The ABA Section of Legal Education must itself be "accredited"--recognized as a law-school accrediting agency by the Department of Education. The DoE has a standard on accreditation standards. The DoE standard relevant to Standard 301 and Interpretation 301-6 reads as follows:
§602.16 Accreditation and preaccreditation standards
(a) The agency must demonstrate that it has standards for accreditation, and preaccreditation, if offered, that are sufficiently rigorous to ensure that the agency is a reliable authority regarding the quality of the education or training provided by the institutions or programs it accredits. The agency meets this requirement if -
(1) The agency's accreditation standards effectively address the quality of the institution or program in the following areas:
(i) Success with respect to student achievement in relation to the institution's mission, which may include different standards for different institutions or programs, as established by the institution, including, as appropriate, consideration of course completion, State licensing examination, and job placement rates. (emphasis added)
As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, American Bar Association Takes Heat From Advisory Panel on Accreditation (subscription), on Thursday, June 9, 2001, the DoE advisory panel, the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity adopted a report by the DoE staff, and recommended that the DoE renew its recognition of the ABA, subject to a one-year report-back (pp. 159-183).
The report found the ABA out of compliance on 602.16(a)(1)(i), but not on account of the Bar-passage standards of 301-6. What was the problem? Lack of transparency as to the ABA's standards for job placement:
The agency does not meet the requirements of this section of the criteria. The agency reports that it evaluates placement rates as part of its assessment of student achievement, but does not provide information about its expectations for placement or the criteria by which it evaluates an institution’s or program’s performance in this area.
Analyst Remarks to Response:Although the agency collects graduate placement data, there is no evidence that the agency has a standard indicating what compliance means, if it uses placement as a factor to determine student achievement. The agency reports that it is developing a new standard to address its expectations regarding job placement rates.
Staff Determination: The agency does not meet the requirements of this section of the criteria. The agency needs to demonstrate its expectation regarding job placement data it collects. (pg. 8 of Staff report on ABA)(p. 166 overall).
So the DoE does not appear to be one of those unnamed "constituencies" that thinks the current version of 301-6 is too lenient. Moreover, it seems that the DoE might allow even more flexibility when it comes to bar passage. Consider that 602(a)(1)(i)
- allows an institution's standards for student achievement to take into account its mission,
- recognizes that those standards may vary from institution to institution,
- suggests that each institution may establish own standards.
Contrast this with 301-6, which establishes uniform national standards, and only takes mission into account in deciding whether to grant a school additional time to bring itself into compliance with those standards. 301-6.C(v) & (viii).
For most schools, neither the minimum Bar passage standards, nor how they impact school mission, is of particular concern, but for Historically Black Law Schools, and other "access" it is of vital importance. How does the ABA Standards Review Committee propose to address the impact of national Bar-passage standards on law-school mission? It proposes to make those standards harder to meet.
If Joseph Heller were still alive, I'd tell him to call his office; like Major Major in Catch-22, when it comes to 301-6, the Standards Review Committee appears to be "in" only when its "out".