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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

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July 31-Aug. 1, the ABA accreditation committee rescinded the decision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.

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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