Few law school drop-outs would admit they deserve their fate; two former students from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law are doing something about it. Karla Ford and Jonathan Chan are challenging the D’s they received from the former professor of Contracts II, Shelley Smith, now a partner at Chicago firm Belongia Shapiro & Franklin, whose marks they consider “arbitrary and capricious.”
It is a bold move, but Ford believes it a worthy cause. “When you believe that you are doing fairly well and you get a grade you feel you don’t deserve, it’s devastating,” said the 27-year-old former student. “There is a lot of embarrassment and shame. It took its toll.”
Chan, 26, feels the same way. “Coming from an Asian family, failing is a tough thing to bring up. The only words I can think of are shameful and disgraceful.”
How disgraceful? For alleged breach of contract, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, defamation, slander and libel, they hope to claim over $75,000 in compensatory and punitive damages, and to be enrolled back at TSU.
This wasn’t the dropouts’ first step. In September, they met with the Academic Standards Committee to challenge the grades, but the University ruled to uphold the marks.
Smith has not commented, and Dannye R. Holley, the law school’s dean, also did not comment on the specifics of the case, but said “We’re very confident about the fairness of our academic program, specifically the first-year grading and uniform exam policies. We would never assign grades in a way designed to flunk out students, nor would we want to do that.”
The grading policies, in fact, are much like those of many law schools. Half the grade is ranked according to the students’ class performance, which is determined by the teacher, and the other half is determined by a uniform, multiple-choice exam, which is graded by an outside contractor.
Ford and Chan, however, whose marks fell below the 2.0 GPA average necessary to remain students, accused Smith’s grading to be “not based on their performance on the examinations, but in order to ‘curve them out’ of law school.”
The School’s Academic Standards Committee did not see sufficient evidence that they were treated unfairly, and Holly added, “These are first-year students who flunked out. We have a system in place that requires you make a 2.0 grade-point average, which is probably normal across the country. You don’t want to have a student pay second- and third-year tuition when they are performing at that level and likely will not do well on the bar exam or in practice.”
Ford remains hopeful. “Your dream doesn’t stop because of something like this. Is it a roadblock? Absolutely. But, in my heart, this is where I want to be, what I want to do.”