Valparaiso University Law School is not in danger of closing or losing its accreditation in wake of the American Bar Association’s public censure of the school for noncompliance with admissions practices, the school’s dean said Thursday.
The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar posted the notice of public censure on Tuesday, writing in the notice that the ABA Accreditation Committee had found the northern Indiana law school had not demonstrated compliance with standards 501(a) and 501(b). Those standards require that “a law school shall maintain sound admission policies and practices” and “shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar.”
Andrea Lyon, dean of the law school, said the ABA conducts site visits and completes re-accreditation reports at law schools every seven years and last visited Valparaiso during the 2013-2014 school year. Thus, the censure is referencing the school’s admissions practices in the seven years leading up to its site visit, years when she was not the dean.
Instead, long-time Dean Jay Conison was at the helm of the school at that time. Although he had announced his plan to retire in May 2014, Conison instead accepted an offer to become the dean of the Charlotte School of Law, a position he still holds.
The ABA also posted a notice Tuesday saying the Charlotte School of Law had been placed on probation for failure to comply with the same admissions standards and standard 301(a), which requires that “a law school shall maintain a rigorous program of legal education that prepares its students…for admission to the bar and for effective, ethical, and responsible participation as members of the legal profession.”
In the public censure, the ABA lists four remedial actions Valparaiso must take, including developing a written plan by Dec. 15 for bringing the law school into compliance, submitting admissions data and methodology to the ABA Accreditation Committee by Dec. 15, publishing the notice of the public censure on its website within five days, and reviewing class quartile rankings of first-time bar exam passage rates with students each semester.
The ABA will visit Valparaiso Law School and submit a separate report about the admission practices. If the law school does not meet admission standards, the legal education program could face a variety of sanctions including a monetary fine, refunding all or part of the tuition or fees paid by students, and loss of accreditation.
But Lyon said the school is not in danger of being closed down or losing its accreditation. Instead, she said the censure is the ABA’s way of saying, “Fix this.”
The dean said she began working to fix the school’s admissions policies when she took over for Conison. Last spring, 12 faculty members accepted a buyout package, two faculty members retired and seven staff positions were eliminated. Additionally, Lyon said the school’s LSAT scores and GPAs have been increasing, and the bottom percentile has gone up by four points in two years.
“We have a much smaller, much stronger class that came in this year, and we’ve been doing that since I got here,” Lyon said.
According to Valparaiso’s ABA Standard 509 report, students entering the law school in 2013 had a media GPA of 3.0 and media LSAT score of 143. By comparison, the class starting in 2015, which is the most recent data available, had a median GPA of 2.93 and median LSAT score of 145.
Valparaiso previously told the Indiana Lawyer that the 103 students who entered in 2016 had a median GPA of 3.02 and median LSAT of 147.
The Valparaiso Law School Class of 2014 posted a 61 percent passage rate of the Indiana Bar Exam by first-time takers, a drop as compared to 2012 and 2013.
Students and faculty members have been informed of the censure, Lyon said, and while some reacted with fear of closure or loss of accreditation, she said those fears were unfounded. Further, she said she had previously met with some students to discuss the ABA’s concerns, so news of the censure did not come as a shock. Notice of the censure should be on the law school’s website on Friday, she said.
“We do everything we can to be within the guidelines,” Lyon said. “We’ve been producing great lawyers for 137 years, and we’re going to continue to produce great lawyers for the next 137 years at least.”
Like Valparaiso, Charlotte must develop a plan for compliance and notify all admitted students and the public of its probationary status. The North Carolina law school could be fined, required to provide refunds to the students or lose accreditation if it fails to meet the ABA standards.
Charlotte is a for-profit law school owned by InfiLaw System, which is part of Chicago-based private equity firm Sterling Partners. According to Charlotte’s ABA Standard 509 form, the class entering in 2015 had a median GPA of 2.82 and a median LSAT score of 142. Also, the class that graduated in 2014 posted a 57 percent bar passage rate for the North Carolina exam.
The ABA declined to comment on the public censure.