The four-year-old UNT Dallas College of Law is about to get a new dean. Felecia Epps comes from Florida A&M University, which faced similar challenges with getting its would-be lawyers to pass the bar exam.
Last year, a little more than half of the first-time test takers from FAMU passed. UNT Dallas had a 59 percent pass rate, the lowest for a Texas law school. Epps, who's replacing retiring dean Royal Furgeson, will also have to focus on getting UNT Dallas fully accredited with the American Bar Association. For now, the law school has provisional accreditation.
In our Friday Conversation, Epps talked to KERA's Rick Holter about how similar issues were handled at her old university — and why she was dismissed.
On improving bar exam test scores:
You really have to have an approach that starts to work with the students before they begin law school, where you're really driving home to them the seriousness of what they're about to do, starting to work with them on legal analysis, reading comprehension skills. And those things are currently being worked on. Then you provide them with some top-notch, intensive bar preparation programs.
On why accreditation can be tough for schools to obtain:
The [American Bar Association] wants to be very careful to be sure law schools are providing students what they need to succeed in law school and pass the bar. Their interest is understandable because the students invest quite a bit, not just in finances, but also in terms of time and effort. So you want to make sure they're getting everything they need in school so they can succeed in the practice of law.
On why she was dismissed from Florida A&M:
The best way I could describe it is as my deanship being the victim of a leadership transition. The people who hired me were dismissed from their positions and the new leadership at the end of the year decided to let four deans be reassigned also, and I was one of those. It was done without notice and it wasn't as if things were brought to my attention that I wasn't doing, or anything like that. As it was put to me, they had 'decided to go in another direction' and I take them at their word.
On maintaining UNT Dallas' mission as a non-conventional law school:
In the olden days when Judge [Royal] Furgeson and myself went to law school, you had one test per semester and it was either pass or fail. Frankly, that's not an effective way to try to teach people. UNT Dallas has built into their program multiple assessments because that actually helps the students in their progress.
Traditionally, there wasn't an emphasis on lawyers being practice-ready. They could graduate from law school with a head full of theories and not really know the first thing about practicing law or what you should do when a client shows up in your office. That's changing — there's more of an emphasis on experiential learning. That's a core value and a goal at UNT Dallas College of Law.
Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.