Bar association grants UDC law school reprieve; accreditation is withheld, but some call decision “positive.”

Bar association grants UDC law school reprieve; accreditation is withheld, but some call decision “positive.” – American Bar Association; University of the District of Columbia School of Law

B. Denise Hawkins

The troubled University of the District of Columbia (UDC) School of Law failed to win provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA) during its summer meeting held earlier this month in San Francisco. UDC Law School officials, however, will be given another chance to make their case for accreditation when the ABA reconvenes in January 1998.

The decision “was a positive one,” says Dean William L. Robinson, who attended the ABA meeting along with UDC President Julius F. Nimmons Jr. “This means that students already enrolled in the law school will be considered as attending an accredited institution.”

Students entering in the fall, however, will be attending a non-accredited school.

The law school, formerly known as the District of Columbia School of Law, received provisional accreditation in 1991. According to ABA rules, however, the school had to reapply for accreditation when it merged in 1995 with the University of the District of Columbia. An ABA accreditation committee denied an application from the school in January and decided to remove the independent institution from its list of accredited law schools.

In a surprising and complicated move at its meeting this summer, July 31-Aug. 1, the ABA accreditation committee rescinded the decision to drop the D.C. School of Law from the list of accredited schools — even though the school no longer exists. An ABA letter said that, “if such a recommendation were acted on by the House of Delegates at this time, it would create confusion and possibly have a negative impact on the impending developments regarding the University of the District of Columbia School of Law.”

The decision “means that students [who] enrolled in the D.C. School of Law will remain eligible for federal financial aid and loans,” Robinson explains.

Before the bar association reconsiders granting the law school provisional accreditation in January, both the university and the law school must show substantial progress, according to a letter from the bar association. The ABA said it will be taking a close look at one of the thorniest issues confronting both the law school and the university — “final approval of a budget for the university that could assure a level of financial support for the School of Law.”

Law school officials have succeeded in reducing its reliance on public funding from the $4.5 million it received in 1995 to $1.9 million this year, but Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), head of the House subcommittee that oversees District spending, said he will not approve any funding for the law school and maintains it should he closed.

“Congressman Taylor’s position hasn’t changed,” says Roger France, a spokesman for Taylor, who added that the recent ruling by the ABA only bolstered Taylor’s position. In fact, “we’re preparing for a shutdown (of the law school). The school is not accredited. What we want to do is help second and third-year students transfer to other area law schools,” France says.

There was the possibility that Taylor and Robinson would meet in late August to hash out the critical funding element. According to France, law school officials had not responded to Taylor’s invitation for a meeting by press time.

Before the bar association’s January meeting, law school officials must also find separate and more suitable office space for law school faculty and administrators. According to Robinson, campus relocation efforts have already begun.

The ABA also will factor in its second review the accreditation status of the university, which is in jeopardy following a massive round of faculty and administrative layoffs and budget cuts in 1996. The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools (MSACHE), the accrediting body which oversees UDC, put the university on notice a year ago fearing that financial problems and layoffs would cripple the institution and damage academic programs. University officials were required to issue a status report to MSACHE by Sept. 1.

“We will make our deadline and I anticipate that the warning will be lifted,” Nimmons says.

Aside from squelching law school fires, Nimmons has been attempting to lure nearly 6,000 undergraduate students he lost during the last academic year back to campus. He is on television, radio, and the internet. He’s even doing recruitment videos pitching “solid academic programs” and dangling scholarships in front of students who fled the problem-plagued campus.

Some of Nimmons’s efforts are apparently paying off. When he issued a general appeal for help “from anywhere we could get it,” one unexpected response came from the alumni association of the Stanford University School of Business. That call was later followed by one from the president of Stanford’s national alumni association.

“The [Stanford] business school has pitched in with fundraising efforts,” says an elated Nimmons. “We’re talking now about expanding that level of support beyond fundraising.” Securing the help of an executive on loan to help make the university a “lean mean machine,” is an example of the type of support Nimmons says he is looking for.

“Our prayers have been answered. The future of the university is looking brighter and we will go forward,” he says.

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