Law Schools

Law school still out of compliance with ABA admissions standard and dealing with fraud allegations

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Texas Southern University's Thurgood Marshall School of Law remains out of compliance with an ABA admissions standard, according to a notice posted Wednesday by the council of the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

This notice follows an internal school investigation that found an admissions officer at the Houston-based law school admitted students who were not qualified, in exchange for kickbacks.

The council found the law school out of compliance with Standard 501(a), which requires schools adopt, publish and adhere to sound admission policies. Thurgood Marshall School of Law’s ultimate bar passage rate, which is based on 2017 graduates, is 79.69%, according to ABA data.

In a separate finding also posted Wednesday, the council determined the law school has demonstrated compliance with Standard 501(b), which states schools should only admit people who appear capable of finishing law school and being admitted to practice law. The council also found that the law school demonstrated compliance with Interpretations 501-1 and 501-2. 501-1 addresses academic and admission test credentials for incoming students, and 501-2 focuses on academic attrition.

The May council decisions follow a February finding, which determined Texas Southern was out of compliance with Standard 501(b) and Interpretations 501-1 and 501-2.

In March, an internal investigation at the university affirmed allegations about “pay-for-play,” admitting students who did not meet admission standards and mishandling of state funds, according to a Texas Southern news release. Numerous school employees did not follow the university’s fraud policy when informed about the admissions, the release stated.

According to the Texas Tribune, the investigation found that five unqualified students were admitted to the law school in 2019; one student paid the former assistant dean of admissions $14,000; and at least 17 students received more than $430,000 in scholarships, despite being in the bottom 50% of their class.

The article found that the law school’s dean noticed issues with students who were not formally enrolled, and after looking into the matter discovered that none of them met admissions criteria. The dean then requested an audit of several law school departments, and provided updates to executive university administrators at the historically black university. The article states that the administrators did not provide a course of action.

The Texas Tribune does not name either law school dean or the assistant dean in question. The investigation was dated March 10, and Joan R.M. Bullock has served as Texas Southern’s law school dean since July 2019.

The university originally accused Texas Southern President Austin Lane of failing to act on or inform its board of the fraud allegations, but in February it approved a contract settlement with no claims of wrongdoing by him, the Houston Chronicle reported.

Besides the council’s 2020 findings, the law school received public notice of noncompliance with ABA accreditation standards in 2017. That year, the council found Texas Southern was out of compliance with Standard 501(b), as well as Standards 301(a) and 309(b). Standard 301(a) requires law schools maintain rigorous education programs that prepare students to pass a bar and practice law, while Standard 309(b) addresses academic support. The council’s February 2020 notice said the law school had come into compliance with Standard 301(a) and 309(b).

Bullock told the ABA Journal in an email that she’s pleased the school has been found to be in compliance with Standards 301(a), 309(b), and 501(b), and Interpretations 501-1 and 501-2. She added that they will continue working towards full compliance with the standard.

“We have taken an aggressive corrective course of action, identifying and removing ineffective admissions policies and procedures and have required our admissions personnel to undergo extensive training to ensure admissions is operating within best practice parameters,” she wrote.

Before Bullock joined Texas Southern, she was the dean of San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

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