The end of this week could mark the end of the road for Antioch Law School.
The fate of the brash, innovative 13- year-old Washington institution may depend on what happens at a Friday meeting of the trustees of the law school's parent body, Antioch University, in Yellow Springs, Ohio. It doesn't look good.
The 16th Street school, which functions as public-interest law firm while teaching law to students disproportionately including other law schools' rejects, has been dodging bullets for some time now, most of them coming from the American Bar Association committee that oversees accreditation. Most of the problems raised by the ABA are either resolved or seem well on the way to resolution, according to local administrators and supporters of the school. What has them worried this week is not outside sniping but parental nonsupport.
"The ABA committee that deals with our accreditation has always, ever since Edgar and Jean (Cahn) started the school, been very nervous about Antioch," says David Tatel, a Washington lawyer who has been helping Dean Isaac C. Hunt Jr. work out some of the school's problems. "In the first accreditation, when Antioch won full accreditation earlier than any other law school ever had, the committee voted against it. Last January, the committee started investigating again to see whether they should take it away from us."
The upshot of that investigation was a 43-page report, still not made public, that, according to Tatel and Hunt, outlined three basic concerns: Student quality was too low, based on success at the bar examination; the faculty wasn't good enough in terms of scholarship; and the facilities were inadequate, given the three-or four-block distance between the classrooms, in a lovely but too-small stone building at 2633 16th Street NW, and the law library, in space borrowed from the Agnes and Eugene Meyer Foundation at 1624 Crescent Place.
Tatel and Hunt said they were able to prove that Antioch has a better pass rate on the bar examination than most schools with a heavily minority enrollment. "As for the question of scholarship and publication," Tatel said, "we asked them to look at our briefs and ask themselves if the complexity of research and analysis and insight in the briefs is equal to that of a law review article. If so, then the scholarship argument evaporates."
But the problem wouldn't go away until a few weeks ago. Antioch's own faculty and staff acknowledged that the school need facilities sufficient to house both classrooms and a law library, and that the 16th Street site simply wouldn't work.
But now, with the support of D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, the law school has been offered a 20-year low-cost lease on the vacant Perry School (the original Dunbar High School) at First and M streets NW. What is needed now is two years and about $2.5 million to renovate the building.
Joseph L. Rauh Jr., the venerable Washington civil rights lawyer and senior member of the board of governors of the law school, says he is confident that the ABA will grant the time. But raising the money will require the cooperation of Antioch University, and that is far from certain.
According to Rauh, the combination of the proceeds from the sale of the 16th Street site and the forgiveness of the "overhead" assessments the law school must send to Yellow Springs would make it possible to finance the renovation, and the other problems will take care of themselves.
"If we get into the Perry School, the ABA wouldn't have the guts to take away our accreditation. The only thing that can kill Antioch now is a decision of Antioch University not to help us with the $2.5 million it takes to fix it up."