Indiana Tech Law School has failed to convince the American Bar Association to give provisional accreditation to its program, handing the Fort Wayne school a setback and raising questions about its students’ futures.
Dean Charles Cercone said he received a phone call from the ABA in late April indicating that the accreditation committee found the school had more work to do to receive approval. He is now waiting for official confirmation from the association and more details as to the committee’s specific concerns.
Cercone shied away from calling the news from the ABA a disappointment, maintaining the school will do the additional work it needs to do and will get accreditation.
“I’ve been involved in this process many, many times,” the dean said about gaining accreditation. “I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy process.”
Indiana Tech Law School started the accreditation process in March 2014. In August, it completed and submitted its self-study and then welcomed a team from the ABA for an on-site visit in September. At every step in the project, law school officials were optimistic their program would be approved.
The process was started under the law school’s founding dean, Peter Alexander, and the self-study and onsite visit were overseen by the interim dean, andré douglas pond cummings.
Cercone took over as law school dean in January. During his interview prior to being hired for the top job, Cercone said he discussed the accreditation process with members of the Indiana Tech board of trustees. He told board members at that time the process is “very, very complicated” and accreditation is “not a sure thing.”
Allen Circuit Judge Thomas Felts has a son enrolled in the law school and teaches family law there. He said the news has created some disappointment but he also senses the students are optimistic.
“I think Dean Cercone has a plan to continue the accreditation process,” Felts said. “I think the students are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward.”
If the school does not get provisional accreditation before the start of the fall semester, students who have completed their second year of study would have the option of transferring and getting credit for their first year of course work. Students who elect to continue at Indiana Tech would not be able to sit for the Indiana bar exam unless the school receives accreditation.
The law school made a presentation to the ABA Accreditation Committee on April 16 in Chicago. After making an opening statement, Cercone was questioned by members of the committee for 90 minutes.
The activities of the accreditation committee are confidential and the ABA would not confirm a recommendation has been made.
From here, the recommendation will be passed on to the ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. The council, which next meets in June, does not have to follow the recommendation.
Cercone said the official confirmation from the ABA will provide more direction as to whether the law school could do anything before the June meeting to convince the council to vote for accreditation.
In talking about the additional work the law school will likely have to do, the dean suspects the ABA wants to see further development in the school’s curriculum and academic support areas.
New law schools need to have all parts of the three-year curriculum in place when they launch, Cercone said. However, Indiana Tech Law School did not have the third-year course offerings fully developed for the ABA to examine.
Cercone said the final phase of the curriculum has been completed and is ready for review.
“The process is designed so law schools and the ABA can work together to make the best law schools possible,” Cercone said. “We are looking forward to working with them to make sure we have the best product for our students.”
Allen Superior Chief Judge Wendy Davis said she is confident Cercone will lead the law school to another level. Davis is on Indiana Tech board of trustees.
“I am so impressed with Dean Cercone,” Davis said. “If anybody can get (accreditation), it’s going to be Dean Cercone.”•