Friday, August 8, 2014

Vandevelde's History of Thomas Jefferson School of Law

As the writer of about two thirds of a history of the Georgetown University Law Center, I’m always
Mirror, Mirror, off the Wall?
interested when other scholars take on the history of their own institutions.  Now comes Kenneth J. Vandevelde, who has posted Chapter 2 of his History of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law (California Press, 2013).  Here is the abstract:
A History of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law is the story of the radical transformation of a San Diego law school during the final decades of the twentieth century, a story that is told in the context of larger changes occurring in American legal education in those years. The author served as dean of the law school from 1994 to 2005.

The Thomas Jefferson School of Law was founded in 1969 as the San Diego branch campus of Western State University College of Law (WSU), a for-profit, non-ABA-accredited Orange County law school that primarily served part-time evening students. The law school was proud of educating working adults and produced some outstanding alumni, but its attrition rates ranged between 50 and 75 percent and its pass rate on the California bar exam sometimes fell below 25 percent.

In a half dozen years during the 1990s, the law school experienced a rebirth. It separated from WSU, adopted a new name, became the first for-profit law school to gain ABA accreditation, and became the first and only ABA-approved law school to convert from a for-profit to a nonprofit institution. Admissions applications soared more than ten-fold, resulting in a nationally based student body second in California only to Stanford’s for its geographic diversity. The law school’s academic dismissal rate dropped to around 5 percent and its California bar pass rate climbed above 75 percent. The law school was ranked 5th in the nation for the quality of academic life and 55th among law schools worldwide for the number of its faculty publications downloaded from SSRN. Its legal writing program was ranked in the top 20 nationally.

Chapter Two of the book, posted here for free download on SSRN, offers a very candid portrayal of the law school in its early history, capturing the culture of a new state-accredited, part-time law school in Southern California in the early 1970s struggling to bolster its academic program, its reputation, and its revenue. Later chapters describe the impact of rapidly declining applications for admission to law schools nationally during the 1980s, the historic challenges to the ABA’s accreditation standards, WSU’s disastrous application for ABA approval in the late 1980s, and the renaissance on the San Diego campus that began in the early 1990s, culminating in a complete transformation of the institution in less than a decade.

The published version of the book contains approximately 80 photographs depicting key individuals, places and events in the history of the law school.

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