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Ed Department Takes Aim At ABA’s Diversity Requirement

The U.S. Department of Education’s general counsel says the diversity requirements the American Bar Association imposes on law schools is illegal and is asking the agency that grants the ABA accrediting authority to review the matter. 

The ABA revised its diversity standard last year, calling for law schools to show they are taking “concrete action” to diversify both their students and faculty in order  to win ABA accreditation.  

During the ABA’s accreditation renewal hearing before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI) last month, NACIQI staff blasted the diversity standard as “vague and ambiguous.” While the committee ultimately decided to shy away from the issue, the ABA’s accreditation authority was extended for 18 months instead of the traditional five years in order for the law group to correct some other deficiencies NACIQI noted.

The Department of Education is appealing NACIQI’s decision to let the diversity standard stand, The Washington Post reported. A department spokesperson was not willing to comment.

William Blake, chairman of the ABA’s council on legal education and admissions to the bar, said the council “is disappointed that that the general counsel of the U.S. Department of Education decided to appeal the decision by the department’s own National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.”

The Department of Education’s “own regulations for recognizing accrediting agencies do not speak to diversity standards and, therefore, cannot justify the requirement of removing diversity standards from an accrediting agency’s oversight of institutions of higher education,” he said in a statement. “Nevertheless, the council looks forward to working with the department, as it has for more than 50 years, to ensure that American law schools provide a high-quality education to students and produce qualified lawyers to serve the public.”

In a report last month, the NACIQI – which advises the Education Department on whether to approve accreditation agencies – called the language “vague and ambiguous” (see Diverse, Dec. 28) because it “inevitably requires the agency to use unpublished criteria when evaluating a law school.”

Education Department officials told The Washington Post that the ABA’s standard promotes quotas and could force schools in states like California and Michigan – where affirmative action has been banned – to break the law. But ABA officials say the Education Department is “misinterpreting the standard and pushing an anti-affirmative action agenda.”

Diverse Staff Reports

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