Legal Education

Dean settles case with Texas law school and returns as tenured professor

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Joan Bullock of Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law has been reinstated with tenure, and she will be returning as a law professor “ASAP,” Todd Slobin, her lawyer, told the ABA Journal in an email. Image from Shutterstock.

A lawsuit alleging the former dean of Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law was stripped of tenure without cause and denied due process has settled, according to a recent U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas order.

Joan Bullock, the plaintiff, has been reinstated with tenure, and she will be returning as a law professor “ASAP,” Todd Slobin, her lawyer, told the ABA Journal in an email. Before joining Texas Southern, which is a public, historically Black university, Bullock was the dean of San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

She was hired as dean at Texas Southern Law in 2019. In 2022, she was asked to sign a severance agreement by the university on the basis the law school was taking a different direction, according to her lawsuit. She refused to sign the agreement.

A communications manager from the university told the ABA Journal it does not comment on personnel matters. In a November 2022 motion to dismiss, the defense argued that Bullock was not hired with tenure, and parties she named as defendants were immune from her claims as agents of the state of Texas.

Additionally, the motion claimed that law school faculty issued a vote of no confidence regarding Bullock’s leadership, and students “revolted against her.”

Bullock filed a response the same month. She repeatedly told university leadership they were violating state law by withholding funds that specifically belonged to the law school, and their actions could lead to the law school losing its accreditation, the court filing states.

It also argues that the university provost and president refused to address her complaints.

“Instead, they terminated Bullock from the dean position at the first opportunity,” according to the complaint. Additionally, it claims she was denied an opportunity to hear and respond to allegations made against her, which violated the university’s procedures.

In the November motion to dismiss, the university also argued the law school’s Texas bar pass rates dropped while Bullock was dean. According to Texas Board of Law Examiners data, Texas Southern’s first time pass rate was 57.64% in July 2019; and 50.93% in July 2022.

An amended complaint Bullock filed in February 2023 states that as dean she brought in two strong entering classes, and none of those students had taken a bar by the time she was asked to sign a severance agreement. Also, it claims Bullock was prevented from advertising and hiring personnel essential to the proper operation of an ABA-accredited law school.

One of Bullock’s first actions at Texas Southern was firing Edward Rene, the law school’s associate dean of admissions. He was later charged with theft in 2020, related to allegations he was running law school scholarship scams. The case is still pending, according to Harris County court records.

Before Bullock was hired for the dean position, the law school in 2017 received a public censure from the council of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. That involved noncompliance with Standard 104, which addresses information law schools provide the council and equal opportunity provisions detailed in Standard 205(b). The finding followed a federal discrimination lawsuit brought against the school by a female associate dean. According to a 2017 dismissal order, the claims were settled.

Also in 2017, the law school was found to be out of compliance with Standard 301(a) and Standard 309(b), which address academic programs and support, and admissions provisions detailed in Standard 501.

In February 2020, the council found that the school had demonstrated compliance with standards 301(a) and 309(b). And in May 2020, the council found that the school demonstrated compliance with Standard 501(b) and Interpretations 501-1 and 501-2.

See also: “Former law school dean sues Texas university over loss of tenure”

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