Funding, diversity obstacles on path to reaccreditation
A lack of adequate funding and ethnic diversity has cast a shadow of uncertainty over UND's School of Law.
The school is going through its reaccreditation process with the American Bar Association; law schools go through this process about every seven years. It's also being considered for renewed membership with the Association of American Law Schools, a desired status of law schools.
Until recently, with campus visitors sending the school a very optimistic report last fall, reaccreditation appeared almost a certainty. "I can't tell you anything that would tell us that our accreditation may be in jeopardy," Dean Jeremy Davis said in October after receiving the favorable site-visit report.
Davis still feels strongly the ABA will reaccredit the school, but his optimism was tempered after he received the latest reports from the ABA and the Association of American Law Schools. Most law schools are members of the AALS, which isn't as important as ABA accreditation. AALS membership is more of a scholarly recognition, while most states require degrees from ABA accredited schools before people can take the bar exam.
The biggest concern with the ABA is the school's lack of funding. In its letter -- dated Jan. 10 -- to Davis and UND President Charles Kupchella, the ABA's accreditation committee stated the school's limited funding is not compliant with ABA standards. The letter cites "the inadequacy of financial resources available to support the law school's program of legal education, which is having a negative and material effect on the education students receive."
The school also needs more faculty members, according to the AALS.
An area that is directly tied to that lack of funding is the inadequacy of the school's law library.
"There are three ways we get funded," said Davis, adding that the school has an annual budget of about $2.5 million. "Appropriations (legislative), soft money (donations) and tuition." He said in comparisons to four similar schools in South Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, UND's law school likely surpasses only Montana in funding. South Dakota's law professors make an average of $5,000 more annually than North Dakota's. The budget numbers from the other schools weren't available. The ABA didn't include what it felt was adequate funding. "We have failed in all three areas," Davis said. "We haven't done much in fund raising until this year. We haven't done much because we haven't had the staff to do it." He said a fund-raising effort was able to net $1.3 million last year, mention of which Davis will include in his November response to the ABA. Davis said he plans to tell the ABA the school will continue to raise funds, but that will require the addition of a full-time employee. He said he's also working on securing space in O'Kelly Hall for a bigger law library.
While the ABA did sternly advise the school to become more ethnically diverse in its faculty and students, it didn't include a lack of diversity as a noncompliant factor. The AALS, however, did list the school's lack of diversity as one reason it doubts that the school complies with its obligations of membership. It sent its compliance report to Kupchella and Davis in November. Davis must send a response to the AALS next fall. Currently, there are 194 students enrolled in the school. Ten -- six Native Americans, two Asians and two Hispanics -- are considered minority.
The school has 15 faculty positions, two of which are occupied by Hispanics. The school also has a Native American faculty member. There are six women faculty members, accounting for about 40 percent of the total faculty. Davis said the AALS concerns are primarily about the lack of black faculty, staff and students. With the mostly white demographics of the area, Davis said it's difficult to attract black people to the school. But he said the school must find ways to address this issue. "What bothers me is we have standards to seek diversity," Davis said. "We have been trying to do that, but it hasn't paid off."
The school does reach out to Native areas by training tribal attorneys. It also maintains a Center for American Indian Law, but the school has a "high attrition" rate -- not listed in the report -- for minority students. Even among surrounding Native areas, it's difficult to compete with schools with larger budgets.
These schools can often attract bright minority students with complete scholarships. UND can only offer partial scholarships, said Davis, adding that the diversity issue is connected to funding.
A member of the School of Law's diversity committee, law professor Jim Grijalva, said the school has another barrier in attracting Native students. That barrier is UND's Fighting Sioux nickname, which often is considered offensive by Native Americans. "We thought it was maybe one of the factors that contribute to it," Grijalva said. "We have students who tell us it is a factor." Davis said the name may discourage some students from attending UND.
The dean, however, said UND has a lot of benefits for local Native people and others. The university is centrally located, less expensive than other law schools, and boasts a strong curriculum, he said. He said the school must use these factors to attract all potential students. The school, however, can do more. "One of the things I'm thinking about is working with the tribal colleges in helping them train their own lawyers," he said. Tribal attorneys don't need to graduate from an ABA accredited school to practice law under tribal governments. However, once they've graduated from a two-year program in a tribal college and practiced law, they may want to attend the UND school. That way, they can practice law both on and off reservations in the state.
Grijalva said the diversity committee is also looking into other factors to recruit and retain minority students. One way is to increase scholarships, which also requires increased funding. Increased funding and diversity are the big sticking points, said Davis, who admits his 18-year tenure as the head of the school could be part of the problem. Funding often increases when deans leave their positions. It's difficult to attract a new dean when a school is under-funded, he said. "The dilemma I have is that the school needs some type of stable leadership to get through this," he said. "At the same time, we need a shakeup, and the best way to do that is to step down." If it's necessary to increase funding, Davis said, he will resign his position and just teach in the school.
He feels, however, that the school will be reaccredited with the ABA and will still be a member of the AALS.
Source: Grand Forks Herald, February 3, 2001