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U of Colorado Law School
Accreditation in Jeopardy

By Kacey Kelley
Campus Press staff writer
October 29, 2003

The American Bar Association is threatening to remove CU’s law school accreditation, according to a letter the school received from the association earlier this year.

The Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools requires the ABA to award accreditation to those schools that meet a minimum set of standards. CU’s law school could then lose its legitimacy.

Second-year law student Sybil Clark said the value of a degree from CU’s law school would dwindle if the school’s accreditation was revoked.

“It would be a lot harder to get a job,” Clark said.

In the 2004 US News rankings of the best graduate schools, CU falls in the No. 40 position with three other universities.

“We are currently ranked as one of the top-valued schools,” said John Kellner, a first-year law student.

The dean of the law school, David Getches, explained CU sets high admissions standards and accepted only 170 of the 3,200 applicants that applied last spring. Getches said the value of education the law school’s students receive exceeds the standards set by the ABA; yet he agrees the school is lacking in those areas the ABA has declared CU needs to fix.

According to the ABA, CU needs to provide its students with a renovated law school building and a bigger law library. Also, the ABA is concerned with law school students’ ability to access technology, or lack thereof.

Jeannie Patton, assistant to the dean of the law school, said the college has insufficient supplies in technology, and the students don’t have electronic access throughout the school or the library, which the ABA is now demanding. “The building is not accommodating to our services,” Getches said.

Getches said the value of education students receive at CU’s law school demands a better facility. The school has grown considerably since 1923, when the ABA added CU to its list of approved law schools. In the past 25 years alone, law school enrollment has increased 10 percent.

While plans for building a new facility, that would be named the Wolf Law Building, have been in the works at CU for more than eight years, state funding for the project has been frozen because of budget cutbacks, Getches said. The ABA performs routine site inspections of the schools it has approved for accreditation every seven years, Getches said. All three ABA site inspections done on the CU campus during the past 15 years have raised concerns for the building and its condition.

While blueprints have been made for a new building, construction has to wait until the university can break ground, Getches said. The plans place the Wolf Law Building where the old tennis courts are located, in the Kittridge loop. In 1997, law students agreed to each pay $1,000 in addition to their tuition in order to raise money for a new building, which is expected to cost $38.4 million to construct. But, $7,000 of the law school students’ money went toward new varsity tennis courts, which were opened for use on Sept. 13. In order for the new law school to develop where the varsity tennis courts were previously located, the school is responsible for funding the new courts.

Getches said half of the $40 million needed for the new building will come from this tuition differential and private funding; the other half was to come from the state. The school has raised more than $7.2 million of the $12.8 million needed in private funding. The state, however, has only contributed $2.4 million, which was used to complete the design for the building.

“We owe it to (the students) to get this building underway,” Getches said. The law school has been forced to come up with other options for raising money for the new building. Getches said the legislative agenda of the university includes a bill allowing CU to declare enterprise status. If state legislature grants the university enterprise status, CU will have free reign of tuition rates and be able to finance debt through bills and bonds. Because CU receives less than 10 percent of the new budget’s total revenues, it will have a good chance of being awarded enterprise status.

If awarded enterprise status, Getches said the school plans to raise tuition $2,000 a year for the next three years, bringing in-state tuition from around $7,000 to more than $12,000. While the increase seems huge, Getches said, $12,000 is an average tuition rate for law schools comparable to CU’s, such as Arizona and California state schools.

Annie Mattes is a first-year law student who is worried about the possible raise in tuition.

“I’m out-of-state, so it would be a huge problem for me. CU is a great school, I would hate to have to go somewhere else,” Mattes said.

Still, other students agree a raise in tuition is needed to get the new building blueprints into action.

“If you look at how much money we could get by raising tuition, it would allow us to use some debt financing insurance to get the new building done,” Kellner said. “A raise in tuition would mean a raise in funds, scholarships, and is only going to make us better.” The ABA has asked the college to prepare a response to the possibility of losing its law school by November. A hearing for the dean and CU administrators to appear before the ABA board is set for January.

Getches said he might ask the ABA for more time so he can work with the university in framing and pursuing state legislation in January.

Originally, the Wolf Building was to be completed by the year 2004. Getches said if CU breaks ground, the building can be completed within two years. Getches said for the project to keep on schedule it depends on the legislature. One possibility is the state financing construction in increments during the next three fiscal years; state funding would be accounted for after a year and half.