GAO Report Rehashes Dispute Over Bar-Association Accreditor's Diversity Standard

March 09, 2007

A report out today from the Government Accountability office rehashes the debate over whether a branch of the American Bar Association should continue to be the accreditor of the nation’s law schools. The bar association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar was reauthorized in December to be the accreditor for the next 18 months. Typically, accrediting bodies are reauthorized for five years.

The report, “Higher Education: Issues Related to Law School Accreditation,” is an overview of the controversy and makes no recommendations. It does again raise concerns among some staff members at the Department of Education that the bar association’s standards for judging diversity in hiring and in the recruiting of students are inconsistent, and could lead to the violation of state laws.

However, the department’s National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity decided in December not to impose more-punitive actions against the bar association, finding that the staff “had not identified any instances in which ABA inconsistently applied the diversity standard or provided evidence that law schools had been compelled to violate existing state laws,” the report says.

There is one piece of compelling news: In its response to the report, officials at the ABA note that minority enrollment in law schools showed gains, according to figures released in February. The statistics show that 6.8 percent of students in law schools accredited by the ABA in 2006-7 are African-American, up from 6.2 percent the previous year. Among first-year students, 7.2 percent are African-American.