It was just over a year ago -- in December 1984 -- that an American Bar Association committee criticized the George Mason University Law School for neglecting its physical plant, paying low faculty salaries and not putting enough resources into the institution.
The ABA criticism followed reports of student attempts to oust Dean Ralph Norvell, described by critics as authoritarian and insensitive.
The situation looks a lot brighter today for the state-supported law school, which has 655 students at its campus in Arlington.
The school won full accreditation this month from the ABA's House of Delegates at its meeting in Baltimore. The school had been on the ABA's provisional list since 1980, requiring annual visits by an ABA oversight committee. Now the ABA committee will visit only every seven years.
"Its reputation has increased substantially, and it's considered to be a very sound law school," said Frederick R. Franklin, staff director of the ABA's section of legal education and admission to the bar.
Helen Walutes, president of the Student Bar Association, the law school's student government, said she has seen big improvements in her three years -- from new carpeting throughout the school to longer hours at the library. The school has a new bookstore. The student government is organizing sports activities for the first time.
But best of all, she said, she and other graduating students are being offered better jobs than previous students.
Norvell said faculty salaries are higher, with the average pay up roughly $7,000 since the ABA report was issued.
At a time when the national pool of law school applicants is shrinking, applications by day students are up 30 percent this year and applications by evening students are steady, Norvell said. Applicants' admission test scores and undergraduate grade-point averages are up, Norvell said.
There will be changes soon at the top as well: Norvell, 65, will retire this year and return to teaching full time. He said he notified school officials of his plans two years ago. A new dean is expected to be named soon, perhaps this week.
Walutes said the furor over Norvell stemmed from his insistence on higher standards, unleavened by tact. "He has a vision of what the law school should be," Walutes said. "Sometimes he does not care how he tells me he is going to get to that vision -- but I agree with his vision."
Walutes said the situation has calmed, as students "recognize the value" of tougher standards.
Norvell, who once called the student complaints "sniveling nonsense," now says he has nothing to say about them.
Is he pleased at the law school's accomplishments? Pleased, yes, he said, but he added, "If you mean content -- no."