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It opened in the era of Jim Crow with just one student, but today the Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University turns out the majority of new lawyers of color in Texas. John Brittain can claim a piece of that credit. During his three years as dean of the Houston law school, he pushed the historically black institution’s mission to provide educational opportunities to diverse groups. “For the last two or three years, the Thurgood Marshall School of Law continues to enroll 90-plus percent of the first-year law students who are African-American at the four state law schools and 52 percent of the Hispanic first-year law students,” Brittain says. “This is a tremendous contribution to the state because the state is very diverse, but 89.5 percent of the lawyers are Anglos, 5.5 percent are Hispanic and 3.3 percent are black. Thurgood Marshall adds value to the state by producing more minority lawyers to close that gap.” While the percentage of Thurgood Marshall graduates who pass the bar exam still generally rank last among the state’s law schools, many eventually become licensed lawyers, and Brittain predicts the numbers will start rising as new programs bear fruit. The law school will continue its mission for diversity, he says, but he no longer will be at the helm. Brittain, whose contract as dean was to expire this summer, resigned from his position effective May 31. He announced that he will spend a year’s sabbatical conducting research on a book about school desegregation, then return to full-time teaching and scholarship as a tenured professor at Thurgood Marshall. He wants to complete his book in time for the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In addition, he plans to continue polishing his Spanish-speaking skills in Mexico. His plans for full-time teaching, however, could change. Brittain is one of four finalists to be dean of his alma mater, Howard University School of Law in Washington, D.C., and has gone through two rounds of interviews there. A committee was scheduled to recommend this week which candidates should meet with the university’s president. Brittain says he’s undecided about whether he would accept the Howard deanship if it were offered to him, but he adds that his work at Thurgood Marshall has given him good experience for the role. “I enjoyed being the dean,” he says. “It exposed me to virtually every facet of law school administration and helped me to gain insight, knowledge and wisdom.” Brittain scoffs at talk that he resigned over conflicts with TSU administrators over the law school budget and a routine accreditation review by the American Bar Association that raised concerns about the bar exam passage rate of Thurgood Marshall graduates. “Contrary to everyone who searches for rumors, my resignation is completely voluntary, and the university has been very supportive,” he says. “I’ve been afforded a year sabbatical to research and write. I’ve received all accumulated vacation and leave time. I have a new office with full academic support.” In addition, the university has budgeted $7.5 million for the law school this year, Brittain says. In its accreditation review, the ABA had said that Thurgood Marshall generates about $7.3 million a year but that the university has been giving it less than that and keeping the rest. A spokeswoman for the university, Page Rander, also says that Brittain’s resignation as dean was amicable. TSU President Priscilla Slade issued a statement wishing Brittain well, and she acknowledged that his “tenure and teaching at the school will continue to benefit the students.” Law Professor McKen Carrington has been appointed interim dean. There is no timeline for selecting a permanent dean. In a letter announcing his resignation, Brittain listed his accomplishments during his time as dean: � reducing the size of the first-year class, increasing the number of sections and lowering the student-teacher ratio; � increasing the admissions profile of entering students; � establishing a pre-bar review program; � hiring four new tenure-track faculty members with “stellar publication potential”; � revising the curriculum and expanding writing opportunities of students; � establishing a Caribbean law clinic with a consortium of law schools and the attorneys general of Caribbean countries and a diplomatic clinic with the Mexican Consulate in Houston; and � managing a $7 million renovation design and temporary relocation plan to refurbish the law school. While Brittain was dean, Thurgood Marshall underwent a routine seven-year accreditation review that raised concerns about the low number of graduates who pass the bar exam on their first try. The percentage generally is at or near the bottom among the nine accredited law schools in Texas. The percentage of first-timers from Thurgood Marshall who passed the bar in July 2001 was about 46 percent; the February 2002 figure was a little more than 35 percent. However, Brittain says an increase in the credentials of Thurgood Marshall first-year students and the pre-bar review program will help boost those numbers. Law Professor Thomas Kleven notes that about 80 percent of Thurgood Marshall graduates eventually pass the bar exam and agrees that the first-time pass rate will increase as a result of changes made during Brittain’s tenure. The former dean has made the school stronger by increasing the academic credentials of entering students and by bringing in new faculty members, he says. “Many of our graduates who never practice law end up in significant jobs in government that they wouldn’t have gotten without the law degree,” he adds. Kleven also says that Brittain helped focus the in-house discussions among law faculty and staff. “He’s a person who’s able to get along with everyone, and he was able to create a much more civil tone in our internal debates,” the professor says. Brittain, 58, a native of Norwalk, Conn., earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Howard University. He practiced law in Mississippi and California, then returned to his home state to join the faculty of the University of Connecticut Law School, where he served for 22 years. He came to Thurgood Marshall as a distinguished visiting professor in 1997-98 and was named dean of the school in 1999. During his legal career, Brittain has been involved in public interest and human rights cases. He accompanied former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark on a visit to Haiti to investigate human rights conditions. He was one of the attorneys in Sheff v. O’Neill, a school desegregation case decided in 1996 by the Connecticut Supreme Court. He has served on the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union, as president of the National Lawyers Guild and as chairman of the ACLU Academic Freedom Committee. Brittain and his wife, Sondra, have two adult children, both graduates of Howard University. He keeps fit by jogging and sticking to a strict vegetarian diet. The former dean wants the school to continue its work in promoting diversity. The law school was created as a result of a 1946 suit brought by Heman Sweatt, who was denied admission to the University of Texas School of Law because he was black, and has graduated a large number of minority students over the years. Although Brittain is stepping down as dean, he maintains a clear vision for the school’s future. It must, he says, “balance the twin goals of increasing the first-year admission profile while maintaining its historic mission and legacy to provide an opportunity for a diverse student body, many of whom would not have had an opportunity to obtain a J.D. but for admission to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.”

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