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Thurgood Marshall School of Law students let their voices be heard, administration listens

Written by on November 9, 2023

By Erin Slaughter, KTSU2 Investigative Reporter

Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL) students organized a protest on Wednesday, Nov. 8, citing numerous grievances after two of their interim deans stepped down, and Texas Southern University’s administration vowed to address their concerns.

Hundreds of TMSL students walked out of classes and proceeded to Hannah Hall, where they sat in groups, some along walls, waiting in anticipation of news from a meeting with the provost, Student Bar Association (SBA) president, and other student leaders regarding their complaints.

Thurgood Marshall School of Law students in Hannah Hall on November 8.

According to TMSL students, more protests will occur if their concerns are not addressed.

“We are not even asking for the best practices; we are asking for the standard practices, and that’s a problem when we are asking to be treated as regular,” Aaron Abram, President of the TMSL SBA, said to other law students gathered at the protest.

According to some of the students, their grievances include “a lack of visibility and presence in the marketplace, a lack of transparency and misinformation from the administration [university] regarding academic standards, a grading curve that is below industry standards and makes students unmarketable, and professors who teach to their own interests over the interests of the students.”

Jessica Mack, the TMSL SBA parliamentarian, said the resignations of two deans is what broke the camel’s back, and she said that the mindsets of veteran faculty members are the main factor hindering the school from moving forward.

“We have certain faculty members that are constantly giving the deans issues, and while the deans are working in our best interest, other faculty members are working in ego and working only in their best interest, and that does not do anything for the law students at the school. We are tired, we are fed up,” she said.

Jessica Mack, the TMSL SBA parliamentarian

 Miss TMSL, Phoenix Diggs, said students are frustrated that their voices are not being heard within TMSL and would like to see changes made immediately.

“I personally hope that the people that are in the meeting right now push for these individuals to either have less power within their roles because the people who are the ‘old guards’ which we are referring to them as; have been here for years, and they are just professors, but they have more influence than the deans at the school,” she said.

The two TMSL interim deans who stepped down from their positions wrote detailed letters regarding their resignations. Shaundra Lewis, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, said she had made personal sacrifices to be interim dean and cannot continue to do the job under current conditions.

“I accepted your request [Dean Okezie Chukwumerije] to serve as academic dean because I thought we, along with faculty, could move the institution forward. I did so, even though it was a personal sacrifice for me. As you know, my husband is fighting for his life as he battles cancer. I no longer have the strength to battle his cancer and the cancer at this institution,” she wrote in her letter of resignation.

Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Shaundra Lewis’s letter of resignation.

Lewis also said in her resignation letter that some of the faculty (a small but very loud minority) at the law school were acting against the best interest of the students and sought to undermine the efforts to effectuate progress and their efforts to move the school forward.

“The latest examples are, first, some of our own faculty members tried to undermine us by preventing the law school from being reaccredited, which would have been devastating to our law students, alumni, and the university, for their personal gain,” she wrote.

The American Bar Association accredits the Thurgood Marshall School of Law.  TMSL is a member of the Association of American Law Schools and the American Association of Law Libraries, according to TSU’s websites.  TMSL is number one in Texas for producing African American attorneys and holds the number three spot in the state for producing Latino attorneys, as stated on its website.

Interim Dean of the law school and Professor of Law, Okezie Chukwumerije, who resigned just hours after Lewis, said that his decision to step down was not made lightly. He was thankful for the opportunity to be the dean for the time he was.

“This decision comes with a mix of emotions, including gratitude for the opportunity to serve our esteemed institution and an abiding commitment to continued success,” he wrote in his resignation letter. 

Interim Dean of TMSL and Professor of Law, Okezie Chukwumerije

The students at TMSL said they supported the deans who stepped down because they were transformative and innovative, and now that the deans have resigned, students said they feel their departure will leave them less prepared to enter the legal arena.

 “The way the law school has been run over the last 30 to 40 years is outdated, and it is time for our curriculum to reflect the changes coming out in the bar as well as the other law schools that surround us,” an anonymous TMSL SBA member, said.

Anonymous TMSL SBA member

After the meeting with the provost, Abram told the students who sat in Hannah Hall that the university administration said they would work with student leaders to resolve their concerns.

“Texas Southern is aware of the concerns held by a group of law students. The administration is engaged in conversation with student leaders about those concerns and has put plans in place to ensure consistent engagement. Texas Southern does not comment on personnel matters,” a statement from the university read.

Statement from Texas Southern University

Throughout the university’s history, TSU students have led protests and sit-ins that have changed the university and Houston for the better.  The TMSL SBA president said they would persist in their protest until their demands are met, drawing inspiration from Thurgood Marshall, a civil rights giant who fought to bring change in a segregated America and whose name is on the TSU law school.