Law professors say ABA is ‘micromanaging’ with proposal to make courses more uniform

Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C.

Signage is seen outside of the American Bar Association (ABA) in Washington, D.C., U.S., May 10, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly Acquire Licensing Rights

Oct 26 (Reuters) – Legal academics are pushing back against an American Bar Association proposal that would specify what law students should learn and how they should be assessed, saying it would squelch the freedom professors have to take different approaches within their classrooms.

Among the proposed changes are a mandate that law schools adopt and publish specific learning goals for every class and ensure that required courses with more than one section each term (usually taught by more than one professor), are aligned. Those changes are meant to help “law schools better understand what they are expected to do in these areas,” the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar said in an August memo explaining the proposal.

But some of the nearly 20 law professors and deans who provided public comments—most objecting to one or more aspects of the proposal—said the ABA would be overstepping its role by determining what is taught and how.

“I am concerned that [aspects of the proposal] reflect a new philosophy at the ABA: that the ABA and law schools should micromanage law teachers,” wrote University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor Joshua Silverstein in a comment to the ABA.

William Adams, the ABA’s managing director of accreditation and legal education, said on Thursday that several law schools have raised concerns that the learning outcomes and assessment standards as they stand now are “too general” and that the changes are meant to give schools more guidance.

But law deans from Columbia, UC Berkeley, Vanderbilt and Georgetown wrote in a joint letter that the proposal to require faculty to adopt the same core learning outcomes across multiple sections of the same course “constrains” faculty members and deprives students of professors’ “varying expertise and experiences.”

Some of the public comments were mixed, supporting parts of the proposal while opposing others.

Among the requirements in the proposal is a mandate that all first-year classes to include one early assessment that gives students feedback on their performance prior to a final exam. Any students “who fail to attain a satisfactory level of achievement” must be provided academic support.

Some of the public comments said the proposal would undo the successful system of student learning outcomes the ABA implemented in 2015. That system requires law schools to determine the skills and knowledge students should graduate with and measure whether they are achieving those outcomes.

The new proposal adds similar requirements for individual classes. Hence, every course, whether a required class such as torts or an elective seminar, would have a set of skills and knowledge students should have upon completion, as determined by the school.

That approach will create more red tape for schools, some commenters wrote, noting that the proposal offers no guidance on how schools should measure outcomes in specific classes.

The ABA’s legal education council is likely to consider the proposal when it meets in February, Adams said.

Read more:

Law school free speech proposal gets warm, if muted, reception

ABA pauses move to nix LSAT requirement

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at [email protected]

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