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A U.S. district court has barred program expansion at Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s two satellite campuses after a three-year battle for their full approval from the American Bar Association. The independent law school based in Lansing, Mich., has appealed U.S. District Judge David McKeague’s recent decision. The ruling allows the ABA to deny Cooley Law School the right to expand until at least July 31, 2006. Thomas M. Cooley Law School v. American Bar Association, No. 1:04-cv-221 (W.D. Mich.). Cooley Law School, with an enrollment of about 2,800 students, began seeking full ABA approval for its satellite schools at Oakland University in Rochester, Mich., and Western Michigan University in Grand Rapids, Mich., in June 2002 and February 2003, respectively, said Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc. The branch campuses may offer 15 of the 90 credits required for graduation. “We had been offering courses beyond the 15 credits, but we agreed to cut back [in May 2004] to 15, pending the litigation,” LeDuc said. Students who took more than 15 credits at a satellite campus before May 2004 will still be eligible to meet ABA graduation requirements, he said. Some of the affected students have already graduated, LeDuc said. According to court documents, the accreditation committee rejected requests for expansion in part because Cooley failed to show that expansion would not hinder its compliance with the ABA standard that states a school may “not admit applicants who do not appear capable of satisfactorily complet[ing] its educational program and being admitted to the bar.” Cooley’s Michigan bar examination passage rate on the winter 2004 test for first-time takers was 51%, compared to a 75% statewide average. Also, ABA standards prohibit major changes to the legal education program or organizational structure at a school-including the addition of satellite campuses-without first gaining approval from the Council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. But LeDuc said that the branch campuses have met ABA criteria for “acquiescence,” the term the association uses for satellite approval. Court documents include positive site-inspection reports by ABA members for both locations. The ABA would not comment on the pending case. Students feel the pinch Joann Kline, a student at the Grand Rapids campus, is feeling the pinch from the decision. She uses vacation time from her full-time job to commute an hour from west Michigan to Lansing for class. But the worst thing about taking the rest of her classes at the main campus is the loss of class camaraderie. “We all talk about how law school is really a bonding experience,” she said, “but our class is fracturing quicker than it should because of the commute.” Cooley Law School’s main campus in Lansing opened in 1972 and received ABA accreditation in 1975. In its annual survey of law schools, U.S. News & World Report ranked the school as fourth tier, or in the bottom quartile of ABA-approved law schools.

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