On December 16th, I wrote a column for Above the Law on the ABA’s annual data dump. In it I highlighted nine schools that “reportedly” eliminated conditional scholarship programs. I used the quoted caveat in my column because I was skeptical that a few of these schools had actually eliminated the program.
One school I contacted was Arizona Summit. The school previously operated a very large conditional scholarship program and had a substantial percentage of students who lost these scholarships after the first year. It would have been a substantial budgetary hit to change the program at Arizona Summit in particular. However, the school’s 509 report indicated that it had.
Five days after the column ran, Dean Shirley Mays emailed me to say that the school had made an error and that the school was in the process of correcting the 509 report with the ABA. Dean Mays said the data “should be corrected by the end of [the] week.” A month after the column ran, I followed up with Dean Mays. Five days later, Dean Mays emailed me to say that the ABA updated their website. By today the Arizona Summit website was also updated.
I do not know when Arizona Summit submitted the corrected data to the ABA. I do know that the ABA Section of Legal Education staff is understaffed. (Highlighting Standard 509 problems has been and will continue to be an important role for LST for this reason.) With the holidays it very well could have taken the ABA three or more weeks to make even a minor change. I can also understand Arizona Summit’s pace not being ideal given the holidays.
Nevertheless, for one month, Arizona Summit knowingly published false information about its conditional scholarship program.
What concerns me most about the process is that Arizona Summit let information appear on its website that it knew to be false. The school did not take down the report. The school did not edit the PDF to note the incorrect portion. The school did not add an HTML table or additional PDF with the correct information, or even an indication that the report included false information. Arizona Summit may have been limited by the ABA in terms of the ABA website being corrected, but its own website is 100% within its control.
This also raises pertinent questions about transparency in law school accreditation.
It is possible, though unlikely, that Arizona Summit will be sanctioned for this. I can see the argument either way. I will point out, however, that we just won’t know how well the ABA accreditation process works here because the process is not transparent. We do not know what considerations the ABA weighs, nor how or why it resolved its ultimate determination. Instead we are left to trust that the ABA got it right and that schools won’t take advantage of an under-resourced accreditor.
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