Sunday, January 27, 2013

Wake Forest's violation of Standard 512; misreporting compliance with the standard

     Standard 512 was developed to satisfy federal consumer protection regulations and requires law schools to publish a policy for handling written complaints that implicate the standards.  It became effective "immediately" August 8, 2011.  (Scroll down the Accreditation Archives page to "Standards and Rules."  Click the "Standards 105, 306, 512 and Rules 20, 24" link to get a pdf of the memo.  The effective date of Standard 512 is given at the top of the first page.)

     Wake Forest refused to comply with Standard 512.  Its 2011-2012 policy didn't mention written complaints or the standards at all.  For months, however, Suzanne Reynolds, insisted that the law school was meeting the standard's requirements. 

     I filed a complaint with the ABA, but Wake Forest included a policy to handle written complaints in the 2012-2013 Student Handbook.  Stephanie Giggetts, Assistant Consultant on Legal Education, responded for the ABA:

          . . . the Rule 24 complaint that you filed against Wake Forest

          University School of Law has been dismissed under Rule 24 

          Following careful consideration of the complaint, a request

          for information to the law school, and the school's response
          to that request, I have concluded that the complaint and the
          school's response considered together do not support a claim
          that the school is currently in non-compliance with the
          Standards. . . .

          A record of your complaint will be retained in our office and

          will be available to the Accreditation Committee for their 
          review of the Standards generally or in conjunction with the
          periodic assessment of the law school.

      I replied:

           You wrote, “I have concluded that the complaint and the
          school’s response considered together do not support a claim 
          that the school is currently in non-compliance with the 
          Standards.” (emphasis added).

          Wake Forest would have to “maintain a record of student 
          complaints submitted during the most recent accreditation 
          period” to be currently in compliance with Standard 512.  
          That would require contacting the students who attended
          Wake Forest during the 2011-2012 year, letting them know
          about the standard, and giving them the opportunity to file a 
          written complaint pursuant to that standard.  Wake Forest
          has not done any of those things.   

     The point of Standard 512 is to establish a record of student complaints to increase accountability for all the standards (34 C.F.R. 602.16(a)(1)(ix)).  Ms. Giggetts' interpretation of Standard 512 frustrates the purpose of the federal regulation.  Greater transparency is needed to ensure that the ABA complies with federal law.

     The decision also sidestepped the second violation alleged in the complaint: misreporting compliance.  Wake Forest misreported compliance with a consumer protection standard designed to establish a record of student complaints about possible violations of the standards. 

     Accuracy in reporting is critical because site visits occur infrequently -- only about every seven years, or so.  As a result, consumers and accrediting agencies rely heavily on the accuracy of reported information.  The ABA's handling of Wake Forest's systematic misrepresentation denied consumers the right to make informed decisionsConsumers need to know when a law school is violating consumer protection standards and providing false information about compliance.

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