ABA To Rule On Cooleys Satellites

April 23, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS —Thomas M. Cooley Law School apparently has won half its battle with the American Bar Association over accreditation of the its satellite programs in Rochester and Grand Rapids.

The satellites are two-year programs at Oakland University in Rochester and Western Michigan University here.

Cooley had filed suit March 30 seeking an injunction to prevent the ABA from further delays in ruling on both satellite program applications and to assure that the applications would be “fairly and properly” reviewed. Cooley then withdrew its motion for a preliminary injunction against the ABA and made a few concessions under an agreement hammered out in federal district court April 16.

At the preliminary injunction hearing, the ABA agreed to a timetable to consider Cooley’s satellite campus applications, said Cooley President and Dean Don LeDuc.

The bar agreed to do a substantive review of the satellite programs — in effect for the first time — and agreed to put the three-year satellite campus option back into the sequence, he said.

The ABA’s Accreditation Committee will consider the applications on June 25 and 26 and make a recommendation to the ABA Council, which has the final say. The ABA council will consider the applications on Aug. 5 and 6, LeDuc said.

He said he’s convinced the lawsuit provided the impetus for the ABA to finally set dates to review the applications. He expects to hear the final decision within a week or so of the August meetings.

In addition, the ABA agreed to postpone until June a show-cause hearing it had scheduled this month before the Accreditation Committee regarding Cooley’s implementation of the satellite campuses.

“Their defense to the lawsuit is that we should not have gone beyond the 15 credits. Our argument was their rules allowed (that),” LeDuc explained. “They’ve made a determination that we’re wrong and they’re right, and now they want to inflict a penalty on us. So the hearing was a show cause as to whether a penalty should be applied and what it should be. They have agreed to put that off to the same day that they consider our applications.”

For its part, Cooley agreed to voluntarily limit the number of credits students can take in the satellite programs, beginning with the summer 2004 semester that starts next month. LeDuc anticipates it will be a temporary measure until Cooley works out the accreditation issue with the ABA. He expects the issue will be resolved by summer’s end.

Depending on how many credits students have accrued to date, some will be able to take classes at the satellite locations while others will have to travel to Lansing. Those that have accrued 15 or more credits will be required to continue their studies in Lansing if they want to take classes this summer.

LeDuc said a total of 56 Grand Rapids students are affected by the court-negotiated agreement. Of those, 26 will have to travel to Lansing for summer classes. About 16 students will be able to take two or three classes in Grand Rapids this summer, and the balance will be able to take at least one class in Grand Rapids, he noted.

Incoming students are not affected by the credit limits because they can only take 12 credits their first term.

“Under terms of the agreement we’ve agreed to limit it to 15 credits indefinitely, but their side of that commitment is that they have to reach a decision on the merit of the satellite applications.”

As part of the deal, Cooley also agreed not to start any other satellites without prior acquiescence.

In the meantime, work on Cooley’s new campus in downtown Grand Rapids continues as planned, he said.

“We are into the second phase of development and we’re going full speed ahead. The library is open and we’re actually using that now.”

LeDuc isn’t concerned about the possibility of having to shut down the satellites.

“We are committed to doing this,” he added.

He noted that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan retains continuing jurisdiction over the case, so the lawsuit is still pending.

LeDuc said Cooley “can return to court at any time regarding the satellites or the sanctions if it believes the ABA has acted arbitrarily or unreasonably, or has made a decision that is not supported by substantial evidence.”

Cooley has been accredited since 1975.           

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