Phi Beta Cons

Trust Us!

Inside Higher Ed reports on the Department of Education’s partially successful efforts to scrutinize one of the most powerful functions of the American Bar Association: it’s near-monopoly on law school accreditation. Key paragraph:

The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity, which advises the education secretary on accreditation, found the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar to be systematically guilty of a pattern of ambiguity and inconsistency, as recommended in a report prepared by the education department’s staff. But, in a startling series of events, the advisory committee overruled the staff finding that the ABA council had overstepped its authority in introducing a newly revised and broadly written “equal opportunity and diversity standard” ( Standard 212, formerly known as 211) requiring law schools to “demonstrate by concrete action” their commitment to a diverse student body.

In other words, while the Department of Education is finally taking baby steps to introduce greater transparency and accountability to the accreditation process, it is still requiring law schools to worship before the golden calf of “diversity.”

While this news is interesting enough, the fact that the ABA has for years been permitted to accredit law schools without explaining or clearly outlining key standards (such as the acceptable law-school bar passage rates) demonstrates the academy’s consistent “trust us” approach to oversight. In almost every area of public life, academics lead the charge in demanding greater openness. From law to medicine to business to government, academics decry secrecy and spin dark conspiracy theories whenever corporations or government officials are not immediately forthcoming — even with trade secrets or classified information.
But if you want to watch someone immediately sing the praises of confidentiality and institutional autonomy, ask an academic to submit to almost any level of outside scrutiny. Whether it’s a mere critique (which is often labeled “McCarthyite” even if the critic has zero power or authority over the professors’ career prospects) or actual legislative scrutiny, we hear again and again how only the “community of scholars” is qualified to judge its members. I seem to remember both lawyers and doctors making many of the same arguments regarding their own professions, only to see such obvious high-handedness alienate the public and lead — ironically enough — to waves of litigation where split-second medical and legal judgments are evaluated by juries of twelve ordinary citizens who often lack even the most rudimentary education, much less specialized training in the relevant fields.
I think it is safe to say that academics will soon be living with the same realities as doctors and lawyers, and they will have no one to blame but themselves.


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