Pledging to Teach, Promising to Learn

first_img Associate Editor Think Pink Floyd, and “The Wall” is a 1982 film of a troubled rock star plunging into madness.Think West Berlin, and “The Wall” is 96 miles of barbed wire and concrete symbolizing the Cold War’s beginning in 1961 and its end in 1989 when it came tumbling down.Think Miami’s St. Thomas University School of Law, and “The Wall” is a bold, impromptu contract forged between faculty and the Class of 2006 students, in the form of 300-plus signatures in bold markers on freshly painted plaster in the Moot Courtroom.Bob Butterworth, the law school’s new dean and former Florida attorney general, sparked the wall-signing frenzy on the second day of student orientation this fall. In a rousing speech, Butterworth challenged the class of 300 incoming students that he and the faculty were there to teach and coach, but the students were there to learn.Butterworth describes that spontaneous combustion that created “The Wall”:“About the third time I stated, ‘I will teach!’ the students came back with ‘I will learn!’ ‘I will teach!’ ‘I will learn!’ It was this chant thing, and it was unbelievable. I happened to have a marker in my hand, and there was a ladder just outside, so I had someone bring in the ladder. And I wrote on the wall, ‘I will teach and coach. Bob Butterworth, dean.’“I had a couple of professors come right behind me, same thing. Then I said, ‘I want the tallest person out there to come forward.’ This young man about 6 foot 7 gets up on a ladder and writes, ‘I will learn. Class of 2006.’ Everybody went wild. Then we got markers, and within 20 minutes, all 300 students, plus probably 15 or so professors in the room at that time, all wrote on the wall. It blew me away!”Florida Bar President Miles McGrane wanted to get into the action, too, recently adding his signature to The Wall, with the encouraging message: “I’m waiting to swear you in.”“I applaud Bob Butterworth’s passion to inspire his students to reach higher and succeed in even greater numbers. In my own family, I know of the legacy of St. Thomas in producing good lawyers, as my sister-in-law MaryAnne Lukacs was St. Thomas’ first and second bar president. And in my professional family of The Florida Bar, Mark Romance is a St. Thomas alum who has gone on to do great things, including serving as president of the Young Lawyers Division.”Lukacs, who practices in family law and volunteers with Florida Foster Care Review, signed The Wall, too, with this advice: “Enjoy your experience, because it matters. And make us proud.”Lukacs fondly recalls her experiences as a member of the charter class of St. Thomas in 1985, serving as president of the student bar her second and third year. She said she was honored to help shape the school and be part of its history while the young law school was dealing with accreditation issues.“The school took a chance on us, and we took a chance on the school,” Lukacs said.Now, Butterworth is hoping to push the law school forward even further.Back in the day, four decades ago, when Butterworth was a young law student at the University of Miami, he said, the usual motivator was to tell students, “Look to your right, look to your left, and only one of you is going to make it.” But as the new dean of St. Thomas, Butterworth went beyond fear tactics and instilled a positive you-can-do-it message.“We know your GPA. We know your LSAT. We know your shoe size,” Butterworth told the new law students. “We read your essay. In fact, we reviewed well over 1,700 applications, a record number for St. Thomas, and only accepted less than 12 percent. We believe that you will graduate and pass the bar on your first try.”In an interview, Butterworth acknowledged: “Right now, St. Thomas is suffering from a perception problem that our students don’t pass the bar, that we have a low passage rate, which is true. But the second time, St. Thomas students pass in the same numbers of any other school. So I figured if students can pass it the second time, six months later, then they can pass it the first time. That’s what I’m trying to do with the Class of 2006 – to instill an obligation to pass the bar exam the first time.”First-time test takers in July at St. Thomas tied with Nova Southeastern University with only a 60.2 percent passage rate – compared to 85.4 percent for Florida State University, 83.3 percent in a second-place tie for the University of Florida and UM, and Stetson University with 82.6 percent.While Butterworth is pushing students to pass the bar the first time in greater numbers, he acknowledges his school’s unique challenge. Unlike Stetson, that bills itself as “Florida’s First Law School” founded in 1900, St. Thomas has only been graduating students for 17 years. In addition to its relative newness, the Miami school is a model of diversity with 46 percent of the student body minority, not counting women.“We are the largest minority population of any private school in the country,” Butterworth said. “We have a lot of students from foreign countries who maybe have been here only four, five, or six years, and English is their second language. The president of the student bar association was born in Israel and he has to translate from Hebrew to English.”And so, it stands to reason, some students will need help with writing skills and other academic support.Just as he did as attorney general—boosting the image of state employees by encouraging them to seek AV ratings from Martindale-Hubbell, board certification, and become published in legal journals—Butterworth said he is on a mission to change perceptions and promote the quality of St. Thomas graduates among law firm recruiters.“The Wall” has already served as a motivational moment.In mid-October, Butterworth brought the Class of 2006 back into the Moot Courtroom for a refresher lesson.“OK, you made the commitment,” Butterworth reminded the students. “We did, too. We think you may be slipping behind. We owe the obligation, because we promised to teach and coach. You promised to learn. So, therefore, if you are asked to go to academic support, and you don’t go, we will come and see you at The Wall. Your names are on The Wall, and you’ve got six weeks to go. Your professors are there for you. Take advantage of academic support. You paid for it. Your contract is on The Wall.”When a head maintenance worker went looking for his ladder, he turned ashen when he looked up and saw his freshly painted walls strewn with signatures. Not to worry. As St. Thomas President Monsignore Franklyn Casale has promised: “The Wall will not be painted until the Class of 2006 says it should be.” Pledging to Teach, Promising to Learn Pledging to Teach, Promising to Learn December 1, 2003 Jan Pudlow Associate Editor Regular News St. Thomas uses ‘The Wall’ as motivation to set new standardslast_img

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