Among those familiar with the movement to convert Antioch School of Law into the District of Columbia School of Law, a frequent topic for speculation is this: What are the real motives behind Mayor Marion Barry's opposition to the D.C. law making Antioch the city's public law school?
Why, out of more than 100 witnesses testifying before the D.C. Council on the creation of the D.C. School of Law, should the only opponent have been the mayor's representative? Why, since passage of the measure by a vote of 11 to 2 has the mayor seen fit to block the measure with naysayers Carol Schwartz and Betty Ann Kane?
Surely not because $3 million per year and a building is too much to pay for an accredited law school. That price is a bargain.
Surely not because the American Bar Association has threatened to withdraw Antioch's accreditation unless it secured more stable sources of funding than Antioch University. The takeover by the District answers almost every objection made by the ABA committee about the law school's prior operations, from the condition of its building and the size of its library to the level of student scholarships and faculty salaries.
And surely not because the acquisition of the D.C. School of Law by UDC in three years' time could conceivably jeopardize UDC's existing accreditations. No one has ever understood the claim that acquiring an accredited law school could in any way injure UDC. Like the objections just mentioned, it is simply "smoke."
Then where's the fire? Why, in particular, should UDC protest the assignment of Wilson Teachers College to the D.C. School of Law, allegedly on the ground that this assignment would result in the eviction of UDC's Gerontology Institute? The protesters blithely ignore the statement of Council member Hilda Mason in support of the assignment, which pointed out that the law school would not take possession of the building until summer 1988; that, even then, since it would have only one class that fall, there would be more than enough room for the institute; and that UDC has enough under-utilized space elsewhere to house the College of Education and Human Ecology's students.
More smoke. Mayor Barry knows that the one way to complicate the transfer of ABA accreditation to D.C. School of Law is to deny the school a building. I do not know for sure what the real motives are for this obstruction, but my own guess is that Antioch School of Law, which has made trouble for people in power ever since it was founded in 1972, is still considered a "loose cannon" by the powers that be in this city.
Consistently, the school has represented tenants against landlords, immigrants against the INS, whistleblowers, against bureaucrats, the inmates of public institutions against their caretakers, workers against their employers, those without a voice against those with bullhorns. It is easy to see how a mayor, who made his reputation as an advocate for the poor and the oppressed, might not wish to be confronted now by the ghost of his own past. What a pity, especially considering that Antioch/D.C. School of Law not only represents poor people, working people and minorities, but also turns them into lawyers! No other U.S. law school with such a diversified student body can boast anything like Antioch's 85 percent-plus overall bar examination passage rate.
Fortunately, the D.C. Council has approved the establishment of this law school by veto-proof majorities. Even the mayor must recognize that the law is the law, and that his job is to implement legislation rather than to sabotage it. The people of the District deserve a public law school -- and they shall have it. -- Richard E. Rubenstein is a professor at Antioch School of Law.