Posted September 11, 2018, 6:05 am CDT
Updated. Following months of litigation, the council of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar has approved Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School’s application to establish a branch in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The campus opening was “effective immediately,” according to an Aug. 17 Cooley Law news release. The lawsuit remains ongoing, James D. Robb, the law school’s associate dean of external affairs and general counsel, told the ABA Journal in an email on Monday.
In November 2017, Cooley Law filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan against the ABA after the council made public a letter that found the law school was out of compliance with Standard 501(b), which states that law schools should only admit candidates who appear capable of completing a legal education program and being admitted to a bar.
The decision, which came from the now-absorbed accreditation committee and was affirmed by the council, also deferred a major change request made by Cooley Law to open the Kalamazoo campus until the school could demonstrate that it was in compliance with the standard. In March, the accreditation committee determined that the law school had come into compliance with Standard 501(b) and Interpretation 501-1, which discusses factors to consider in admissions.
In his email, Robb told the Journal that the accreditation and branch campus decisions by the council were based on the merits.
“But those decisions do not affect our litigation, which presents several claims under various legal theories,” Robb wrote. “One of those claims is that the ABA’s previous failure to permit us to open at Kalamazoo, without stated rationale and despite a highly positive site report by its own inspector that showed we met the requirements to establish that location, caused undue delay to the detriment of the school and students who would have benefited from studying at our Kalamazoo location.”
Robb also says the standard requirement that ABA-accredited law schools only admit students who appear capable of finishing law school and passing a bar exam “is illegally vague as a matter of law, allowing for inconsistent and unfair application of ABA standards and providing no guidance to the schools it regulates, contrary to law and U.S. Department of Education requirements.”
Barry Currier, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, said Monday he did not have a comment. However, Currier has a statement posted on the legal education section’s website. It states:
“While the ABA does not comment on pending litigation, it is important to note that the ABA accreditation process provides meaningful opportunities for every law school to establish that it is operating in compliance with the accreditation standards. Through these opportunities, the vast majority of law schools do, in fact, establish that they are operating in compliance with those standards. Litigation over the process or the substance of a law school accreditation standard is extremely rare.
“When the council or the accreditation committee concludes based on established processes that a law school may be operating out of compliance with a standard, the school is afforded several additional opportunities to demonstrate compliance or that actions taken in response to the council’s or accreditation committee’s action have brought it back into compliance. When the council or the accreditation committee determines that has happened, the school is returned to good standing on that matter, as is appropriate.
“If a school does not take such steps, the council and the accreditation committee follow an established enforcement process, which can lead to sanctions such as probation or removal of approval. These procedures are consistent with the the council’s recognition by the U.S Department of Education as the national accreditor of law schools.
“Courts have regularly upheld the ABA’s law school accreditation process. We will continue to follow our established procedures and expect to be successful in any future litigation challenging the actions of the council.”
According to a May 25 court filing, which included more details from the accreditation committee decision than what was posted on its website, the law school came back into compliance with the standard by agreeing to no longer admit students with predicted law school grade point averages below 2.1, and limit admittees with predicted GPAs between 2.2 and 2.49 to part-time enrollment.
Previously, applicants with predicted GPAs below 2.0 were denied admission, and those with predicted GPAs between 2.35 to 2.49 were admitted under what is described as “presumptive regular admission, individual review,” according to the filing. For the law school’s class of 2015, its ultimate bar passage rate—which covers graduates who passed a bar examination within one and two years of graduation—was 69.75 percent.
The ABA has directed the law school to submit another report by Nov. 1, according to the court filing. Information expected includes class size and an index of LSAT and undergraduate GPAs for 2018 entering classes with individuals’ names redacted.
The Kalamazoo campus offers 60 credits of coursework, which amounts to two years of study, the Cooley release states. The law school also has Michigan campuses in Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids and Lansing, and Tampa, Florida, according to the release.
There’s a total of 1,209 students at Cooley Law, according to its most recent 509 Report.
Removes extra word in first paragraph at 7:21 a.m.
Updated at 10:43 a.m. to include Barry Currier’s online statement about the accreditation process.
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