October 14, 1999
Honorable Richard E. Neal
Thank you for your letter concerning the Massachusetts School of Law (MSL) and the American Bar Association (ABA). I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns.
I agree that the single most important factor in the Department's recognition of an accrediting agency is whether that agency, such as the ABA, is a reliable authority regarding the quality of education provided by the institutions or programs it accredits. While we in the Department may not dictate the contents of an agency's accreditation standards, we do have an important tool in evaluating those standards. We have found this tool to be particularly relevant in our review of the ABA.
Specifically, the Department requires all recognized accrediting agencies to maintain a systematic program of review designed to ensure that their standards are both valid and reliable indicators of the quality of education provided by the institutions they accredit and relevant to the education needs of affected students. A well-done program of review examines all facets of an agency's standards as they relate to educational quality, including whether the benefits outweigh any associated costs.
The ABA is currently in the middle of a comprehensive three-year review of all of its standards and interpretations. During the past year, the ABA has been engaged in a particularly critical component of this review: the review of all standards related to faculty and educational programs. We regard this as critical because many of these standards have been the subject of much criticism by individuals within the field of legal education and the legal profession in general. Some of the standards address such issues as the use of practicing lawyers and sitting judges as adjunct faculty; the exclusion in the curriculum of bar review courses for credit; the number of hours a law student may work while attending law school, and others.
Because we regard the ABA's review of these standards as critical to any effort by the agency to demonstrate that its standards are in fact valid and reliable, we have requested that the ABA report on the results of its review. The Department has received the ABA's report, and we are
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fully reviewing it in anticipation of the next meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity which takes place in December. I will be pleased to keep you informed of the outcome of our review.
I hope this responds satisfactorily to your concerns. If you would like further information or have more questions, please feel free to contact Assistant Secretary Scott Fleming, at (202) 401-0020.
Richard W. Riley
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This page last updated October 26, 1999 (pjk)