The TMSL Bill, Explained


By Terrance Turner

On Feb. 25, State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-TX) filed a bill “relating to the establishment of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law as an independent public institution of higher education.” HB 2383 would’ve separated the Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL) from TSU.

“Effective June 1, 2020, the governance, control, and management of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law are transferred from the board of regents of Texas Southern University to the board of regents of the Thurgood Marshall School of Law,” states Section 2 of the bill.

The nine-member board would be appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott and confirmed by the Senate.

HB 2383 also would’ve transferred all TMSL property and funds from TSU’s board of regents to the new TMSL board. The bill would’ve also granted eminent domain to the TMSL board so it can purchase land in support of the school.

Dutton said he filed the bill to prevent TSU from being taken over by another state-supported university system. He denied that he’d planned to break up TSU. Dutton himself is an alumnus of both TSU and TMSL, something he was quick to point out.

“I’ve got two degrees from TSU. I have four sisters that graduated from TSU. My mother went to TSU back when it was Texas State [University] for Negroes,” Dutton told the Defender. “Why anybody would ever reasonably think I’d do something negative toward TSU moves beyond ridiculous.”

When asked about her opinion on the possible bill, TMSL student Kristiana McGraw said, “I’m for anything that benefits my HBCU. If separating from TSU keeps the door open for students, I’m for it. If it doesn’t, I’m against it.”

Burley defended Dutton’s decision: “I feel like the decision was very much so justified.” She added: “A lot of great people have come out of Thurgood Marshall. We have educated a lot of African Americans — a lot of minorities in general — to go out into the world and become lawyers, and to defend our own people.”

But Burley also questioned the idea of joining a system: “Think about it like this,” she said. “I have all this history. I have all this money. I’m continually educating people. I’m continually pouring out into the community, and my purpose as an institution is to educate minorities and African-American people. If that’s the grounds of what I stand on as an institution, why would I want to sell into a predominantly white system? I mean, yes, we’re getting the money, but, I mean, where is the purpose?”

Dutton said the bill was a protective measure to help TSU avoid a takeover.

Dutton told Fox 26 Houston that, stating “It’s not what people are making it out to be.”

Separating the law school, he said, would make TSU less attractive to anyone planning a takeover. However, this apparently was news to TSU President Dr. Austin Lane.

“TSU is unaware of any plans or discussions among state legislators regarding TSU becoming part of a university system, which we understand to be the rationale behind this bill,” Lane wrote in an email to students. “It is important to note that there were no discussions with TSU’s administration or Board of Regents prior to the filing of this bill.” He continued, “TSU is very proud of its history as an independent public university – one of just four in Texas.”

On a recent episode of FOX 26’s “The Isiah Factor: Uncensored,” host Isiah Carey spoke with attorneys Oliver Brown and Jeff Wilson, both TMSL graduates.

“Look, there [have been] rumors surrounding TSU for decades about TSU getting put into a system.” Brown said. “And so Harold Dutton, who is a respected member of our community, has just filed a precautionary bill in order to protect [a] cornerstone of our community.”

Wilson stated, “I can tell you, as an alumnus: Thurgood Marshall [School of Law] has gone through several troubling moments in the past recent history, and I think there is a clear reason why this particular representative filed this bill. And I think we need to dive into that and look a little bit more closely at the issues the law school is dealing with.”

Wilson may be alluding to the fact that only 44.52% of TMSL students who took the Texas Bar examination passed it on the first attempt. Texas Lawyer magazine reported those findings in Nov. 2018, adding that TMSL had the lowest passing rate among the 10 law schools in Texas.

“What people aren’t looking at is”, Brown continued, “the current president is right now dealing with a troublesome scandal of buying a $2 million house with the TSU foundation money and, additionally, buying $100,000 seats on the floor of the Rockets’ [Toyota Center] to try to ‘bring in donors.’ So, if we’re going to start looking at anyone, instead of looking at a politician that is actually trying to protect our African American community through the legal system, let’s start asking the president of TSU what he’s doing.”

What people aren’t looking at is”, Brown continued, “the current president is right now dealing with a troublesome scandal of buying a $2 million house with the TSU foundation money and, additionally, buying $100,000 seats on the floor of the Rockets’ [Toyota Center] to try to ‘bring in donors’. So, if we’re going to start looking at anyone, instead of looking at a politician that is actually trying to protect our African American community through the legal system, let’s start asking the president of TSU what he’s doing.”

        Dr. Lane responded to the allegations via email on March 28, stating: “[Neither] I, nor the university, ever bought a $2 million-dollar house. The TSU Foundation, which is a separate 501c3 not for profit, purchased what they are calling the Tiger House for fundraising events. I do not live in that house. I have my own personal house.” He continued: “The foundation also entertains donors that support student scholarships in a number of ways. One way is at the Rockets game. This helps with scholarships for students. We also sell a few games that also add to what was spent on tickets for donor relations,” Dr.  Lane said, adding that it’s a “[v]ery typical foundation practice and has a good return on scholarships and increased student scholarship donor pool.” Dr. Lane added: “The bill filed to separate the law school received no support in House and no companion bill was filed in the Senate by deadline, so this bill will die.” On April 1, Rep. Dutton’s chief of staff Tamoria Jones confirmed the news via email:  “HB 2383 has died in the Higher Education Committee. Therefore there will be no hearings, votes, and/or any further actions on HB 2383.”