Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Texas Law School Officials Answer Bar Association's Scrutiny

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Texas Law School Officials Answer Bar Association's Scrutiny

Article excerpt

Despite a scathing American Bar Association (ABA) report against it, Texas Southern University's law school remains a viable institution competitive with peer schools, TSU officials say.

Officials at TSU's Thurgood Marshall School of Law say they have taken steps to improve the passage rate of the state bar exam as well as the post-graduate employment rate. They also say they have increased admissions standards. "I believe the university and the law school have made a very good response to the ABA," says law school Dean John Brittain.

However, Brittain and others say the fruits of those measures may not become obvious for some time. Higher bar exam results, for instance, may not occur for a few years as new students pass through Thurgood Marshall.

Meanwhile, at least one of the law school's new efforts is drawing some opposition. Earlier this year, students complained about a proposed tuition increase of $50 per credit hour -- or $1,500 annually. Students suggested incremental tuition increases instead. The disagreement strikes at the heart of the ABA's scrutiny of the Houston law school. ABA officials have said "inadequate funding" is one of 11 ABA standards Thurgood Marshall may not be compliant with, causing the school to "shortchange" students (see Black Issues, Aug. 30, 2001).

Thurgood Marshall is the biggest producer of minority lawyers in Texas and one of the most diverse law schools nationally. In the 2000 fall semester, the law school enrolled 625 students. Blacks were the largest group at 60 percent. The ABA categorizes minorities as Black, Asian and Hispanic, but does not record numbers of students from overseas. In 2000, Blacks made up 8 percent, and Hispanics and Asians each 6 percent, of total law school enrollment across the country.

Yet in recent years, the median Law School Admissions Test score for students admitted to TSU has been 142, compared to the national average of 150. At TSU, the dropout rate of first-year students in 1999 was 40 percent because of low grades, while it was only 9 percent nationally. And the highest bar passage rate TSU law graduates have recorded since 1997 is 60 percent. In February 2001, the bar passage among first-time test takers was only 36 percent. That translates to fewer than 25 percent of Thurgood Marshall alumni landing a law-related job within one year of graduation. Nationally, more than 70 percent of new law graduates secured law-related work within a year.

Thurgood Marshall remains accredited with the ABA. But ABA criticisms can damage reputations and hurt recruitment of students and faculty. TSU regents might consider raising tuition this year to boost revenue for school improvements. …

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