President Steve Morgan is hoping against hope that the fourth time will be the charm.
The University of La Verne’s College of Law, which is accredited by the State Bar of California, failed to obtain American Bar Association accreditation in 2001, 2002 and 2003, even after the University spent more than $16 million to get accreditation in those years.
The College of Law will make its fourth attempt at a preliminary ABA approval this fall and the University will support the effort again with $6.3 million, Morgan said.
Treasurer Avo Kechichian said that the $6.3 million will go toward paying for various operations for the College of Law, including faculty and staff salaries, benefits to student financial aid, supplies, services and occupancy.
The 2004-2005 College of Law salaries budget is $2.7 million for the 45 faculty and staff, including paying College of Law Dean Donald Dunn $230,000 a year.
“This is not a debated issue if the law school will get accreditation,” said Sharon Davis, professor of sociology and chair of the Faculty Salary Committee and Faculty Senate, of Dunn’s annual salary. “But if they don’t, then the salary will become a sore point and we would be asking ourselves ‘why did we do that?’”
With this year’s amount, the University will have spent more than $22 million on the law school, Kechichian said.
“When the College of Law is ABA accredited, they can support themselves and contribute back to the University,” Morgan said.
“Additionally they will enhance the reputation of the University.”
McDowell said the law school will be self-supporting two-to-three years after receiving ABA accreditation.
Morgan said that a portion of the $6.3 million – $2.5 million – will come from the “quasi-endowment,” an independent funding source composed of gifts and year-end donations, designated by the Board of Trustees for programs expected to eventually make significant financial contributions back to the University.
The University’s Board of Trustees approved the use of the quasi-endowment to support the College of Law ABA initiative in 2001 with a total budget of $10.1 million.
“The College of Law has used $8.9 million of the $10.1 million approved quasi-endowment budget in the last four years,” Kechichian said.
With this year’s budget, the law school will have used $11.4 million from the quasi-endowment, $1.3 million more than the original approved budget.
“The Board of Trustees has approved a continuous subsidy for the College of Law,”
Morgan said. “They knew that when they first approved the budget that it would be inaccurate and that it would have to be determined on a year-to-year basis.”
The College of Law continues to get funding from the University; however, the tuition remains lower than the main campus’ undergraduate tuition. Tuition for the 199 students attending the College of Law in 2003 and 2004 was $12,250 for full-time students and $9,200 for part-time students.
“The College of Law does not have the same expenses as the main campus,” Morgan said. “They do not have to support an athletic program, student services or activities, healthcare or science laboratories. They only need classrooms.”
Davis added: “The tuition, in my opinion, is lower because it is not yet ABA accredited and they want to attract individuals, who are excellent students and can pass the bar after the first try. Once they do get accredited, they should raise the tuition substantially.”
The $12,250 for full-time students is much lower than other local private law schools, such as Loyola Law School, which charges $31,454 a year for tuition, USC Law School, which charges $35,658, Pepperdine University School of Law, which charges $31,860 and Chapman University School of Law, which charges $29,800.
Dunn said that the tuition for the College of Law would increase this fall to $24,500 for full-time students and $18,400 for part-time students, even if it doesn’t get accredited to compete with the other schools.
Provost Dick McDowell added: “The College of Law is an investment for the future. No main campus programs will be affected by the amount of money we are giving to the law school.”
“Other programs might not have been affected directly, but (the University as a whole) was affected indirectly,” Davis said. “When the Faculty Salary Committee hears that several millions of dollars went into the law school, they feel that the pool of money for the law school could have been used for salary increases.
“Average faculty members begin thinking ‘could that money be used for my programs or my salary?’”
Dean of Arts and Sciences Fred Yaffe said he understands the importance of the law school, but also understands the need for support in other areas.
“We have to support the College of Law and the board is committed to supporting it,” Yaffe said. “It’s a good thing because the law school will enhance the University, but the liberal arts and sciences need support too.
Though he added: “When an institution allocates their resources in one direction, it’s not allocated in another.”
If the law school receives preliminary approval this fall, it will have three-to-five years to be accredited, during which time it will be monitored for continued growth, Morgan said.
In other words, it will be during the 2008-2009 school year before the College of Law can be self-supporting. Until then, the University will have to determine on a year-to-year basis how much of their budget will go toward the law school.
“I encourage them to exceed their expectations and start contributing back to the University earlier (rather) than later and decrease the amount of time they need our support,” Davis said.
Only law schools which meet a rigorous list of criteria receive ABA accreditation.
“A law school must be the highest quality to get ABA accreditation,” said Beverly Holmes, spokeswoman for the American Bar Association. “A law school will not get ABA accreditation if the students or faculty do not reflect the highest quality. For instance, their LSAT scores must be high, their bar passing rates must be high and their coursework must be of the highest quality.”
If the College of Law fails again this year, Morgan said the next steps are undetermined.
“We will have to take a step back and reassess what will be done,” Morgan said.
Areas the law school needs to improve to get ABA accreditation are in its LSAT scores and California Bar Exam rates.
According to California Bar Examination General Statistics Report, in 2003 45 students took the bar exam and 11 passed or 24 percent. The graduating class consisted of 45 students.
In 2004, the graduating class had 32 students. All 32 took the bar exam and 10 passed or 31 percent, according to the California Bar Examination General Statistics Report.
A few weeks ago, the College of Law had a mock ABA accreditation visit where two individuals from the ABA accreditation program came to the school and mimicked the approval procedure.
“The individuals said that the College of Law has more than improved,” Morgan said. “Our quality and credentials of faculty, research and publications, curriculum and courses and library and facilities have all improved.
“They said we are meeting ABA standards,” he added. “When we do get ABA approval, the College of Law will be the only law school in the Inland Empire and East San Gabriel Valley area.”
However, Davis has mixed feelings about the law school’s fourth attempt at accreditation.
“In the long run, it is a wise investment that can increase and enrich the stature of the University because an accredited law school brings that kind of prestige,” Davis said. “In the short run, it is really hard because faculty and staff salaries are suffering. But I’m going to be optimistic and keep my eye on the long run.”
Nila Priyambodo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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