'A very steep mountain to climb'
How much trouble is the Florida A&M University law school in? A lot, according to a scathing new report by an American Bar Association site team that visited the Orlando campus in October.
The 48-page report, released in March and obtained by The Gradebook through a public records request, cites faculty infighting, low bar passage rates and a dwindling lack of trust between students and administration.
"In short," it concludes, "there is a lot of work to be done in a very short period of time if the Law School is to achieve its goal of receiving full accreditation from the ABA in 2009. At the moment, it appears to be a very steep mountain to climb … "
The report echoes concerns raised last year in a series of stories in the St. Petersburg Times (see here, here and here), and to some extent, it is old news. New dean LeRoy Pernell (left) arrived on campus in January and has since made a number of changes, including the hiring of new professors and administrators.
And yet, the report sheds fresh light on the depths to which the law school had sunk since it was established in 2002 with more than $40 million in taxpayer money.
It also suggests the university's problems go beyond the financial control issues that brought scrutiny from auditors and lawmakers and that those problems have undermined academic quality.
The report puts a lot of emphasis on faculty tension. Even with precious time running out on the 5-year accreditation clock, junior and senior faculty could not put aside differences long enough to smoothly work together on a study assessing the school's strengths and weaknesses, the report says.
"Repeated and painful efforts with limited success to get full faculty participation and buy-in during the Self-Study process reflects at best, a faculty overburdened and unable to function together even when the goal is considered a unifying priority, or, at worst, a callous disregard for the future of the Law School," the report says.
There are a few bright spots: While the report chides faculty for publishing "less than expected," it says teaching quality ranges "from satisfactory to exemplary." It says communication between the main campus in Tallahassee and the law school has improved. And it says new leadership under President James Ammons (right) is "among the most positive developments of the past year."
If a turnaround does happen, the report says, "it will be because the new 'guys' at the school choose to join forces to make it happen, and together they have the persuasive powers to bring the faculty and staff along to help with the climb to the mountain top."
To see the university's response, click here.
- Ron Matus, state education reporter