Transparency and Accountability for UMASS Law School

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(See correction/clarification below)

In an effort to aid in the Governor’s quest for greater accountability in state government, Pioneer turned its transparency efforts towards the UMASS Law School.

Pioneer has long been a critic of the law school project but let’s see how the school’s own data grades it.

First problem: Neither UMASS nor the Board of Higher Education ever laid down any initial performance benchmarks in any of their planning documents. They told us where they would go in the future, but not where they were starting from.

Second problem: UMass was not wild about releasing the information on these benchmarks. 10 separate follow-ups were required to get what we wanted. And the Public Records Law? Treated as a joke. Five follow-ups and almost two months just to get them to acknowledge the request with the legal requirement to respond in 10 days was ignored. All told, the initial request was submitted last June, and only answered substantively on March 13.
fter the first year of operation, the Globe’s Tracy Jan, the Patriot Ledger’s Jon Chesto, and the Standard-Times Brian Boyd were quick to declare victory for the law school. But a look at the data relevant to ABA accreditation shows the school is still years behind its own schedule.

On college GPA averages, UMASS promised a 3.2 average by academic year 2012-13. Their entering class for this year had an average GPA of 3.0 and they now project hitting this benchmark by the 2015-16 academic year.

Turning to LSAT scores, UMASS projected an average of 150 by the 2012-13 year. It achieved an average of 144 this year (from a base of 141 in 2009) and, once again, has pushed back the delivery date to the 2015-16 year.

Another important area of achievement is the bar exam pass rates. UMASS was shooting for 80% by next year and hit 76% last year. This number may not be conclusive (in either direction) as only 29 students from the school took the bar this year (from a school that has had an enrollment of 200+ over the period).

The point of trying to raise all these scores has been to get ABA Accreditation. The initial goal was provisional accreditation this year — that also didn’t happen.

[Correction/Clarification: A commenter responds that the law school is still awaiting word from the ABA on provisional accreditation. There initial milestone was to receive that approval by this current academic year so, to be fair, they still have several months to reach that goal. Will post if they do. I had assumed, incorrectly, that the lack of any public announcement meant that provisional accreditation was out of reach for the year.]

And the school is clearly lagging behind its benchmarks. A transparent accountability system for the UMASS Law School would disclose this and detail the school’s strategy for addressing the problem.

Crossposted at Boston Daily