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A colleague, Santa Clara University School of Law Dean Donald Polden said, called him the “Lord Voldemort of legal education.” Polden is chairman of an American Bar Association committee that is reviewing, and considering scrapping, what many assumed was a requirement that ABA-sanctioned law schools offer faculties the protection of tenure. During the 2011 annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools in San Francisco, Polden addressed a capacity crowd during a panel discussion on Thursday titled, “Can There Be Full Academic Freedom Without Tenure?” A spirited debate ensued among panelists and attendees about the role tenure plays in academic freedom and whether it should be required at U.S. law schools. “This is a topic of major importance and a topic that’s up in the air right now,” said Yale Law School Dean Robert Post, who moderated. The ABA’s law school accreditation committee, which started its work in 2008, has circulated a proposed draft of new accreditation standards that removes the word “tenure” from the text. It has interpreted the existing standard to mean that tenure never was a requirement for accreditation, as many legal academics believed. Rather, the committee has interpreted the standards to mean that accredited schools must have a stated policy regarding tenure or similar security of position. Despite the outcry of opposition, Polden said that little would change if the proposal were adopted into the accreditation standards. “The current draft does not preclude schools from having tenure,” he said. “Much like the current policy, it does not mandate it.” New York Law School Dean Richard Matasar said that existing law schools would not move away from tenure even if the proposed standard were adopted because they are so entrenched in that system. However, the proposal would open the door for new law schools to have the flexibility to take a different approach to staffing and develop lower-cost ways to deliver legal education, he said, noting that faculty salary represents between 45 percent and 50 percent of law school budgets. “What can we do to deliver the same quality with a lower cost structure?” he said. “I can’t imagine that we can’t have a new institution do things in a way that creates greater flexibility. The relationship between our job protection and the quality of legal education is a thesis that hasn’t been proved.” Matasar’s case was met with skepticism by the audience and fellow panelist Richard Neumann, a professor at Hofstra University School of Law, who argued that tenure is the key to academic freedom and the ability of faculty to research and teach without fear of retribution. He pointed to recent political and business pressure on law school clinics as examples of why academic freedom must be preserved through job protections. “Our business is controversy and disputes,” Neumann said. “We need job security more than some other fields.” Golden Gate University School of Law Dean Drucilla Stender agreed with Neumann that tenure is important for deans to be able to advocate strongly for their schools. “People believe that [the proposed standard] is just a power grab by deans,” she said.

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