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The House that Sweatt Built needs some touching up, according to the American Bar Association. As part of a routine seven-year accreditation review, the ABA is asking officials of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University in Houston to improve on the low bar passage rates among its graduates. Law Dean John Brittain says the school already has raised its admissions standards for this fall’s incoming class, a move that will help address the problem. “The law school and the university have prepared a detailed plan and plan to satisfy every concern of the ABA,” he says. Brittain stresses, though, that Thurgood Marshall will not abandon its historic mission to provide access to law education to diverse racial, ethnic and economic communities. The law school was created as a result of a 1946 suit brought by Herman M. Sweatt, who was denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law because he was African-American. The Legislature established Texas Southern University, then called Texas State University for Negroes, in 1947; the school changed its name to the current one in 1951. It also is known as the House that Sweatt Built. Throughout the years, Thurgood Marshall has produced a large percentage of the state’s minority lawyers but has been plagued with lower bar passage rates than many of the other law schools in Texas. The July 2000 bar pass rate for Thurgood Marshall first-time test-takers was 51.9 percent and 35.9 percent for the February 2001 bar exam. The statewide average for all first-time test-takers who graduated from one of Texas’ nine law schools was 81.7 in July 2000 and 68.5 percent in February 2001. The ABA declines to release TSU’s accreditation report and declines to comment. The school has until November to submit a plan to the ABA addressing its concerns. SPECIAL MISSION For this year’s incoming class, the TSU law school raised its admission index, a numerical product of a formula that includes an applicant’s Law School Admissions Test score and undergraduate grade-point average. Research literature shows a correlation between the index and the likelihood of success on the bar, Brittain says. Thurgood Marshall itself has run its own data and set a target of 145 or better for an LSAT score and a GPA of 2.5 or better for its new students. The median LSAT score of incoming students was 142 in previous years. In addition, the class size will be smaller than the previous two entering classes, allowing for a smaller teacher-student ratio, Brittain says. About 250 law students will start classes this fall. In 1999, the year Brittain arrived at the Houston school, the entering class had 330 students. Last year, the number was 265. The law school and the university also are working out the budget for the next fiscal year, beginning Sept. 1. Thurgood Marshall, which has been operating on about $6.5 million a year, has requested $8 million this year. Brittain says that 90 percent of the approximately 185 law schools in the nation decide to admit only students in the highest test score and GPA range. “However, Thurgood Marshall has given students the opportunity to exceed the prediction that they could not pass law school,” he says. “We’ve done quite well with whom we’ve taken. Many people tend to look at the bar failure rate. But they don’t look at the bar predictor and see that many who weren’t expected to make it did make it.” And, in a state where 89.9 percent of lawyers are Anglo, 5.5 percent are Latino and 3.5 percent are black, TSU is enrolling a majority of the incoming minority law students. In the past two years, of all the African-American students beginning class at one of the four state-funded law schools — TSU, the University of Texas, Texas Tech University and the University of Houston Law Center — 92 percent of them attend TSU. Fifty-two percent of Latinos beginning law school chose TSU as their school as well. In the wake of Hopwood v. Texas, a suit that essentially eliminated affirmative action at the state’s law schools, those figures are significant, Brittain says. “We are fulfilling a very special mission in producing the largest number of minority lawyers,” he says. “Nevertheless, we do believe in raising the admission standards to raise the bar passage rate.”

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