OPINION | ROBERT STEINBUCH: Arkansans First


Last week, this fine paper again reported on important happenings at the taxpayer-funded school at which I work--the University of Arkansas Little Rock Bowen School of Law. To wit, my school expanded our "Pathway Program," which streamlines the law-school admissions process for highly qualified undergraduates attending Arkansas colleges that have chosen to partner with Bowen.

Under this program, students essentially are guaranteed admission to UA Little Rock's law school if they've earned a college grade-point average of 3.4 or higher and scored at least 154 on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)--barring no character-and-fitness issues.

This is a big deal, because a significant problem with applying to law school is not knowing whether you'll get accepted and, if you do, which schools will give you offers. In addition to unnecessary anxiety, this unknown makes planning difficult.

Bowen's simplified admissions program for undergraduates with impressive metrics at affiliated schools is wholly merit-based and fully transparent. Either you chin the bar or you don't--and you'll know immediately which is the case.

Many students (and others) have become soundly disillusioned with academic-application virtue-signaling dog-and-pony shows. Applicants simply want to know whether they satisfy the standards for enrollment. The Pathway Program offers exactly that comforting certainty.

The policy's stated reciprocal goals are "to provide highly qualified and motivated students of exceptional academic and intellectual ability guaranteed acceptance" into Bowen and for the law school "to attract and retain highly qualified and motivated students of exceptional academic and intellectual ability."

The program began many years ago when Bowen extended what was once solely an intra-campus benefit to two historically Black colleges (HBCs): Philander Smith College and UA Pine Bluff. At the time, I unsuccessfully suggested that we offer this new opportunity to more than just racial minorities--the effective outcome of limiting the program to HBCs.

After all, students with the aforementioned GPAs from any school in Arkansas and the required solid performance on the LSAT are objectively high quality; we'd do well to admit them all. And allowing students from, say, Arkansas State in Jonesboro in no way diminishes the opportunities for graduates of, say, Philander Smith.

I had observed an application of this philosophy of inclusivity when Rhonda Wood was an administrator at Bowen. She's currently a justice on Arkansas' Supreme Court, on which she's served for almost a decade. While at Bowen, Wood insisted that our then-innovative pre-enrollment law-school summer-exposure program cast a wide net over those unfamiliar with law school opportunities, rather than focusing solely on racial minorities. The program was successful under her direction.

Similarly, the recent expansion of the Pathway Program extends the aforedescribed admissions opportunities to highly qualified students at UA Monticello, Lyon College, and Arkansas Tech University. And, more importantly, all schools in Arkansas recently have been invited to participate. I'm hopeful that colleges across the state--perhaps further prompted by this column--will take advantage of this student-focused inclusive opportunity.

Peggy Doss, UA Monticello chancellor, highlighted the value of this innovation: "Providing clear pathways through[out] higher education benefits students and the communities they will serve while also addressing Arkansas' workforce needs," she said. It's win-win-win. Students benefit. Bowen benefits. Arkansas benefits.

This notable expansion of the program came about during--and perhaps because of--the intersection of two critical events. First, the legal landscape in higher education dramatically changed--as I and many others had predicted and advocated in favor of for years--when the Supreme Court declared affirmative action illegal. (As I shamelessly trumpet nearly every occasion I can, Justice Clarence Thomas cited my co-authored forthcoming article in the Journal of Legal Education in declaring race-based programs unconstitutional.) The prior policy simply had to go.

Secondly, the law school hired a new dean, Colin Crawford, who's open and inquisitive perspective undergirds his zealous desire to both expand Bowen's footprint throughout Arkansas and have the school best serve the citizens of Arkansas. (Incidentally, Crawford obtained his law degree from that, eh, somewhat well-known school in Cambridge, Mass., that had the temerity to decline my admission so many years ago!)

The change in policy manifested--as Crawford recently reminded me--when, several months ago, I planted the seed by asking him, "Why not have these [collaborative and streamlined admissions] programs with all schools in Arkansas?" That modest suggestion obviously germinated, and Crawford and Assistant Dean for Admissions and Enrollment Management Andrew Whall reached out across the state to invite all schools to join in this wonderful opportunity.

I'm confident--as I'm sure Crawford and Whall are--that as colleges across the state decide to participate in the program, they, Bowen, and Arkansas will all benefit.

Crawford rightly recognized that it's paramount for Bowen to provide access to legal education to the citizens of Arkansas in particular. "The first priority has to be Arkansans, and they will continue to be our focus," he said. Preach, brother!

This is your right to know.


Robert Steinbuch, the Arkansas Bar Professor at the Bowen Law School, is a Fulbright Scholar and author of the treatise "The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act." His views do not necessarily reflect those of his employer.


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