George Mason University Law School is plagued by inadequate financial resources, low salaries and a neglected physical plant, according to an annual report by the American Bar Association Accreditation Committee.
The Arlington-based, state-supported law school, whose dean has come under fire this year from some students and faculty members, is in its fifth year of provisional accreditation by the ABA. If full ABA approval is not granted to the school by August, it must either receive an extension of its current status or lose accreditation.
David J. King, vice president for academic affairs at George Mason University, said the chances that the law school will lose accreditation are "nil."
"There is no doubt, given the enormous progress that we've made in this institution . . . that we will come out all right," he said.
James P. White, the ABA's consultant on legal education and author of the report, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The ABA report also acknowledged the criticism about the school's dean, Ralph Norvell, by stating that "the faculty's role in governance of the school . . . remains unfulfilled. It is past time for the dean and faculty to develop . . . collegial rapport."
Norvell was the target of protests last spring by students who charged that he is authoritarian and insensitive. Some faculty members also have criticized Norvell's management style, accusing him of being secretive and vengeful. Other professors defend the dean, arguing that he is controversial because of his efforts to raise standards at the seven-year-old school.
Norvell was not available for comment yesterday. King ackowledged that opinion about Norvell is divided, but disputed other parts of the ABA report.
Citing a section of the ABA report stating that the law school's salaries are too low to attract and maintain a competent faculty, King said, "The salary structure in academics is inadequate anywhere." He also referred to another section of the report that called the faculty competent, saying, "The ABA can't have it both ways."
King also said the law school has proved that it has sufficient resources, contrary to the conclusions of the ABA, because "we've been sharply increasing the quality of our students and the levels of our enrollments."
As for the report's criticism of the law school's building in Arlington's Virginia Square neighborhood, King said the university has been making steady improvements. "We have spent more than $700,000 on improvements to that building," he said.
At least two law professors have filed grievances against the law school with the ABA. One of them, John Ebiasah, said he has been paid less than other professors at the school because he is black. Ebiasah, who holds the equivalent of a PhD in the law, said his salary is $41,000 a year.
Another professor, Robert Davidow, acknowledged that he had filed a grievance but declined to elaborate on its subject. Both complaints are being considered by a faculty grievance panel, the professors said.
In an interview with The Washington Post last spring, Norvell called student criticism of his administrative style "sniveling nonsense." He said that because George Mason's law school is relatively new, he sets tough standards, especially in grading policy, to bolster its reputation.