- The Washington Times - Monday, June 23, 2003

The University of the District of Columbia law school failed to win full accreditation from the American Bar Association earlier this month just days before the college’s trustees pushed through 6.4 percent retroactive raises for the law school’s faculty and the university’s highest-paid administrators.

The association’s accreditation committee refused to grant the credentials at its semiannual meeting June 6 to 8 in Miami, despite a lengthy presentation to the committee by UDC President William L. Pollard and law school Dean Katherine S. Broderick.

The committee instead extended the provisional accreditation for two years for UDC’s David A. Clarke School of Law. With provisional accreditation, graduates are regarded the same as those from fully accredited law schools, but the Clarke school must submit to annual visits by accreditation officials and perform extensive internal reviews.

University officials were optimistic early this year that the law school would receive full accreditation and end 10 years of scrambling to shore up the school’s shaky reputation.

The UDC law school was formerly the fully accredited Antioch School of Law, which provided legal training for minorities and legal aid to poor residents. Antioch closed in 1985, after the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools nationwide, revoked its accreditation because students had low academic credentials and many failed the bar exam at least once.

When the city reopened the school in 1988 as the D.C. School of Law, it had to start the five-year accreditation process again, earning provisional accreditation in 1991.

The school had to start the accreditation process over when it merged with UDC in 1996 and won provisional accreditation in 1998. For the past five years, the school has struggled to win full accreditation.

Faculty familiar with the bar association’s decision said the committee withheld full accreditation because of the low number of UDC law school graduates who pass the bar exam on the first try. The first-time pass rate for the bar exam has been reported as low as 25 percent of graduates taking the test, but school officials say the rate is closer to 48 percent. More than 68 percent eventually pass the test.

The national average is 73 percent, according to the bar association.

The bar association keeps its decision-making process confidential and declined to release details of the grounds for the UDC decision.

Mrs. Broderick confirmed that the school’s low pass rate was the reason it did not receive full accreditation, but she said the association gave the law school an upbeat assessment. “We have been found in full compliance with all accreditation standards except bar passage,” Mrs. Broderick said. “They want to see improved bar-passage results.”

The bar association said last year that 22 percent of Clarke school graduates passed the bar in 2001. The national average was 73 percent. About 70 percent of graduates from D.C. law schools such as the Georgetown University Law Center and Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law pass the bar on their first try.

Since 1999, enrollment at UDC’s law school has fallen 24 percent, from 168 to 128 students, while the university, which is publicly funded, has doubled its spending on the school and tripled its spending on faculty. The national average for law school costs is $5,687 per student; UDC is spending $11,043.

University financial records show that most of the law school’s costs since 1999 have increased for the law library and faculty salaries. Beginning at nothing in 1999, spending on the law library increased to a peak of nearly $1.3 million in 2001. About $1.2 million was spent last year on the law library, which is about equal in size to the university’s main library, which serves 5,300 students.

Mrs. Broderick said the expansion of the law library helped the school win high marks from the accreditation officials.

Meanwhile, faculty spending has nearly tripled, from $541,000 in 1999 to $1.4 million in 2002. The school has 20 full-time professors and has a 6-to-1 student-teacher ratio. But the number of graduates able to pass the bar exam on the first try remains the chief stumbling block to accreditation.

If the Clarke school’s higher admissions standards, adopted during the past three years, result in a higher pass rate for the next batch of graduates, full accreditation will be forthcoming, Mrs. Broderick said.

She said the two-year provisional accreditation was a good turn for the school. “We are growing in quality and quantity. We are not sinking,” Mrs. Broderick said. “This is just another positive step on the way to the highest level of ABA accreditation, and we are excited about it.”

Mrs. Broderick said the accreditation status should not have been a consideration when the trustees’ voted last week to give 6.4 percent pay raises to law school faculty and the rest of the university’s nonunion employees. She said the union faculty and staff, who earlier this year rejected the administration’s offer of a 1 percent raise, also deserve raises.

The union and administration remain deadlocked in arbitration.

The raise, which was passed unanimously by the board of trustees but must be approved by the D.C. Council, would apply to Mrs. Broderick, who makes $106,059 a year; the school’s two associate deans; and 20 law professors.

The Washington Times first reported last week that the trustees’ salary vote fueled discontent among the university’s staff and faculty. Critics contend that Mr. Pollard, who took the helm a year ago, favored raises for his high-paid administrators over pay increases for the union workers and spending on academic programs.

Students supporting the unionized faculty, who haven’t had a cost-of-living adjustment since 1998, threatened a walkout strike in the fall if the salary impasse isn’t resolved. Some faculty said they would join the walkout.

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