THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1996, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Wednesday, August 7, 1996 TAG: 9608070339 SECTION: FRONT PAGE: A1 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY MARC DAVIS, STAFF WRITER DATELINE: VIRGINIA BEACH LENGTH: 165 lines
After 10 years of trying, Pat Robertson's law school finally won some respect Tuesday from the nation's legal establishment.
The American Bar Association granted full accreditation Tuesday to the Regent University School of Law. The vote came in Orlando at an annual meeting of the bar's House of Delegates.
The action culminates a 10-year struggle for recognition at the Bible-based school. It comes exactly one decade after the first students enrolled there, seeking an education based on God's word as much as man's.
In practical terms, accreditation means it will be easier for Regent to attract top students and faculty. It also means Regent graduates can take the bar exam in all 50 states. The school had been under provisional accreditation since 1989.
The ABA vote is also a huge moral victory, a seal of approval that means Regent can hold its own against the oldest, most established law schools in America.
Robertson, the university's founder and chancellor, announced the news Tuesday to about 100 students, faculty and staffers in the law school's moot courtroom.
The crowd erupted in applause when Robertson - a Yale Law School graduate - told them of the ABA's unanimous vote. Later, students and faculty hugged in the halls.
``This is a history-making event . . . ,'' Robertson declared. ``It will be a major boost to the full standing of the university. We will join the ranks, I hope soon, of the premier law schools of America.''
Robertson said it is the first time that a law school ``founded on the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ'' has won acceptance by the ABA.
Regent President Terry R. Lindvall thanked law Dean J. Nelson Happy, former dean Herbert W. Titus, the faculty and students for pushing the school to accreditation.
``Thanks be to God!'' Lindvall declared.
In Florida at the ABA convention, Happy said the vote was a sign of ``the maturing of the ABA process.'' Years earlier, the ABA had been openly hostile to Regent.
``The hostility, in my opinion, is totally gone,'' Happy said. ``It shows there is an attitude at the ABA which is very positive for a law school that openly promotes Christian legal education. It's been on the minds of a lot of people for a really long time.''
The accreditation fight has been long and rocky.
In 1985, one year before the school opened, Titus warned Robertson that ABA accreditation would be iffy, and risky.
``ABA accreditation of a Christian educational institution presents a significant risk of compromise in key areas of Christian principle. . . ,'' Titus wrote. ``We should anticipate significant opposition from forces within the ABA.''
Robertson went ahead anyway. In 1986, he opened the law school. It was the first in South Hampton Roads. At that time, the college was known as CBN University, named for the Christian Broadcasting Network. It became Regent in 1989.
From the start, the ABA opposed Regent's accreditation.
First, Robertson tried to get ABA accreditation transferred from Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. Regent was, after all, an extension of that Christian law school. Oral Roberts University, which was closing its law school, had given Regent its entire law library, plus some students and faculty.
The ABA ruled, however, that accreditation could not transfer.
``It wasn't like Oral Roberts University just moved its law school to a different part of its campus,'' an ABA spokesman said at the time. ``It was not a change in the law school. It was a new law school.''
Regent had to stand on its own. So it applied for full accreditation.
In 1987, an ABA site team visited Regent and found ``the quality of instruction was at least adequate and in many instances well above adequate.''
But the ABA rejected Regent that year, citing 13 areas of concern. These included poor library support, law faculty pay, an admission process that ``may preclude a diverse student body'' and a requirement that faculty sign a statement of faith that ``may jeopardize faculty academic freedom.''
In 1989, 49 students - the law school's first graduating class - sued the ABA, saying the accreditation process was ``arbitrary'' and ``religiously hostile.'' They lost the case but won provisional accreditation. They took their bar exams and became lawyers.
Two years later, Robertson solved Regent's financial problems by giving it a $117 million gift from CBN.
The good will didn't last.
In 1993, the law school plunged into the worst crisis in its short life when Regent directors fired then-dean Titus, saying he was too extreme. Students and faculty revolted. Lindvall, the university president, later called it a riot. Titus sued Robertson and others, claiming he was the victim of a large conspiracy. His lawsuit will go to trial later this month.
Eventually, three professors aligned with Titus were fired. They and others complained to the ABA, saying Regent had no tenure system and should not be accredited. For a time, it appeared the controversy might sink Regent's chances for ABA approval.
In time, however, the ABA dismissed the professors' complaint. Regent adopted a new tenure system and that resolved another area of concern.
One by one, Robertson and Regent met every ABA objection. By 1995, the list was short. By 1996, it disappeared.
``This is a most important day,'' Robertson told students and faculty Tuesday. ``Let's applaud one more time!''
And they did. MEMO: THE HISTORY OF REGENT UNIVERSITY
1986: Pat Robertson founds the CBN University Law School.
Oral Roberts University shuts its law school, sends its law library
and some faculty members to CBN law school.
American Bar Association rules that Oral Roberts cannot transfer its
law school accreditation to CBN. CBN applies for accreditation.
1987: ABA denies accreditation.
1989: First graduating class sues the ABA, charging the ABA
accrediting process is arbitrary and ``religiously hostile.'' A judge
dismisses the case.
ABA grants provisional accreditation.
First class of 49 students graduates.
CBN University changes its name to Regent University.
1991: Regent gets $117 million donation from Christian Broadcasting
1993: Herbert W. Titus fired as law school dean. Students and faculty
revolt. Some faculty complain to the ABA. Three faculty members are
fired. Titus sues Robertson and others.
1995: U.S. News & World Report ranks Regent in the bottom fifth of
American law schools.
1996: Former chief justice of Michigan Supreme Court ranks Regent in
the top third of American law schools.
April: ABA committee recommends accreditation.
June: ABA legal education council recommends accreditation.
Tuesday: ABA House of Delegates approves accreditation.
A CONTENTIOUS PAST: VOICES FROM THE FRONT\ 1985: ``ABA accreditation
is not something to be persued without careful reflection. Accreditation
represents a submission to the ABA's authority and thorough scrutiny.''
Herbert W. Titus, law school dean
1986: ``We have a stated position that God is relevant, that God's
word is relevant to the study of law . . . Our law school is
distinctive in that God and his word play a central role.''
- Herbert W. Titus, law school dean
1987: ``The Law School does not have the resources necessary to
provide a sound legal education and accomplish the objective of its
- ABA report
1989: ``CBN University is no longer a nice stepchild of the Christian
Broadcasting Network, but has come into its own as a significant
- Pat Robertson, explaining why the university changed its name to
1989: ``I am in awe every morning that you can come to a law school,
you can pray before class and praise the Lord before class, and you are
being taught law by the lawgiver.''
- Student John Weeks
1993: ``Philosophically, Herb Titus' religious viewpoint is outside,
or much narrower than that advocated or tolerated by Regent University
- ABA report.
1994: ``I have never encountered a group of supposedly educated
people who were so myopic, so lacking in common sense, or so inept as
- Pat Robertson, letter about rebellious law professors
1996: ``It shows there is an attitude at the ABA which is very
positive for a law school that openly promotes Christian legal
- J. Nelson Happy, law school dean ILLUSTRATION: Color photo by BILL TIERNAN, The Virginian-Pilot
Pat Robertston by CNB