William E. Adams
The Council has been very busy the past few months and made a number of important decisions at its November meeting. The Strategic Review Committee (hereinafter SRC) has also been working hard and has a goal of wrapping up its business in the next few months. As a result, the Council approved several proposals to amend the Standards and Rules from both the SRC and the Standards Committee.
First, one of the initial goals of the SRC was to revise its Standard on Academic Freedom. Current Standard 405(b) requires schools to have an established policy on academic freedom but provides little additional guidance beyond that. As has been reported in the media, incidents at some law schools involving disruptions of presentations by invited speakers have occurred while the Committee has been discussing these revisions. Since academic freedom doctrine protects faculty, the existing Standard could not reasonably be interpreted to apply to situations not involving faculty.
After extensive study, including a roundtable inviting persons with expertise in academic freedom and the First Amendment from within and outside of legal education, the SRC recommended, and the Council approved, a proposal for a new Standard, which was sent out to interested parties for comment. After reviewing the comments and making revisions in response, the Council at the November meeting approved for sending to the American Bar Association House of Delegates (hereinafter HoD) a new Standard 208, which seeks to ensure that law schools properly protect academic freedom for teachers and freedom of expression more broadly in the law school. Proposed Standard 208 would: (1) move the discussion of academic freedom from Standard 405(b), more specifically address the scope and application of a school’s required policy, and decouple the issue of academic freedom (which will apply to all those teaching in the law school) from security of position (which applies only as specified in Standard 405); (2) add a new discussion of freedom of expression modeled on policies adopted by law schools and universities nationwide; and (3) place the Standard in Chapter 2 (Organization and Administration) because these requirements, like others in that chapter, concern the law school’s operation generally and are not specific to topics addressed in other chapters, such as Chapter 3 (Program of Legal Education) or Chapter 4 (Faculty).
In addition to the change to the Academic Freedom Standard, the Council also approved a proposal to send to the HoD changes to the Standards in Chapter 6 regulating Library and Information Resources. The amendments will substantially streamline and re-organize Chapter 6 to give law libraries flexibility to use space, technology, information resources, and collection formats most appropriate for their law schools. Furthering flexibility for law libraries, there is no longer a requirement of a core collection (former Standard 606(a)) that must consist of the materials enumerated in former Standard 606(b); revised Standard 604(a) instead requires reliable and efficient access to a collection of materials and information resources that is complete, current, and with sufficient continuing access.
As noted above, in addition to the revisions recommended by the SRC, the Council also had before it proposals from the Standards Committee. It approved a batch of revisions to Standards 202, 311, 313, 502, and 510 and Rule 9, which provide additional clarity to existing Standards and also bring others into compliance with new guidance from the U.S. Department of Education. Amongst the changes is a change to locations offered by a law school beyond its main campus. The definition of a separate location will be deleted and replaced by a definition for an additional location. Also in this group of changes is a proposal to remove the 24-month and 84-month time limitations on completing study for a JD. The decision for the appropriate time limits will now be left to the discretion of the school. As with the academic freedom and free expression proposal, this group of changes will also be presented to the HoD at its February meeting.
The Council also approved revisions proposed by the SRC, which undertook a comprehensive review of Chapter 7 of the Standards (Facilities, Equipment, and Technology) to determine whether any of those Standards needed revisions allowing law schools to undertake additional distance education offerings or to make changes to their physical plants due to increased distance education offerings or remote work arrangements. Unlike the above proposals, these revisions are at an earlier stage, and along with other proposals, will be sent out for Notice and Comment shortly.
The Council also announced that the SRC would be proposing revisions to the Standards and Rules for Notice and Comment that would effectively allow a fully online law school to apply for provisional and full ABA approval, including changes to Standard 105 (Acquiescence for Substantive Change in Program or Structure). A fully online law school cannot apply for provisional and full ABA approval under the current Standards and Rules. While the Council approved sending the proposal out for Notice and Comment, no timetable was announced.
The Council also discussed a report from its Experiential Learning Working Group, which is considering changes to how many credits a law school student must earn in clinics, field placements, and simulation courses. No action was taken as the Working Group and Council want to seek additional input before moving forward.
Finally, the Council made an important decision about the leadership of the Managing Director’s Office. As I previously announced, I will be retiring at the end of May 2024. The Council has announced that my replacement will be DePaul Law Dean Jennifer Rosato Perea. Dean Rosato Perea is in her sixteenth year of deaning and will therefore be bringing a wealth of experience to the position. She is well-respected by her peers and others in legal education. I feel confident that she will provide excellent leadership that will benefit the Council and legal education.