FAMU law school lets down students

A Times Editorial
Published August 24, 2007

Florida A&M University's College of Law is failing. When lawmakers re-established the school in 2000, they hoped it would help substantially increase the number of black lawyers in the state. They hoped it would be a place where nontraditional students would be nurtured and groomed to pass the bar examination.

Today, however, the school is in a crisis, and some powerful legislators are questioning whether the $40-million to build the Orlando campus has been a good investment after all.

Many students are failing their courses and the bar exam. Others are transferring because, among other reasons, the school is at risk of not being fully accredited by the American Bar Association, which would devalue the students' degrees.

The major causes of the crisis are well-documented: ineffective leadership, administrative incompetence, low morale among faculty, inadequate student counseling and questionable student recruitment.

Since its inception, the school has had one dean, who was fired for his role in a ghost-employee scandal, an interim dean, and a current nominee for dean who awaits board of trustees approval. This leadership vacuum has led to the resignations of several popular professors who will be hard to replace any time soon.

Students are the biggest losers as the problems worsen at FAMU. One student, Vilma Martinez, told the St. Petersburg Times that she was "heartbroken" to leave FAMU, but remaining there would be "like staying in dysfunctional family. At some point, you have to have tough love and cut your losses." She transferred to Stetson Law School in Gulfport. Another student, Torrie Orton, who left for the University of Missouri, told the Times: "I wanted to stay, but I felt like my degree was jeopardized because of the inner workings of Florida A&M."

This state of affairs is unfortunate because many otherwise deserving students, with subpar grade point averages and standardized test scores, would have been rejected by more elite schools. FAMU is their only chance for a career in law.

Such students, who only need a chance to succeed, should not be treated so shabbily by a tax-supported school.