Last mission to repair the Hubble telescope Hubble space telescope discoveries have enriched our understanding of the cosmos. In this special report, you will see facts about the Hubble space telescope, discoveries it has made and what the last mission's goals are.
For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Fill out this form to email this article to a friend
FAMU law school struggles with role
The school, with the lowest bar passage rate in the state, tries to balance minority access and excellence.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER and RON MATUS, Times Staff Writers
Published October 31, 2007
ORLANDO - The reopening of Florida A&M University's law school five years ago was a political victory for the historically black institution, but one that came with great pressure.
Lawmakers who approved the FAMU law school and another at Florida International University expected the two colleges to take in minority students who might not get into other Florida institutions, and in turn increase the number of black and Hispanic lawyers to serve an increasingly diverse population.
Today, the FIU law school in Miami is one of the state's strongest and most diverse, fully accredited by the American Bar Association, with a bar passage rate among the highest in the state.
FAMU's College of Law in Orlando, on the other hand, has yet to secure full accreditation, and has the worst bar passage rate in the state.
With a key ABA accreditation visit happening this week, administrators find themselves pulled between the mission of diversity and the consequences of admitting lower-caliber students.
Though FAMU's bar passage rate reached 60 percent for the first time, it is the lowest among schools in the state, well below the state average of 80.4 percent. Passage of the bar is required to practice law.
Some say the low bar rates reflect shifting enrollment expectations and political pressures for access and diversity.
"You have to decide if your issue is to educate minority students, and if so, then bar passage is always going to be an issue," said James Douglas, interim law school dean from June 2005 to December 2006. "If you take riskier students, the likelihood for your failure is going to be greater."
FAMU's enrollment strategy over the years appears to have been muddled, dependent on ever-changing administrations and political pressures to enroll a majority of black students.
The average Law School Admission Test score of incoming students fell from 148 in 2004 to 146 this fall. The average score for incoming public law school students in Florida was 156 this fall.
Early on, when FAMU's average admissions score was higher, critics said the school wasn't enrolling enough black students.
The law school's inaugural graduating class in 2005 was the first FAMU class in which black students did not make up a majority. Enrollment that year was 44 percent white, 36 percent black and 12 percent Hispanic.
"They weren't attracting a large number of minority students at first," said Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, a FAMU graduate. "Some of the criteria we had set out when we created the school were not being followed."
Today FAMU's enrollment is 50 percent black, 27 percent white and 14.5 percent Hispanic. At FIU, 41 percent of law school students are Hispanic, 43 percent are non-Hispanic white, and 8 percent are black.
Admissions data suggests FAMU changed course after inaugural dean Percy Luney left in June 2005, admitting lower-caliber students.
Between 2002 and 2005, FAMU accepted 11 students with scores below 140 on the LSAT. The test is scored on a scale of 120 to 180. But in 2006, FAMU accepted 49 such students - 20 percent of the incoming class.
The same year, law schools at Florida State and FIU accepted no students with scores below 140. The University of Florida accepted one.
"There's no question that the correlation is overwhelming," said Richard H. Sander, a law professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, who has studied the relationship between LSATs and bar passage.
According to an analysis by Sander and another researcher, students with 140 LSATs pass the bar less than half the time, while students with 150 LSAT scores pass about 75 percent of the time.
Given its current student profile, FAMU faces a "very uphill" battle to achieve high bar passage rates, Sander said.
The FAMU law school was born out of racial discrimination. Virgil Hawkins, a black schoolteacher from Daytona Beach, was denied admission in 1949 to the UF law school, where administrators insisted statutes required UF remain a whites-only institution. As Hawkins fought the decision, white lawmakers tried to undercut his efforts by creating a law school at FAMU.
It opened in 1951, with five students and four faculty members. Over the next 17 years, it would graduate 57 students, among them Sen. Arthenia Joyner and U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings.
FAMU's professors were paid less than any other law school faculty in the country, yet students' bar performance surpassed the national average.
But in 1968, politicians and university leaders responded to court-ordered desegregation by phasing out funding for the law school and opening a new one at neighboring FSU.
"It was like they were snatching our soul away from us," 1968 graduate Howard Gore Knight told the Tallahassee Democrat in 1994.
Alumni and FAMU administrators fought for decades to get the law school back. And in 2000, the Legislature agreed to reopen the school as part of a deal that created a law school at FIU and a medical school at FSU.
The FAMU law school opened in Orlando in 2002.
Officials trying to balance access with academic success know they're in a vise.
In a panel discussion on law school diversity earlier this year, interim dean Ruth Witherspoon said she felt squeezed by competing expectations. The Legislature wants the school to reach capacity by next year, she said. Meanwhile, the community expects a majority of students to be black.
"How do you meet those expectations? Well, that means you have to begin to take risks," Witherspoon said, according to the Florida Bar News. "How low can you go on the LSAT score and still have people able to demonstrate strong academic abilities and still be able to pass the bar exam?"
Some observers say the school's first dean, Luney, tried to minimize the risk by being more selective. But he faced backlash from FAMU supporters and the black community when the student body was not majority black.
Others say the school's growth also factors into its bar struggles. The law school was slated for 600 students, according to news reports after its creation. But a few years later, FAMU's budget requests show a planned enrollment of 750 by fall 2008.
It's unclear who determined the capacity and the timeline, and on what criteria.
"That is not coming from the Legislature, I can guarantee you that," said Rep. Curtis Richardson, D-Tallahassee, a longtime FAMU supporter.
Leonard Strickman, FIU's law school dean, has a "slow and steady" mantra for his school's growth.
"It takes a while to grow your reputation, so if you've got 200 students rather than 100 students, it's going to be that much harder to place students in internships and jobs," he said.
In two years, FIU's law school will be at full capacity: 600 students.
Critics say FAMU's bar passage woes also reflect its failure to support students with low LSAT scores and incoming GPAs. Students and faculty complain of a lack of administrative stability and support. Even key supporters agree there's a problem.
"FAMU, unlike the other schools, has had a void in leadership, and that means you don't have anybody there to lead the faculty," said Sen. Lawson. "A good dean is going to determine whether the faculty is really equipped to prepare those students. FAMU hasn't had anyone."
Incoming dean LeRoy Pernell is well-aware of the need for better academic support.
"You have to look at the quality of the instruction to make sure they are prepared for the bar," Pernell said. "I think we have a good program in place, but we need to make it better."