The USD School of Law has seen many changes within the past year such as a relocation task force, a search committee formed to replace Dean Thomas Geu and an increase in South Dakota bar examination passage rates since the July exam.
Bar examination preparation
The first-time passage rate for USD law graduates on the bar examination rose to 82 percent from the July exam.
The success came from the bar preparation courses that have been in place for two years, Geu said.
“We think that probably was the biggest positive change, but we’ve done a lot of other things,” Geu said. “We’ve added a course in the fall of 2015, a year after we found out the poor results. We added a first-year course to try and provide a framework to make it easier for students to assimilate the information.”
Individual professors in the law school are also working on in-class preparation such as time-pressured tests and more multiple choice questions, along with other techniques, to help students retain information.
“Each faculty member looked at the bar exam carefully and determined what the (problem) areas of testing were and made sure they covered those areas,” Geu said.
Tiffany Graham, associate dean of the law school, said on top of the required prep class, faculty are preparing students for the bar exam on an informal basis inside of other classes.
“I would say that happens on an informal basis to the degree that faculty members are incorporating bar-like questions into either practice opportunities or into their exams themselves,” Graham said.
Tyler Sobczak, a first-year USD law school student, said that he is noticing faculty efforts to prepare for the bar exam.
“Currently for my contracts class taught by Myanna Dellinger, we had a 20 question exam. She made it so you would have 30 seconds longer to answer on this than you would the bar,” Sobczak said.
However, before the 82 percent bar passage rate increase from the July exam, The Argus Leader wrote that in 2013, the USD bar passage rate had a success rate of 91 percent. Then in 2014, the success rate dropped to 75 percent, and then in 2015 dropped to 70 percent.
“In 2014, that was the first year that our passage rates went down, and we went down with a whole bunch of small public institutions,” Geu said. “We can guess and speculate, but we really don’t know why because our credentials were almost the same from the year before and we haven’t changed anything.”
Geu said the school tried to establish a new prep program in 2016-2017, but was set back after failed searches.
“We wanted to have a professional bar prep person and a required course in academic year (2016-2017),” Geu said. “We had a failed search so we brought in a couple adjuncts, and we got books that didn’t cost students anything, but of course the adjuncts weren’t experts.”
The implementation of the bar preparation courses led to the increase in exam success rate.
Geu said that he is pleased with how the exam went.
“We’re happy about that, very happy. So as an administrator it makes me feel good, but I didn’t take the exam,” Geu said. “The credit goes to those folks who took the exam. We’re pleased and we’re proud of them.”
Search committee for a new dean
Last March, Geu announced that he was stepping down as dean of the law school and will return as a faculty member once the position was filled.
Geu said that he is not taking place in the search process for a new dean, because his job performance as dean is currently being analyzed. He said that the committee is making progress.
“I know that just last week they posted the job announcement, the committee has met and they went over and they write and approve something called a prospectus, which is a big description of the job and university,” Geu said.
For the next six weeks, the committee and the national search firm will seek candidates and advertise accordingly, he said. Geu also said that in November, the committee will likely have interviews, and then they will bring candidates to campus and a decision should be made my January.
He said that he will continue to do his job until a new dean is hired.
“My goal is to set things up and get things on the right track (and) keep improving to make the next dean look like a hero,” Geu said.
The full list of the law school dean search committee is below. The list was provided by Liz Taggart, director of admissions for the school of law.
- Dean Mary Nettleman – Chair, Dean of Medicine, VPHS
- Chief Justice David Gilbertson – South Dakota Supreme Court
- Reed A. Rasmussen – State Bar of South Dakota President
- Professor Wendy Hess – USD Law
- Professor Allen Madison – USD Law
- Thad Titze (2L)
- Jenna Schweiss (2L)
- Michael Ewald (1L)
- Carl Gutzman – HR Representative
- Dean Tiffany Graham – USD Law Associate Dean
- Lamont Sellers – Associate VP for Diversity
- Sarah Gloden Carlson – Law School Advisory Committee
- Lisa Ketcham – USD Office of Academic Affairs, Senior Secretary
Graham said that Geu did a good job as dean.
“I think that he was a fantastic dean. I think he had a lot of challenges that he had to face and truth of the matter is he didn’t have all of the resources that he would have wanted or to meet them but he did a fantastic job meeting them,” Graham said. “Sometimes it just takes a long time for the product of your effort to reveal itself. I think that’s what’s happening for him at the moment, (he’s) going out on a very high note.”
As the search continues, Sobczak said that he is optimistic about the law school and thanks to the faculty for the resources in place.
“I believe it’s the attitude to want to incrementally build your understanding of law,” Sobczak said. “I think the faculty has provided us with everything we need and I think it’s down to each student to really apply what they teach you.”