National Jurist - November 2008 - 8
NEWS ‘We shouldn’t have been put on probation’ [EDITOR’S NOTE: It was reported in the story “Dropping like flies” that Whittier Law School declined a request to be interviewed. We’d like to clarify that Whittier did not return calls by press time. This Q & A with Dean Neil Cogan is intended to explore the facts behind the attrition numbers reported in the article, discuss the law school’s three-year battle with the American Bar Association and how they are looking forward.] Q: In our September 2008 issue of The National Jurist, it was reported that Whittier Law School had an attrition rate of 51.50 percent. Explain the reasons behind this high number. A: Let me first clarify that the 51.50 percentage was from 2005. On August 8, 2005, we were put on two-year probation. Combining voluntary and involuntary attrition numbers, our attrition rate was always under 20 percent each year. Our voluntary attrition rate the previous & A year was 4.7 percent. But when probation was announced in 2005, there was an extra 30 percent hit. Many two-year students sought to transfer. By the next year, voluntary attrition had declined to 15-16 percent in 2006 and in 2007 it dropped again. Q: Whittier Law School was put on probation for low state average bar passage rates. Explain what happened after this. A: We shouldn’t have been put on probation. That’s the sad part. At the time we were put on probation, we constantly asked why. Tell us the numbers we need to meet. But the ABA would not answer. The ABA was acting without an approved rule. (The rule Cogan is talking about is Standard 301(a) of the Standards for Approval of Law Schools which states, “A law school shall maintain an educational program that prepares PHOTO BY MELISSA STOTTLEMYER statistical report to the ABA and requested removal from probation. There was no challenge whatsoever. On June 8, 2008, the ABA removed the law school’s probationary status. (On the February 2008 California Bar Examination, Whittier Law School’s firsttime takers passed at a higher rate than four California schools, including graduates of Berkeley and UCLA, and its repeat takers bested 11 schools, including graduates of Stanford and USC. Those first-time takers who participated in two of Whittier’s intense bar prep programs passed at a rate of 91 percent.) Q: You engaged in a pretty hefty battle with the ABA. Do you feel there is a hurt relationship? A: I can’t really answer that. This was an unfortunate episode. It was a tough battle. A total of three of my eight years as dean were spent battling the ABA. We lost 12 faculty all together. Seven senior faculty staff members took a buy“We just matriculated our best class out, and five junior faculty memin the history of the law school. We bers took positions at other promiare a school willing to take a risk on nent law schools across the country. That shows something about the students.” quality of our hiring. Our student — Neil Cogan, dean of Whittier Law School body shrunk in half, so we have had to re-engineer and restructure our law school. its students for admission to the bar, and effective and responsible participation in the legal profession.” Cogan argued that in 2005 and even today, it remains unsettled what kind of rule Standard 301(a) is.) Eventually in 2007 the ABA was reprimanded for its actions and put on probation itself for 18 months. Within two days of the ABA’s official adoption of its bar passage rule in February 2008, we submitted our 8 THE NATIONAL JURIST November 2008 Q: Where do you go from here? A: We look forward. We get back on our path. We just matriculated our best class in the history of the law school. We are a school willing to take a risk on students. Many students have difficulty on the bar exam. Some do have to take it more than once. But that doesn’t make them less of a lawyer in the end. We will begin hiring again and continue to maintain our diversity.