On March 15th, 2010, AALS President H. Reese Hansen and Executive Director Susan Westerberger Prager submitted a letter to the ABA’s Standard Reviews Committee identifying their concern about proposed changes to the accreditation standards for law schools and announcing the formation of a special AALS Advisory Group chaired by GW Professor Thomas G. Morgan. Other members of the committee are listed in the letter which I will be posting at www.teachinglawstudents.com.
In my opinion, the AALS should be applauded for forming this Advisory Group and focusing on common concerns for all its member schools and their faculty. The AALS letter rightly notes that, as the ABA proposes to move to an learning outcomes- based framework, there is potential “in this period to change the standards in fundamental ways without first adequately developing a full understanding of the implications intended and unintended.” (March 15th letter). The AALS letter proceeds to specifically address the concern that security of position for fulltime faculty members could be at risk and to reaffirm the importance of a framework which depends on a “full time faculty dedicated to teaching and advancing knowledge about law and legal institutions where the faculty plays significant educational policy roles.”
Those of us who have urged legal education reform do want a full exploration of the intended and unintended consequences. For example, better use of adjuncts and practioners in educating law students does not mean that we should do away with a professional faculty whose primary and fulltime commitment is to legal education. Nor does a focus on an outcomes framework mean that inputs can ever be used to encourage results. In fact, there may be times when, in order to reach outcomes meaningfully, you need to mandate appropriate inputs. For example, it may be difficult or unrealistic to assess whether students have real and multiple opportunities to practice professional judgment and understand the nuances of professional identity without creating some input incentives for law schools to offer clinical experiences.
I am glad to see that the AALS has formed this Advisory Group and appointed a number of widely respected individuals to that group. We should all follow its work closely.
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