and Comment proposed revisions to Chapter 1 [General Purposes and Practices], Chapter 3 [Program of Legal Education], Chapter 4 [The Faculty], Standard 203(b) [Dean], and Standard 603(d) [Director of the Law Library] of the ABA Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools.

The Standards Review Committee of the Section has been conducting a comprehensive review of the Standards. As part of that review, the Committee considered multiple drafts and received informal comments from many interested persons and entities.

The proposed revisions and accompanying explanations are attached below and published on the Section’s website:

http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/notice_and_comment.html.

We solicit and encourage written comments on the proposed changes by letter or e-mail. Written comments should be submitted no later than Friday, January 31, 2014.

Hearings on these proposed changes are scheduled for October 2013 and February 2014 (details below). Both hearings will be held at the American Bar Association, 321 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60654.

October 21-22, 2013
Monday, October 21st, 1 p.m.
Tuesday, October 22nd, 9 a.m.

February 5-6, 2014
Wednesday, February 5th, 1 p.m.
Thursday, February 6th, 9 a.m.

Please address written comments on the proposal and requests to speak at the hearing to JR Clark, jr.clark@americanbar.org.

Thank you.

Barry A. Currier
Managing Director of Accreditation and Legal Education
Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
American Bar Association
321 N. Clark Street, 21st Floor
Chicago, IL 60654-7958

Democratization of higher education

In March 2012 I delivered a talk at TEDxVillanovaU about The Future of Higher Education, in which I spoke about how online learning can bring about a democratization of higher education.  Renee Knake of Michigan State has taken the idea further and applies it to legal education in her forthcoming article, Democratizing Legal Education.  Elizabeth Chambliss talks about the article, here.  

What do you think?  It is possible to democratize information about law and legal systems?  What are the barriers?  Who will be the gatekeepers?  What groups would want to see it happen and would they be willing to fund it?

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