Marc Miller.
Marc Miller. (Photo: Melissa Haun)

Deans from a majority of the country’s law schools are urging the Law School Admission Council not to eject the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law from its membership for using both the LSAT and the GRE in admissions—a new initiative the school unveiled in February.

In a letter to council president Daniel Bernstine, 149 law deans on May 3 expressed “great concern over LSAC’s threat to expel the University of Arizona Law School because it experimented with using the GRE as a small part of its admissions process.” The letter went on to say that experimentation benefits all law schools.

The council’s board of trustees informed the Tucson law school in early April that it will discuss whether its use of the GRE violates the council bylaw that requires “substantially all” applicants to member schools take the Law School Admission Test, which the council administers. The board is scheduled to take the matter up Friday.

Losing its council membership could shut Arizona out of the key admissions programs it administers, such as the Credential Assembly Service that allows prospective students to easily apply to multiple schools.

Wendy Margolis, spokeswoman for the LSAC, said in a written statement that the deans are misunderstanding the council’s actions. She said the board is seeking clarification on the school’s new policy, which it only learned of through news reports. “To characterize this as a ‘threat’ is unfortunate,” she said.

But Arizona law dean Marc Miller said Thursday that anyone reading the council’s April 4 letter to him stating the board will consider “whether the [law school] is eligible to continue to be a member” would reach a different conclusion.

The council’s membership is made up of American Bar Association-accredited law schools, and the deans said they would request a special members meeting should the board move to oust Arizona.

“I don’t see how they can kick us out if a majority of members say, ‘Hey, don’t do this, and if you do, we’ll call our own meeting,’ ” Miller said.

The letter began circulating this week on a listserv for law deans, and quickly garnered support, said Loyola University Chicago School of Law David Yellen, who signed on and wrote a blog post on The Legal Whiteboard calling for the council to revoke the membership rule that requires the LSAT.

“I would be shocked if the letter doesn’t have a big impact,” Yellen said Thursday. “The law schools are [the council]. Three-quarters have now said they oppose this action. I would be 100 percent shocked if they took any action against Arizona.”

Margolis said the council is paying attention to the dean’s input. “We can assure our members, and everyone in the law school community, that we are taking all perspectives into account as we consider these issues,” she said.

The ABA now requires law schools to use a “valid and reliable” test in admissions, and law school must demonstrate the reliability of any alternatives to the LSAT. Yellen said he hopes the backlash from the deans will serve as a catalyst for the ABA to remove its LSAT requirement on the grounds that it’s not the role of the ABA as an accreditor to mandate how schools admit students and that it should instead focus on student outcomes. No other accreditors of professional programs require specific admissions exams, he said.

Miller said he was “thrilled” by overwhelming response from his dean colleagues. “I couldn’t have known how broad the support would be,” he said. “It feels great. We want to work with [the council] and everyone else. We all face similar challenges and we’re all engaged in a profession that’s going through a lot of changes.”

Arizona became the first law school to accept GRE scores from applicants, after a study showed those scores were even more effective than the LSAT, when coupled with undergraduate grades, in predicting success in the first year of law school. The University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law and Wake Forest University School of Law have said they are conducting similar studies.

Accepting the GRE is intended to expand Arizona’s applicant pool and remove hurdles for applicants. Unlike the LSAT, which is administered four times a year, people can take the GRE year round.

The school hasn’t been inundated with GRE takers yet. Just 35 of its 1,300 applicants this year submitted GRE scores.

Law schools nationwide have seen a 38 percent decline in applicants over the past five years, and the number of LSAT takers fell the same percentage over that period, according to the council.

“I think the [council] is in a tough spot here given the rule that’s on the books, but I think it’s a terrible rule,” Yellen said. “It should be repealed. I don’t see how that policy furthers the interest of legal education.”

Miller said he hopes the conversation will turn from Arizona’s council membership status to what the research shows about the usefulness of the GRE in evaluating potential law students.

The deans’ letter is posted below.