Students Respond to Law School Scandal

There are still far fewer facts than rumors floating in the air about last week’s forced resignation of former UT School of Law Dean Larry Sager.

The exact reason why Sager was forced out last week has yet to surface, though media attention is now focusing on the $4.6 million in forgivable loans given by the UT Law School Foundation to 22 UT Law faculty, including $500,000 to Sager himself. UT President Bill Powers says he was never told about Sager’s loan, a claim with which Sager disagreed today in the Texas Tribune.

Amid all the hubbub, we’re not hearing much from the people whose futures could be impacted by the scandal: students.

So The Alcalde asked four students to share their thoughts on the news. Three of the students spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of jeopardizing their job prospects with potential employers in an ultra-competitive market.

All four agreed that Sager’s departure as dean (as a tenured professor, he could stay at UT)  has not directly affected students, at least in the short term. But they all also raised concerns about potential fallout.

“Since this happened during final exams, people have mostly been holed up at home studying,” one student said. “We don’t see our professors at this point in the year, and there are fewer opportunities for gossip in person. We have been talking about it online, but that’s about it. I imagine it will magnify the importance of the next dean hire greatly.”

Another student said that Sager’s efforts to recruit new faculty from top-tier law schools had paid off for his own education.

“Two of my classes were with professors who were new, and they were both really outstanding. So I hope UT can continue to draw in people at the top of their fields,” he said. “Certainly there will be more scrutiny about the Law School Foundation money and how it’s used. I didn’t even know there was a foundation.”

A third student said she was concerned about how the scandal might affect UT Law’s US News & World Report ranking.

“UT just broke into the Top 14 last year, which is elite, like the Ivies of the law school world. That is something I actually care about, however superficial. Because the better the ranking, the better for students … job prospects are already not super bright,” she said.

In 2006, when Sager started his term as dean, UT was ranked 15th. Jumping one spot in the rankings may not sound like a big deal, but in the legal world, where employers look closely at rankings, cracking the Top 14 is significant.

Christine Nishimura, a third-year student, said she was disappointed to hear the news, especially amid complaints of gender inequities in UT law professors’ pay.

“We don’t really know what happened yet, but it’s just disappointing,” Nishimura said. “It’s disappointing because in classes we learn about gender inequity, we study the litigation and the history, so you’d think a law school would not be a place where accusations of gender inequity should happen.”

Nishimura added that Sager had an open-door policy and was very supportive of minority student initiatives and public service organizations.

“He attended banquets, he helped students go to conferences, that kind of thing,” she said. “No matter what happened behind closed doors—and we don’t know the full truth of that yet—it’s true that he did a lot for this school.”

Photo by Valerie Cook


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