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The statewide pass rate for first-time takers of the July 2002 New York bar exam dropped by three percentage points from last year’s score, and some local law schools helped contribute to that downturn by posting their lowest pass rates in years. According to the State Board of Law Examiners, of the 7,986 applicants who took the July bar exam for the first time this year, 6,108 passed. The 76 percent success rate is down from last year’s 79 percent. For the third year in a row, Cornell Law School and New York University School of Law tied for the highest pass rate of first-time takers from individual New York law schools. Both schools scored 97 percent this year, up 1 percentage point from last year. The statistics that stood out, however, were found at the bottom of this year’s rankings. CUNY School of Law at Queens College had only 50 percent of its first-time takers pass the July exam, which is down 19 percentage points from last year’s rate and 24 percentage points from its 2000 score. Touro Law Center also slipped, posting a 58 percent pass rate for the July 2002 bar, down 4 percentage points from last year. The poor showing by CUNY was not well received by the university’s chancellor, Matthew Goldstein. Expressing “great concern and disappointment,” Goldstein sent a letter to CUNY Law Dean Kristin Booth Glen the day after she informed him of the results, saying that the law school must have stronger management, greater accountability and higher standards. “[T]he central issue appears to be that we are not aggressively assessing students who fail to make satisfactory academic progress, and that we are not taking appropriate remedial action or dismissing students who are performing poorly,” the letter read. “We must improve admission standards, do our best to help students along, and make difficult decisions about who should and should not continue their course of study.” Goldstein went on to inform Dean Glen that he expects to receive by Feb. 15 a description of revised admissions criteria that will address improving the likelihood of students’ success in law school and on the bar exam. He also expects by that date a description of threshold grades and/or evaluations that will determine whether enrolled students may continue their studies. Goldstein said the new admissions criteria should be in effect for the fall 2003 class. Mary Lu Bilek, associate dean for academic affairs at CUNY Law, also expressed disappointment in the results, although she said she considered them to be an “anomaly.” The law school had no comment on Goldstein’s letter. John Sexton, former dean of New York University School of Law, has publicly come to CUNY Law’s defense. Touro Dean Howard A. Glickstein defended his school’s efforts to prepare its students for the exam, and said that judging a law school’s bar exam results strictly by percentages does not give a complete picture of success or failure. “One of the things that makes some of these percentages seem to be more significant than they are is that the universe of the people who take the bar exam is very small,” said Dean Glickstein, who claimed about 105 Touro students took the New York bar last July. “In another state we had something like three students take the bar and they all passed. So we were 100 percent there.” According to Dean Glickstein, lower-tiered law schools like Touro also are affected when their top students transfer to a higher-tier school after their first year, which is common. “Other schools are reluctant to admit those students who don’t have the highest [Law School Admission Test] scores because that would affect the LSAT average, but they are happy to have them come in the second year,” said Dean Glickstein. “We lost a lot of our top students who went over to other schools and would have passed the bar the first time.” HOLDING STEADY Columbia Law School maintained its impressive 94 percent pass rate this year, taking third place for the third consecutive year. Fordham University School of Law held on to its usual fourth place spot, but dropped its pass rate to 89 percent, down 4 percentage points from last year’s score. “What I saw is that the numbers fluctuate,” said Fordham Law Dean William Treanor after reviewing his school’s performance over the past several years. “But what’s right for me is that Fordham’s success rate is consistently and substantially higher than the overall passage rate.” Other schools that saw a dip in their pass rates were Brooklyn Law School, down 2 percentage points to 80 percent; Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, down 3 percentage points to 83 percent; and Syracuse College of Law, down 2 percentage points to 70 percent. In addition to NYU and Cornell, the New York law schools who raised their pass rates were St. John’s University School of Law, up 1 percentage point this year to 83 percent; Pace University School of Law, up 2 percentage points to 71 percent; Hofstra University School of Law, up 2 percentage points to 79 percent; and University at Buffalo (State University of New York) Law School, up 2 percentage points to 73 percent. Like Columbia, Albany Law School, at 77 percent, and New York Law School, at 72 percent, maintained the same pass rates as last year on the July exam. In light of this year’s drop in the statewide average, however, some considered matching last year’s pass rate an improvement for those individual schools. “We’re pleased with the results — guardedly pleased, because it represents a relative improvement of our performance against the state average,” said Dean Richard A. Matasar of New York Law School. “Even though the statewide rate declined this year, our performance stayed the same.” The schools scoring above the statewide average this year were NYU, Cornell, Columbia, Fordham, St. John’s, Cardozo, Brooklyn, Hofstra and Albany. Buffalo, New York Law School, Pace, Syracuse, Touro and CUNY had below average scores this year. Related chart: Bar Pass Rates at New York State Law Schools

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