Sept. 18, 2015 – University of Houston Law Center graduates gathered last week at Hotel ZaZa in the Museum District for a Minority Alumni Reception during which Dean Leonard M. Baynes shared his vision for keeping the school vital in a rapidly changing demographic environment.
About 80 alumni filled the 11th floor ballroom, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Among them were U.S. District Judge Vanessa Gilmore, ‘81, University of Houston System Regent Jarvis Hollingsworth ’93, former Regent Lynden B. Rose (’83, J.D. ’86), and state Rep. Armando Walle, (’04, J.D. ’15).
Ricky A. Raven ('83, J.D. '86), who served as the evening’s host, told the gathering that the Law Center is much different than when he graduated.
“It is a different school; it has new leadership; it has a different mission, and that is exciting,” he said. “The one thing we ought to leave here with is a new sense of purpose as it relates to the law school, a new desire to get involved in the direction of the law school, and a new energy about the law school and where it’s going.”
Raven said that the school’s new energy is a “direct result” of the leadership of Baynes, the law Center’s first African-American dean.
“He does bring a new vision, a fresh vision, and a new direction. It’s encouraging to me that the law school has a new energy,” he said. “The result of all of that will be that we will have the greatest University of Houston Law Center that we’ve ever had, and that is good for all of us.”
In his remarks, Baynes paid homage to prominent minority faculty members who he said blazed the trail before him, including: Professor Michael Olivas, the school’s first Hispanic faculty member and first Latino/a associate dean; Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, its first Latina faculty member and first Latino/a academic associate dean; UH Vice President for Community Relations and Institutional Access Elwyn Lee, the law school’s first African-American faculty member; Meredith Duncan, its first African-American female faculty member; Marcilynn Burke, the first African American academic dean, and Sondra Tennessee, the first African-American dean of students.
“Like any dean, I want the school to remain very strong. I see it as a resource-rich school that is recognized as a leader in the global, national, and metropolitan environment, and transformational in the way it changes the world through legal education,” he said.
“And like any dean, I want to improve the quality of the school,” he said, especially in the areas of national rankings, faculty scholarship, attracting high-quality new faculty members and students, and enhancing students’ professional outcomes.
Baynes noted that a majority of the college-age students in Texas are members of minority groups. That demographic shift is reflected in the growing percentage of minority applicants to the law school, he said.
That reality presents certain demographic opportunities for the Law Center, Baynes said.
“As dean, I plan to embrace this demographic wave to our ultimate success,” he said.
Baynes pointed to the school’s Pre-Law Pipeline Program, which was initiated by Olivas and revived by Baynes last year, as “our secret weapon.” It is designed to develop students from low income, first generation, and underrepresented backgrounds and prepare them for law school. The first six-week “class” was held last summer. “This program will ensure our future success as we ride this demographic wave.”
Baynes called on the alumni to become even more involved with the Law Center by mentoring students, participating in alumni events, and contributing to the Law Center’s scholarship funds and toward the financial support of the pipeline program, which began with generous financial support from the office of UH Provost Paula Myrick Short.
“I want us to create a law school that is special and different,” Baynes said. “We can do it by working together.”