As the legal profession contemplates the aftermath of Thursday’s affirmative action decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, The Texas Lawbook asked the deans at the 10 law schools across Texas for their immediate thoughts.
The feedback so far: Two law schools say the ruling will not affect their admissions process since they do not use race as a factor; another says it will have a “profound impact” on law schools’ diversity, equity and inclusion efforts; and two former Texas law deans agreed the immediate impact will be less diversity among Texas law schools’ student bodies.
In a letter sent Friday to students, faculty and staff at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, Dean Jason Nance said the school is still studying the Supreme Court ruling to fully understand its implications and will update its admissions process to comply with the law, but that the school will maintain its commitment to having a diverse student body. (The full letter is published below).
The law school deans at Thurgood Marshall, Baylor, University of North Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech have not yet responded to requests for comment. Okezie Chukwumerije, the dean at Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law, deferred comment to TSU’s communications department.
The University of Texas School of Law
“Since the Supreme Court’s 2016 ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, The University of Texas at Austin has continued to recruit and enroll consistently stronger classes composed of students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives, and improved graduation rates among all students, especially those who are underrepresented or first-generation,” UT tweeted on its official account Thursday. “While doing so, the University has lawfully been considering race among many factors as part of its comprehensive and holistic admissions process. UT will make the necessary adjustments to comply with the most recent changes to the law and remains committed to offering an exceptional education to students from all backgrounds and preparing our students to succeed and change the world.”
Felecia Epps, University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law
“As this is a US Supreme Court decision, law schools will comply. Diversity in the classroom contributes to the education of future lawyers who will be called upon to serve an increasingly diverse society. Efforts are likely to be made, within the parameters set by the Court, to achieve a student body that includes students from diverse backgrounds.
“The UNT Dallas College of Law admissions process differs from the processes that were the subject of the Supreme Court decision. We do not consider race as a factor in our admissions decisions. Consistent with ABA Standard 501 we seek students who appear capable of satisfactorily completing our program of legal education and being admitted to the bar. We are always in search of ways to improve our recruitment efforts. Our recruitment activities are not likely to change for the 2023-2024 cycle.”
Dean Jason Nance, SMU Dedman School of Law
“While yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision marked a change in how higher education institutions approach affirmative action in admission decisions, it has not altered SMU Dedman School of Law’s commitment to maintaining a diverse student body, faculty, and staff. As President Turner explained yesterday in a message to the SMU Community, we are “enriched by a broad range of differences on our campus and in our classrooms, including geographic origin, gender, age, race, cultural identity, economic backgrounds, physical abilities, sexual orientation, personal talents, and political ideologies.” This diversity is essential to help all of us open our minds, be more compassionate and empathetic, become better problem solvers and critical thinkers, and prepare us to meaningfully contribute in a global, interconnected society.
“Dedman Law’s core values include creating a community that embraces different backgrounds and experiences. We seek to create a campus where everyone feels welcome and has a sense of belonging. We also seek to cultivate a culture where all feel empowered to contribute their ideas and talents to build a stronger, more vibrant society. We prize an environment where different perspectives are offered and ideas are challenged in a thoughtful and respectful manner. Such an environment prepares our graduates to succeed in a demanding profession, influence ideas, and become leaders who can navigate complex challenges in a variety of settings.
“We are currently studying the Supreme Court’s ruling to understand its implications and will update our admissions process to comply with the law while still maintaining our commitment to having a diverse student body. Our admissions process will remain fair and holistic and will continue to consider the overall qualities that each applicant offers, including applicants’ academic achievements, personal experiences, and potential to contribute to our community.
“We recognize that as a law school we have a special mission to educate future attorneys who will play an integral role in the promulgation of a society that promotes justice for everyone. This requires that we have faculty, staff, and students who bring diverse lived experiences and viewpoints to bear on legal analysis and training.
“We invite each of you to partner with us as we continue to understand the full impact of the ruling while remaining true to our core values.”
Dean Michael F. Barry, South Texas College of Law
“Colleges and universities have been anticipating the Supreme Court’s decision for months, knowing that it will have a profound impact on their ability to accomplish diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. Schools across the country will be studying the Supreme Court’s decision to determine the implications for their recruitment and admissions processes. This Supreme Court’s decision will make it that much more important for current attorneys to encourage members of underrepresented communities to consider, prepare for, and apply to law schools.”
Dean Patricia Roberts, St. Mary’s University School of Law
“The St. Mary’s University School of Law considers an applicant’s entire academic and personal experience as provided in the application materials. Decisions are made individually and not in accordance with race or ethnicity metrics. Applicants often include information about how race or ethnicity, and many other forms of diversity, including age, gender, disability, sexual orientation or religion, impact their lives and are, in that way, considered an important part of the holistic application review. St. Mary’s Law does not anticipate that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling will impact how we select students for our law school.”
University of Houston Law Center
UH’s law school dean, Leonard Baynes, deferred comment to a spokesperson, who talked on behalf of the law school and the university system at large.
“The University of Houston does not have any undergraduate programs that consider race in admissions. The only UH graduate program that does so is the UH Law Center, which uses many factors including LSAT/GRE scores, undergraduate GPAs, socioeconomics, class, employment history, personal statements, overcoming hardships, as well as race/ethnicity to do a holistic review in admitting an entering class. Following a preliminary review of the Supreme Court’s decision, the UH Law Center will no longer utilize race or ethnicity as part of its admissions criteria.
“We embrace and appreciate the diversity within our student body, recognizing the numerous academic, social and community benefits that arise from having a campus enriched with individuals from different backgrounds. UH is dedicated to offering educational opportunities to students from a wide range of backgrounds and has successfully done so without employing race and ethnicity as a determining factor. We are committed to maintaining these practices in compliance with state and federal laws.”
Frank Newton, former dean at Texas Tech University School of Law
Frank Newton served as the dean of Texas Tech’s law school from 1985 to 2001. He also penned an amicus brief on behalf of all the Texas law school deans the last time affirmative action was up for debate during Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.
“We all agreed that while there are real problems conceptually with affirmative action, it was an effective way of dealing with the aftermath of the problems of racism. Under those circumstances, we thought it was appropriate and invaluable to have it, and I think that’s still the case. But one of the things we learned in the interim is that until and unless we attack the manifestations of inequality. … poverty, health issues and proper housing for underserved individuals who too often turn out to be brown and black, it will be hard to fix things. … I think we probably always should have been more focused on diversity based on background.
“We don’t normally keep information on students’ family backgrounds, nature and status of their families, where they have gone to school. … We’re now going to have to change what we look for and it’s going to take us a while to get good at it. In the interim period I think that [we’re] likely to see a reduction in minority numbers at law schools, medical schools and graduate schools, which is sad.”
Royal Furgeson, former dean at University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law
Royal Furgeson was the founding dean of UNT Dallas College of law, serving in the position from 2013 to 2018. Furgeson played a large role in gaining ABA accreditation for UNT, which is known as a law school that attracts more diverse classes — partially since UNT’s tuition is significantly lower than most law schools in Texas.
“One trend is that people are not totally relying on the SAT scores anymore. As I understand it the SAT correlates pretty directly to the wealth of [students] families. If the LSAT has that same correlation, then of course people coming from more disadvantaged backgrounds are going to have a harder time scoring [well on the] LSATs. If law schools are too wedded to the LSAT, that could certainly reduce diversity in law schools.”
The Texas Lawbook will add comments from other law school deans as they return calls and emails.