Thursday, July 1, 2021
There is a place for academic accreditation. A functional accreditation system would protect academic freedom from administrative overreach or political intervention; would protect resources vital to students and faculty, such as law library budgets and staffing, from bean counters' incessant cuts; and would protect students in their investment against fraud and unduly burdensome student debt. Every now and then, the ABA stumbles into accomplishing one of these objectives, usually after having failed to do so resulted in public embarrassment. Meanwhile, outside watchdogs with no real power at all—the AAUP, FIRE, media such as Inside Higher Ed and US News, and faculty blogs such as TaxProf and ATL—accomplish much more every day to keep law schools honest, and they don't pass fat tabs on to law students or lawyers.
When I have troubled to raise a red flag or blow the whistle on bad behavior in law schools to the ABA, my concerns have been consistently, efficiently, and quietly buried by accreditation review committees. I've come to understand that the number-one benefit of club membership is that a school's soiled skivvies will be laundered in secrecy. ABA accreditation is not about transparency and not about truth.
So what is ABA accreditation about? Appearances. Accreditation is about looking woke. And to that end, the ABA wields its accreditation power as a virtue-signaling manifesto. Too many times, for too many years, I have seen law schools pursue feel-good social agendas, with ABA imprimatur, and it's students, ironically often students of color, who pay the price for the reality that the agenda is mere facade.
So it is with the ABA's latest inclination to prescribe "diversity." I put that term in quote marks, because the ABA is not worried about all kinds of law school diversity, but only the kinds that resonate in the correct political frequencies; the kind of diversity that prompted a colleague of mine in a recent hiring meeting to say "we don't need more white," drawing applause.
(I do believe we would benefit from greater racial diversity on our faculty, and in legal academics generally. Where I differ with my colleagues is over the propriety of overt race discrimination as the means to the end. Dare I suggest it, one might actually have to invest money in creating opportunity. The problem is akin to employers complaining they're unable to hire while being unwilling to offer attractive terms of employment.)
True, true, it's all true.