Regular readers of this blog know that the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education, which is responsible for establishing accreditation standards for American law schools, has been under attack on a variety of fronts. First, last Winter the Council pushed through hastily- and ill-considered "diversity" standards, that invited law schools to both violate the law and to admit students unlikely to succeed in law school and on the bar. Second, the American Law Deans Association, led primarily by deans of the more "academic" law schools, has criticized the ABA's micromanaging of law schools, such as its insistence that librarians, clinical faculty, and legal writing faculty receive tenure or job security akin to tenure. Finally, legal education innovators such as the Massachusetts School of Law accuse the Council of using accreditation standards to prevent upstarts from finding ways to lower the cost of legal education, at the expense of bloated law school bureaucracy and underworked professors.
However, judging by a story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the Council may be dismissing much of this criticism as simply "payback" for the ABA's stands against Bush Administration policy.
William R. Rakes, chairman of the accrediting council, told the Education Department panel that he was now suffering for many of the public stands that the bar association has taken in opposition to the Bush administration.
"I am aware there have been disagreements with the administration over judicial appointments and certain administration policies," said Mr. Rakes, a lawyer in Roanoke, Va. He pointed out, however, that the bar has no oversight of his council, "and we have no input into the public positions they take."
Mr. Rakes has made a lot of impressive noises about improving the accreditation process, and indeed potentially reconceiving it from scratch. I therefore sincerely hope this statement, which was obviously taken out of a much longer series of remarks, does not reflect his general attitude toward the criticism the Council has received.
Because I've written on the subject, I've heard many complaints about the ABA's accreditation standards from deans, professors, and others, and I've never heard any of the critics relating their position in any way to the ABA's political stances on separate, unrelated matters outside the Council's purview. Playing the political martyr card, if that's what Rakes indeed did, may or may not be good political strategy, but it certainly won't clean up the mess the Council on Legal Education has made of the accreditation process.