Featured: Dr. Austin Lane, President, Texas Southern University in Houston, which includes Thurgood Marshall School of Law, one of the most diverse law schools in the nation.
Photograph Courtesy TEXAS SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY
As Valley state representatives renew push for law school resources for South Texas, president of Texas Southern University opposes Houston lawmaker’s bill to separate it from its law school
Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, which promotes itself as one of the most diverse law schools in the nation by continuing “to train and educate large numbers of African-American and Hispanic lawyers”, would become an independent public institution of higher education, with its own Board of Regents, according to legislation recently filed by Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston.
Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, and Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, are graduates of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, as is former Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodríguez, Jr. and former Edinburg Mayor Richard García.
The move by Dutton – himself a graduate of Thurgood Marshall School of Law, and arguably one of the more powerful and experienced state representatives in the Texas Legislature – comes as state lawmakers from the Valley previously filed two separate proposals to bring public law school resources to deep South Texas.
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is the author of House Bill 138, which would require the Board of Regents for the University of Texas System to establish a “Distance Learning Program”, to be developed and maintained by the UT School of Law at Austin, at a facility owned by The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Meanwhile, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, have joined forces for their House Bill 103, which calls for the establishment of a full-fledged public law school in Hidalgo County or Cameron County.
At the other end of the Texas border with Mexico, Sen. José Rodríguez, D-El Paso, has filed Senate Bill 144, which calls for the establishment of the El Paso School of Law in El Paso County. Rodríguez received his undergraduate degree from Pan American University in 1971 and his law degree from the National aw Center at George Washington University in 1974.
Rep. Evelina “Lina” Ortega, D-El Paso, has filed HB 327, which is identical in language to Rodriguez’ SB 144. Ortega has a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin and her Doctorate of Jurisprudence from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.
In his legislation, House Bill 2383, Dutton – Chair of the House Committee on Juvenile Justice & Family Issues – by Monday, June 1, 2020, would take away the governance, control and management of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law from the Board of Regents of Texas Southern University, and transfer those responsibilities to a new Board of Regents, whose members would be appointed by the governor with the consent of the Texas Senate.
The new Board of Regents, which would consist of nine individuals, would be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott no later than Sunday, December 1, 2019.
The law school would retain its name, which honors the first African American justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.
If passed by the Legislature and signed into law, Dutton’s measure, which was filed by him on Monday, February 25, 2019, would become effective on Sunday, September 1, 2019.
TSU president: “For numerous reasons, the university respectfully does not support this bill.”
Although Dutton did not issue any news release about his proposal, it received considerable attention from Dr. Austin Lane, President, Texas Southern University.
The TSU president’s comments regarding Dutton’s proposal, which Lane issued on Monday, March 4, 2019 through the TSU Information division, follow:
Dear TSU Family:
As faculty, staff, students and alumni of Texas Southern University, it is extremely important that you are kept well informed. You may have heard about a bill (HB 2383) that was filed in the Texas House of Representatives.
HB2383 proposes a separation of TSU’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL) from Texas Southern University. It is important to note that there were no discussions with TSU’s administration or Board of Regents prior to the filing of this bill.
Likewise, TSU is unaware of any plans or discussions among state legislators regarding TSU becoming part of a university system, which we understand to be the rationale behind this bill. TSU is very proud of its history as an independent public university – one of just four in Texas (in addition to Midwestern State University, Stephen F. Austin State University, and Texas Woman’s University).
From a fiscal perspective, TSU has made tremendous strides in the past several years, including our latest Moody’s ratings, which give the University a “stable outlook” due to our financial practices, healthy reserve, days cash on hand, and a capital expenditure plan that is updating and modernizing the university in substantial ways.
For numerous reasons, the university respectfully does not support this bill:
More than 40 years ago, the Texas Legislature designated TSU as a “special purpose institution of higher education for urban programming”. This bill would detract from that designation.
Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL) remains a critical part of the university, not only due to its historical role in the founding of TSU, but its responsibility in producing the largest number of African American lawyers of any law school in Texas.
TSU fiscally supports all aspects of the law school: TMSL would be challenged to operate independent of the university.
TSU is making progress toward full compliance of several American Bar Association standards that were found to be in violation in 2015 and 2016, and it has achieved complete remediation of one standard. This progress is due largely to the ongoing support, guidance and oversight of TSU’s administrative team, TMSL faculty, staff, students and alumni. The ABA has recognized the progress that has been made, and TSU plans to exceed their expectations over the next two years.
We must not let this bill distract the university, our supporters, and state lawmakers from our current legislative priorities, which were created in collaboration with our many constituencies.
TSU is extremely proud of its law school.
In addition to its long history of success, in the past year TMSL has received several national awards and recognitions, including a third consecutive top three finish and Best Advocate Award at the National Mock Trial Inter-Law School competition, 2018-19 rankings by PreLaw Magazine in the “Best Law Schools for Employment” and “Best Specialties – Criminal Law,” and a #2 “Most Diverse” ranking by National Jurist.
Additionally, more than a dozen TMSL graduates were newly elected in November to county judgeships throughout the state of Texas.
You are important ambassadors for our great Texas Southern University. As such, we feel it is important to provide you with a response from the University regarding this bill. Should you have any questions or concerns about this matter, please do not hesitate to reach out.
As always, GO TIGERS!
Dr. Austin A. Lane
Texas Southern University
Rep. Dutton has deep ties to Thurgood Marshall School of Law
According to his website, Dutton is a graduate of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law, where he was inducted into “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.”
Dutton, an Adjunct Professor at the TSU Law School, is a Member of the Texas Bar Association, the Houston Bar Association, the Texas Trial Lawyers Association and the American Association for Justice.
Dutton operates the Law Offices of Harold V. Dutton, Jr. and Associates.
Dutton’s many legislative achievements include successful sponsorship of Texas’ first statutory program to assist women and minority-owned businesses, initiatives to enhance public education, particularly in alternative education and creation of incentives to reduce the problems of insurance availability and affordability in traditionally underserved areas.
Other legislative achievements include legislation for Texas’ annual sales tax holiday and legislation permitting ex-offenders to regain their right, preventing contract for deed scams, revamping the juvenile justice system and solidifying a parent’s right to reasonably discipline their children.
Canales’ HB 138
Canales’ bill applies to the first academic year of UT School of Law students who wish to begin their legal education in deep South Texas. For the second and third years of law school, those students would have to transfer to Austin.
Canales, in his legislation, states that such as program “must be administered in a manner that is consistent with the accreditation requirements for the law school. The (UT System Board of Regents) shall ensure that at least five students are allowed to participate in the program during each academic year. The law school may allow more than five students to participate in the program during each academic year.”
Also, HB 138 by Canales would require the UT System Board of Regents to “ensure that the distance learning program…begins not later than the 2020 fall semester.”
HB 138 has been assigned to the House Committee on Higher Education, where Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, has the authority to schedule the measure for a public hearing.
Martínez/Guillén HB 103
House Bill 103 by Martínez and Guillén seeks the creation of the “Rio Grande Valley School of Law”.
Their proposal would allow any public university system in Texas to establish the law school, and would require “the responsibility for the management of the law school to a general academic teaching institution in the university system.”
HB 103 also proposes the following additional key conditions for the establishment of the Rio Grande Valley School of Law:
• The governing board (Board of Regents) of a university system that intends to establish a law school under this section shall notify the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. If the coordinating board receives notification under this subsection from more than one governing board, the coordinating board shall determine which of those governing boards may establish a law school under this section.
(The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) was created by the Texas Legislature in 1965 to represent the highest authority in the state in matters of public higher education. THECB to engage in negotiated rule-making with institutions of higher education and other affected entities when adopting policies, procedures, or rules relating to certain matters. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board promotes access, affordability, quality, success, and cost efficiency in the state’s institutions of higher education, through Closing the Gaps and its successor plan, resulting in a globally competent workforce that positions Texas as an international leader in an increasingly complex world economy.)
• The coordinating board must base the determination on the need for a law school in a geographic area, potential student demand, available system resources, the feasibility of the specific proposal of each system, and other criteria the coordinating board considers appropriate.
• Before the governing board establishes a law school under this section, the governing board shall request the coordinating board to prepare a feasibility study to determine the actions the system must take to obtain accreditation of the law school. The coordinating board shall deliver a copy of the study to the governing board and to the chair of each legislative standing committee with jurisdiction over higher education.
HB 103 has been assigned to the House Committee on Higher Education, where Rep. Chris Turner, D-Grand Prairie, has the authority to schedule the measure for a public hearing.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories which affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).