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August 19, 2013

ABA tenure debate: why nuance matters

by Dan Rodriguez

Even the august Washington Post gets the issue wrong — well, maybe not wrong exactly, but not-quite-right.

The issue embedded in the proposed standards changes is not the coming end of tenure in U.S. law schools.  The ABA has no authority to compel law schools to abandon tenure.  In the absence of an accreditation requirement of tenure, job security of faculty — nature and scope — is a matter of university discretion.  Moreover, other accrediting bodies, for example, the regional accreditation authorities which regulate the entire college or university of which the law schools are a part, might continue to require tenure.  So might the American Association of University Professors.  So might the Association of American Law Schools.  Etc.

Whether and to what extent that the proposed changes by the ABA Section on Legal Education will impact law school decisionmaking is a fascinating question.  The future is very much unknown.  Two different perspectives are described in the article, one from the dean at George Mason; the other at Georgetown. Different law schools, differentially situated for sure, will have competing approaches to this matter.

It is important that the media and other opinion leaders get the nuance about all this.  The ebb and flow of tenure, as with other key elements of the current academic model, is a product of myriad factors.  Accreditation is just one factor of many.

UPDATE:  A more nuanced review of the ABA proposed reforms in today’s National Law Journal.

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