ABA sanctions KU law school

Stephen Mazza

Kansas University’s law school has been sanctioned by the American Bar Association for violating the ABA standards for approval of law schools, the ABA announced Thursday.

The committee found that the law school violated standards when it launched an American Legal Studies degree in January 2012 and admitted two students before obtaining the committee’s approval, the ABA said in a news release.

The committee imposed a public censure on the law school that must be posted on the school’s homepage for a year and imposed a $50,000 penalty “based on the finding that the law school made erroneous statements and withheld information during the ABA’s consideration of the matter,” the news release said.

According to a news release from KU, “the school mistakenly believed that the new program came within the scope of the existing master’s program and, therefore, did not seek acquiescence from the ABA.”

In an interview, KU law school Dean Stephen Mazza said the school’s understanding was that it had a general master’s program, under which it could add additional concentrations without ABA approval. “It was really just a misunderstanding about what we were required to submit and when we were required to do it,” he said.

The ABA contends that the KU law school was “grossly negligent” in failing to get approval for the new degree.

According to the ABA’s statement of censure, the school learned from the KU registrar that, after the school accepted two international students into the American Legal Studies program, it could not enroll them because the program did not yet exist within the university system. While the school waited for the Kansas Board of Regents to incorporate it, the students were enrolled in a master’s program in Elder Law, which they hadn’t applied to and did not meet the admissions requirements for, according to the ABA’s statement.

The Elder Law and American Legal Studies programs have different purposes, mostly different curricula and different admissions requirements. The Elder Law program requires a law degree from a law school accredited by the ABA. However the newly created American Legal Studies accepts law degrees from international institutions not accredited by ABA. The KU students, without ABA-accredited degrees, met the requirements for the American Legal Studies program when they applied, but not those for Elder Law.

The ABA approval was not affected by the admissions standards. The approval, which the ABA calls acquiescence, process is primarily meant to ensure that new programs don’t interfere with a law school’s ABA-accredited juris doctor program, seen as central to the mission of a law school.

Mazza said the school did not anticipate that the differences between the programs would require getting their approval as separate degrees by the ABA. “It was just something that no administrator at the law school hit upon,” he said.

The Regents approved the American Legal Studies degree for the enrollment system in December 2012. Mazza said that once the ABA pointed out the need to get the American Legal Studies degree approved through the organization, it applied. The ABA approved the program in April 2013. Following that, one of the KU students that originally applied to the new program was awarded a master’s degree in American Legal Studies and the other is currently enrolled in that program, according to the ABA.

As a response to the censure, Mazza said that a new set of procedures have been put in place that require thorough review of any new programs and approval by the provost’s office before seeking approval by the ABA.

The ABA has approved the new procedures KU put in place, KU said.