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Latest FAMU law dean raises hopes
He doesn't start until January, but already has met with faculty members and students.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER, Times Staff Writer
Published September 14, 2007
ORLANDO - Florida A&M University's trustees on Thursday embraced LeRoy Pernell to lead their struggling law school, approving a two-year contract that pays him $250,000 a year - and comes with very high expectations.
"I can already feel a new energy in the law school," said trustee chairman Bill Jennings, a retired airport executive from Orlando. "The mood is lifting."
The 5-year-old law school hasn't had a permanent dean in two years, and its bar passage rate is a little more than 50 percent, the worst performance of any public university law school in Florida.
Meanwhile, students recently complained of financial aid problems and lack of career and academic support. Some grew so fed up, they left for other law schools.
The hope is that Pernell, with more than 30 years of experience in teaching and administration, will bring FAMU's college of law much-needed stability and firm leadership.
Pernell took the helm of Northern Illinois University's law school 10 years ago, an eternity in academia. And the bar passage rate at NIU last year was 83.5 percent, close to the state average of 85 percent.
Pernell's contract doesn't begin until January, but he'll be on the job as a consultant between now and then. "You don't have to wait until January to call me about anything," Pernell assured trustees. "I'm at your service now."
A former vice provost at Ohio State University, Pernell will lead FAMU's faculty and staff through next month's visit by American Bar Association officials.
The site visit is a key step in the law school's bid for full accreditation. It is in its third year of provisional accreditation and has two more years to win the full seal of approval. Without provisional or full accreditation, students can't take the bar exam and their degrees would mean little.
Pernell met recently with students and faculty members, and he already has thoughts on where to focus his energies. Trustees received a report Thursday in which the new law school dean concludes the "quality and structure of the education" and the "faculty providing that instruction" need to be re-evaluated.
Pernell also plans to give concentrate on academic support, "faculty accountability" and instruction in legal methods and legal writing, the report said.
The Timesthis summer chronicled student concerns over the qualifications of the FAMU law school's legal writing director, professor Victoria Dawson, who in 2004 posted online a draft academic paper riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings.
Several students wrote complaints to interim dean Ruth Witherspoon in March and May, but Dawson remains at FAMU, making $105,000 a year.