The Timing on Duncan Law School’s Denial of ABA Accreditation

December 23rd, 2011

The timing of the ABA’s denial of Duncan Law School’s denial of ABA Accreditation seems somewhat off.

  • On 12/2/11, Duncan attended the hearing in San Juan Puerto Rico, where it made its case. At that meeting, the ABA “denied the application for provisional ABA approval submitted by Lincoln Memorial University, Duncan School of Law, located in Knoxville, Tennessee. “
  • On 12/18/11, David Segall’s piece runs in the TImes where he interviews the dean of Duncan. This passage is of note:

ON Dec. 2, Mr. Beckman and six colleagues from Duncan traveled to a hotel in San Juan, P.R., where the A.B.A. held its latest council meeting. The school had 15 minutes at a hearing to offer its arguments for provisional accreditation.

“This is just a pet peeve,” Mr. Beckman said last week, “but there is all this talk about the cost of legal education, and they make us fly to Puerto Rico and meet at the Ritz-Carlton?”

After his presentation, Mr. Beckman and others answered a number of questions, including a few about the job market for lawyers in east Tennessee. This bothered Mr. Beckman because, for antitrust reasons, employment prospects are not part of the A.B.A.’s standards. He pointed that out to the council.

“They didn’t really respond,” he says.

Nor did they hint at whether they would give Duncan a thumbs-up. In the past, law schools have learned a few days after their hearings. But since Dec. 2, there has been nothing. “The last thing we heard — and they didn’t mean this to be rude or anything — was at the end of the meeting in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Beckman says. “They said, ‘You can let yourselves out.’ “

So at what point did Duncan start putting together their complaint? Before they went to Puerto Rico? Obviously antitrust violations were on his mind? Or did they take the long-delay as a sign that they were about to be denied? Or perhaps someone tipped them off? And maybe–just maybe–the Dean of Duncan talked to the Times because he *knew* he was going to get denied, and wanted to set the stage for that denial. Maybe he was the *only* Dean willing to talk to the Times (Segall isn’t particularly popular in these parts now). The timing is just too convenient. I don’t know.

Now, the school is spending tuition dollars from students who will not get a degree from an ABA accredited law school on a law suit that is unlikely to succeed. Is this part of the solution, or part of the higher-education problem?

Update: TaxProfBlog has similar observations, which links to an NLJ piece that answers my question:

Duncan administrators were informed on Oct. 12 that the accreditation committee — which conducts site visits, reviews records and advises the full council — would recommend denial of provisional accreditation. Duncan officials attended a council meeting in Puerto Rico on Dec. 2 to plead their case, but to no avail.

And from the comments at TaxProf Blog:

According to the NLJ, Duncan was told in October that the ABA would deny it accreditation. But that fact didn’t appear in the NYTimes story. I wonder why? It would seem important, as it may help explain why the Duncan representatives complained so bitterly about the accreditation requirements. Did they not tell David Segal, or did he exclude that fact to make it a better story? (None of this is to defend the ABA’s intrusive requirements, just to point out that the story was misleading without noting that Duncan had already been warned that it would be denied accreditation.)

Is it Segal’s inaccuracy? Or did Duncan just want to gin up some dust before the denial? The timing is too close to call.