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The American Bar Association committee reviewing law school accreditation standards is aiming for a fresh start after ruffling the feathers of legal educators. The Standards Review Committee — which has been taking a comprehensive look at the accreditation standards since 2008 — now has seven new members and a new chairman, Saint Louis University School of Law professor Jeffrey Lewis. He replaced Donald Polden, dean of Santa Clara University School of Law. Lewis said on Oct. 19 that he plans to review the work the committee has already done — and give interested parties a chance to weigh in — before continuing. “We want to bring everybody back who has an interest or a concern,” he said. “I’d like to go forward with folks feeling like they have a voice in the process.” To that end, the committee will host a public forum in Chicago on Nov. 11 so that legal education groups can comment about the many proposed changes to the standards. The change in the panel’s membership was routine — the newcomers replaced members whose terms had expired. The committee had been criticized for not allowing public comments during each meeting and for not incorporating public suggestions into its proposals. Michael Olivas, president of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) and a professor at the University of Houston Law Center, has been one of the most vocal critics. He said he hoped the new faces will take the panel’s work in a new direction. One of the new members is Reese Hansen, immediate past president of the AALS and a professor at Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School. “We’re trying to take as proactive an opportunity as we can, under the circumstances,” Olivas said. “We have a fresh start and an opportunity to remind those who remain on the committee of our longstanding principles.” Lewis said that the committee would not take any final votes during the Chicago meeting. There has been no shortage of controversial issues for the committee to address. It was still grappling, for example, with job security for law faculty members. The committee has interpreted the existing standards as not requiring law schools to extend tenure, despite the belief by many law professors that the standards have long protected tenure. Additionally, the committee has fielded concerns over so-called “student learning outcomes” — requirements that law schools lay out what they want students to learn and design ways to assess whether they are meeting those goals. The outcomes are meant to replace measures including library size. In July, the committee proposed raising the minimum bar passage requirements. That generated fears among diversity advocates that historically black colleges and law schools that enroll a high percentage of non-traditional students could lose accreditation. This month, the committee released a memorandum clarifying that it had reached no consensus on the bar passage rate standard. Lewis cautioned that the review remained a work in progress, and that he favors developing multiple options from which the ABA’s Council of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar may choose. The committee recommends changes, but those changes must be approved by the council. “There’s nothing that’s set in stone at all,” he said. Contact Karen Sloan at [email protected].

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