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Ex-FAMU student sues school
His suit claims the law school did not afford him a proper academic appeal for a grade.
By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
Published October 12, 2007
A former Florida A&M University law professor used multiple-choice questions from a common test-preparation guide to develop an open-book, final exam for his class, according to a lawsuit filed this week by one of his former students.
Students who possessed the commercially available guides "had these answers readily available and simply copied them" onto standardized test forms, says the suit, which was filed in Orange County Circuit Court Wednesday by former first-year student Clayton Hallford.
Hallford, 29, says a series of events tied to that test led to his academic dismissal in July.
He's charging the Orlando-based school with skirting its own rules for academic appeals, and failing to comply with American Bar Association accreditation standards for student admissions.
Both Hallford and his Orlando attorney, David Maxwell, declined to comment Thursday.
FAMU officials also declined comment, citing university policy against commenting on pending litigation.
The test in question was given in a Torts II class taught last spring by Professor Wallace Rudolph. According to the suit, Rudolph explained to his class that 80 percent of the test grade would be based on multiple-choice questions, and 20 percent on an essay question. The grade on the final exam was also the grade for the course.
Rudolph prepared the exam using questions "that he took directly" from at least one test-prep guide, the Finz Multistate Method, but that could also be found in other guides, including Emmanuel's Crunchtime, the suit says.
Hallford did not have those guides, and chose to concentrate on the multiple-choice questions rather than the essay, the suit says. He initially earned a B, which was enough to keep his overall GPA above 2.0 - the minimum required to remain in good academic standing.
But then interim law Dean Ruth Witherspoon decided to "throw out" the multiple choice portion of Rudolph's exam and award grades based solely on the essay question.
Hallford's grade was reduced to a D. His GPA dipped below 2.0.
Rudolph, meanwhile, did not have his contract renewed. He could not be reached for comment.
Hallford filed a grade appeal, but Witherspoon did not respond, the suit says.
He also filed a petition for re-admission, but the suit says Witherspoon did not follow procedures outlined in the law school's student handbook, including allowing Hallford to have an evidentiary hearing.
Hallford is seeking to have his grade restored to a B, and to be re-admitted to the law school as a second-year student in good standing. The lawsuit says he owes $33,000 in student loans.
Another FAMU law professor said it is generally viewed as unacceptable for law professors to copy questions straight out of test-prep guides. But that professor and two other sources close to the law school told the St. Petersburg Times that other FAMU law professors had done the same thing.
The lawsuit comes at a sensitive time.
The 5-year-old school is reeling from the transfer of top students and, at least until recently, persistent complaints about administrative blunders. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on its bid to achieve full accreditation from the American Bar Association, with a key visit from an ABA team set for the end of this month.
Hallford's suit claims FAMU is violating ABA accreditation standards by admitting students "who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its individual program and being admitted to the bar."
It also says Witherspoon and other law school officials came up with a plan to increase enrollment by taking such students, and then to cull them by "artificial and wrongful means" such as ignoring grade appeals, arbitrarily dismissing them and pressuring professors to alter grading curves.