ABA Accreditation Comes to USD

By:  Laura Patrick

If you happen to notice some new faces around the law school mid-March, don’t be alarmed, it’s just business as usual.  From March 18 to March 21, the American Bar Association will be visiting the University of San Diego School of Law for a regularly scheduled site visit.  For accredited schools this type of visit is required every seven years by the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools and the Rules of Procedure for the Approval of Law Schools.

The ABA visit is intended to do several things.  First, it is a double-check on the school’s evaluation of itself.  Up until a few weeks ago, a self-study committee, chaired by Professor Michael Kelly, has been compiling an assessment of the school to ensure that it is complying with all ABA requirements.

“It’s generally a chance for us to sit back and reflect on where do we think we could do better and where we think we’re doing pretty well,” said Professor Kelly.  One of the site team’s responsibilities will be gauging how well the committee assessed the school in the self-study.

Second, it is the ABA’s opportunity to personally evaluate the school and its compliance with the rules.  Senior Assistant Dean for the Administration Teresa O’Rourke, who is coordinating with the ABA for the visit, says the odds of the law school losing its accreditation are pretty slim.  Instead, this is more of a chance to spot problem areas.

“They’re looking to see how they can help us from an objective perspective,” said O’Rourke, “and it’s a good opportunity for us to tell them what we do well and what we can improve.”

The site team is made up of seven people, each with an extensive background in whatever area of the school they are evaluating.  “It’s a really good match up process,” said O’Rourke.  They will be looking into every part of the law school, including Career Services, Student Affairs, the faculty, and the library facilities.  If for some reason the ABA team finds problems within the school, there is a 24-month “Report-Back” period.  During that time, the school and the ABA would work together to fix any trouble areas.  Pointing out problems shouldn’t be considered a bad thing, says O’Rourke.  “No school ever gets a perfect score back,” she said, “and we use it as an improvement plan.

So what should the students expect?  “You may see very little. The group will mostly just be on campus wandering around,” said Kelly.  “They will be in meetings with professors and meetings with deans.”

According to O’Rourke, you may also spot them sitting in on classes or even pulling students aside for short Q&A sessions.  The site team’s schedule isn’t yet set, but an open student forum is planned for sometime during the visit.  If you’re pulled aside for questions, or decide to attend the forum, O’Rourke says the most important thing is to speak your mind.  “Just be honest about what you think works and doesn’t work at the school,” she says.

But don’t bother complaining about the parking.  “Unfortunately, parking is in not an ABA requirement,” says Kelly.

More information surrounding the visit will be announced to the student body as it becomes available.  For more information or any questions concerning the ABA visit, call Senior Assistant Dean O’Rourke at (619) 260-7985 or e-mail her at torourke@sandiego.edu.

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