Accreditation – Students File Lawsuit Against University

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Avoiding Liability Bulletin – April 2013

…Universities and colleges throughout the country, and programs within these institutions, seek accreditation or other approval from accrediting or like agencies for multiple purposes, but primarily to establish the bona fides of the institution or program in the milieu that they operate within. CACREP – the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs – is an accrediting agency that evaluates professional preparation programs within institutions of higher learning, such as school counselor master’s programs leading to state licensure as a professional counselor. CACREP was established in 1981 upon the approval of the American Personnel and Guidance Association, a precursor to the American Counseling Association.

It was recently reported by the Chicago Tribune (online) that some students attending the Concordia University Chicago master’s degree program in school counseling are suing the school because of the school’s decision that the school counseling master’s program would no longer be accredited by CACREP. Among the allegations being made is that the school advertised to prospective students (and these students in particular, who are scheduled to graduate in May), that the program was accredited by CACREP, and that the CACREP accreditation was an important factor for those pursuing licensure as a professional counselor or seeking employment in a school district after graduation. The suit alleges that the school has broken its promise to the students regarding accreditation and that this constitutes consumer fraud.

The students apparently expected that they would graduate from an accredited program, and they were informed by the school of the importance of accreditation by CACREP. With the announcement of the school’s intent to abandon accreditation by CACREP, that expectation was jeopardized or eliminated. The students, according to the article, are asking for damages in the form of reimbursement for their tuition costs as well as damages for the devalued degrees. It was reported that the school decided not to pursue an extension of accreditation because of financial burdens and new accreditation requirements. It was also reported that the school sought to protect students by requesting that graduates in 2013 and 2014 be “grandfathered” by CACREP – that is, that they be considered to have graduated from an accredited program. Apparently, CACREP denied the request for “grand-parenting.”

I do not know all of the arguments that the University has in its defense, or whether the process they utilized was appropriate under the circumstances. I do know that whenever the law is proposed to be changed in a given state regarding, for example, the educational requirements for licensure, I have advocated that students already in the pipeline be protected by the legislation. In other words, the new requirements should affect only those who will thereafter enter the degree program, but for those who entered the program under specified requirements, they should be protected. The rules of the game should not change during the game. I wonder whether the desire to abandon accreditation for this program, which had been in existence for many years, could have been accomplished in a manner that would have protected those in the pipeline.

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Richard Leslie

"At the Intersection of Law and Psychotherapy" Richard S. Leslie is an attorney who has practiced at the intersection of law and psychotherapy for the past twenty-five years. Most recently, he was a consultant to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), where he worked with their various state divisions to develop and implement their legislative agendas. He also provided telephone consultation services to AAMFT members regarding legal and ethical issues confronting practitioners of diverse licensure nationwide. Additionally, he wrote articles regarding legal and ethical issues for their Family Therapy Magazine and presented at workshops on a variety of legal issues. Prior to his work with AAMFT, Richard was Legal Counsel to the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) for approximately twenty-two years. He was director of Government Relations for CAMFT, and as such was the architect of CAMFT’s widely regarded and successful legislative agenda. He represented CAMFT before the regulatory board (the Board of Behavioral Sciences) and was a tireless advocate for due process and fairness for licensees and applicants. He was a regular presenter at workshops and was consistently evaluated as CAMFT’s most highly rated presenter. He also sat with the CAMFT Ethics Committee and acted as their advisor on matters pertaining to the enforcement of ethical standards. Richard is an acknowledged expert on matters pertaining to the interrelationship between law and the practice of marriage and family therapy and psychotherapy. For many years, he taught Law and Ethics courses for a number of colleges and universities in their marriage and family therapy degree programs. While at CAMFT, he provided telephone consultation services with thousands of therapists in California and elsewhere for over twenty years. He is highly regarded for his judgment, his expertise, his direct style, and his clarity. Richard has been the driving force for many of the changes and additions to the laws of the State of California that affect MFTs. In 1980, he was primarily responsible for achieving passage of the "Freedom of Choice Law" that required insurance companies to pay for psychotherapy services performed by MFTs. Passage of that law allowed MFTs to earn a living, allowed them to better compete in the marketplace, and strengthened the profession in California by leading to a great increase in the number of licensees and CAMFT membership. Currently, about half of the licensed marriage and family therapists in the country are licensed in California. While at CAMFT, Richard was primarily responsible for, among other things, the successful effort to criminalize sex between a patient and a therapist. He was successful in extending the laws of psychotherapist-patient privilege to MFTs, thereby giving patients the same level of privacy protection as when seeing a psychiatrist or psychologist. He fought tirelessly and successfully for the right of MFTs to refer to themselves as "psychotherapists," to perform psychological testing services, to be appropriately reimbursed by California’s Victims of Crime Program, and to be employed in county mental health agencies throughout California. Richard was admitted to the Bar in New York (1969) and in California (1973). While practicing in New York, he served as a public defender, and later, as an Assistant District Attorney. Shortly after moving to California, he worked for the San Diego County Human Relations Commission as their Law and Justice Officer. While there, he worked successfully to achieve greater racial diversity in the criminal jury selection system and to expose and stop police abuse. For such work with that agency, he was the recipient of the Civil Libertarian of the Year Award by the San Diego Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

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