Pro Bono Barrister: Crisis at Albany Law School brings fight into the open

February 10, 2014 By Charles F. Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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While schools such as our own Brooklyn Law are dealing effectively with the profession-wide financial crisis, other law-related institutions are not doing well at all.

The most recent case in point is the crisis at Albany Law School where, according to the NYLJ’s Tania Karas and John Caher, the school and “some of its professors are at odds over plans to reduce faculty size due to declining enrollment, giving rise to a broader question of whether the institution should lower its standards to save jobs,”

Karas and Caher report that the school “offered buyouts to up to eight longer-tenured and higher-salaried professors. At the same time, the Board of Trustees, in a statement, and the law school’s dean, in an interview, flatly rejected an idea, apparently promoted by some faculty, to lower admissions standards.”

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The Albany School’s Board outlined a challenging future, stating, “A review of our declining bar passage statistics (we are now the second lowest law school in New York State for bar passage), combined with the extremely difficult employment market for our graduates, compels us to believe that we must focus on quality of applicants, not quantity. “To admit students in order to increase revenues due to projected operating deficits would be both unethical and in violation of ABA standards.”

Karas and Caher interviewed Penelope Andrews, dean and president of Albany Law School, who said that any discussion of lowering standards is off the table.

“We have a commitment to the people who come into the building to prepare them to practice law,” Andrews said. “We have to ensure that they can succeed in our program and also pass the bar. We will not increase the number of people we admit just to fill our class. It is an ethical issue, and we will accept only students who can succeed in law school.”

Only 80 percent of Albany Law School graduates who took the bar exam in July passed, giving the school the second lowest bar passage rate among the 15 law schools in the state. Only Touro, with a passage rate of 68 percent, came in lower.

Andrews said the faculty and administration have engaged in discussions on how to reduce costs and increase revenues. She confirmed that one of the ideas floated was to admit more students, especially those on the “wait list” who are on the cusp of earning admission.

To her credit, Dean Andrews told Karas and Caher that admitting students for financial gain would be “irresponsible.”

An unnamed Albany Law professor said a “small but vocal minority” of faculty want the school to lower its standards to boost its tuition revenues and lessen the chances of layoffs.

“It is a very selfish, selfish endeavor,” the professor said. “They are really trying to save their jobs, but they’ve ginned this up to make it look like we are denying academic rights.”

It’s quite a different picture at Brooklyn Law School ,which last year was able to announce that Ninety-four percent of BLS first-time test takers passed the July exam – far surpassing the 86 percent statewide average for first-time test takers from ABA-approved institutions. “The Class of ’13 bar passage rate is the Law School’s highest in the past 25 years,” said a spokesman.

“We are enormously proud of the accomplishment of all of our students who have passed the bar,” said Dean Nick Allard. He added that the high passage rate is “no doubt due to many factors.”  These remarks were all made months before the Albany Law dispute went public.


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