American Bar Association / ABA, Defamation, Law School Deans, Law Schools

Wake Forest Lawsuit Follow-Up

So what got that Wake Forest law student mad enough that he started calling for Wake’s accreditation?

To briefly recap, a Wake law student, Daniel Skinner, filed a defamation suit against Wake and several Wake officials over a letter he received suggesting that he’s quick to accuse folks of fraud and deceit.

Underlying this dispute is Skinner’s claim that Wake failed to meet basic accreditation standards and therefore defrauded the ABA and the federal government.

The details of this claim weren’t clear from the complaint and Skinner’s personal blog. But thankfully some folks have stepped up and provided us with more material Skinner has sent around explaining his beef with Wake Forest. So in the interest of full disclosure, let’s take a look at Skinner’s side of this story…

So to make a long story short, Skinner may well be technically correct, and as the bureaucrats say, “technically correct is the best kind of correct.” It’s up to others to decide if this specific violation would rise to undermining Wake Forest’s accreditation.

From an email Skinner sent around the law school:

In 2011, I found evidence of fraud on the part of Dean Morant. December 15, 2011, I notified President Hatch about my concerns in an email and wrote that I would pursue the complaint. I asked what the next step was, and he did not respond.

An ABA standard says that a Dean should not be appointed or reappointed over an objection of a substantial majority of the faculty. I called for a change in leadership and the removal of Dean Morant in a March 21, 2012 email. The faculty got the objection but did not interview me about it.

There’s not really an explanation of what Dean Morant did to arouse Skinner’s sense of justice. I’m hoping it was something good. Like using school funds to run an international kangaroo meat ring.

Anyhoo, then the school gave Skinner a talking to about sending emails to faculty calling for the head of administrators, and handed him a letter “that contained a misleading description of Wake Forest’s compliance with the standards” according to Skinner.

And here’s what kicks off the current round of rhetorical skirmishes. Wake Forest claimed to fulfill all the ABA’s accreditation standards, but Skinner checked out his student handbook and found a fault.

First off, the ABA’s Standard 512 provides:

(a) A law school shall establish, publish, and comply with policies with respect to addressing student complaints.
(b) A law school shall maintain a record of student complaints submitted during the most recent accreditation period. The record shall include the resolution of the complaints.
(c) A “complaint” is a communication in writing that seeks to bring to the attention of the law school a significant problem that directly implicates the school’s program of legal education and its compliance with the Standards.

Interpretation 512-1 – A law school’s policies on student complaints must address, at a minimum, procedures for filing and addressing complaints, appeal rights if any, and timelines.

So the rules require the school to have a well-described procedure for lodging written complaints against a school. As it turned out, Wake’s 2011-2012 Student Handbook didn’t mention anything about filing written complaints.

Ruh roh.

And that’s what kicked off the current round of complaints from Skinner. Skinner took to his personal blog calling for Wake’s accreditation because the student handbook didn’t include instructions for filing written complaints. He took this complaint to the ABA. The ABA decided Wake was in compliance, in part because Wake amended its handbook for 2012-2013 to include instructions for filing written complaints. Here’s Skinner’s account of that incident.

Skinner has some lingering complaints about the quality of Wake’s current standards, though the ABA seems comfortable.

Perhaps Wake had guidelines in place somewhere other than in the student handbook. Who knows? But assuming they didn’t, should this failure undermine its accreditation? Skinner seems to think so. The ABA seems to think differently. UPDATE: By “undermine” Skinner does not necessarily mean “revoke.” He thinks Wake can cure the fault by contacting all the students who attended under the prior handbook phrasing and offering them an opportunity to file written complaints.

It seems to me that this was a failure that merited a “hey what’s up with this?” and not “let’s take this to the ABA,” but I’m probably more laid back than the average lawyer.

You can read a memo outlining Skinner’s full argument on the next page…

(hidden for your protection)

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