Law School a Learning Experience for Louisiana Governor
BATON ROUGE, La.Officials at Southern University Law Center bent the rules to admit Louisiana Governor Mike Foster in August.But now that the 70-year-old Foster is enrolled as the school’s first part-time student, he’s treated the same as anyone else. He’s held to the same standards as other students for attendance, tardiness and academic achievement. Even the governor’s bodyguard was required to wait outside while class was in session.In attending classes at the historically Black law school, Foster says he has developed a whole new appreciation for the school’s mission.“I am still very appreciative that they gave me an opportunity,” Foster says. “The funny thing is that’s what Southern is all about, giving opportunities to people who otherwise wouldn’t have had them. They gave me an opportunity that nobody else would, and I appreciate it.”One of the governor’s new African American classmates, George Cravins, says he considers Foster’s presence in the law school to be positive for both the school and the governor himself.Since enrolling in August, the governor brought national attention to the law school, attracting coverage from the likes of Court TV and People magazine (see Black Issues, Sept. 14).But Cravins says Foster also has benefited.“They try their best at Southern to provide a nurturing environment. They really do. And they’re nurturing him as well as everyone else,” Cravins says.Cravins also says he considers the experience of attending an historically Black school to be a plus for Foster.“But the law school is 40 percent White, so it’s not like he’s the only White face here,” Cravins says.Another classmate, Bobby Ballard, says Foster is treated the same as any other student.“There’s no favoritism going on at all,” Ballard says. “He (Foster) is just like a regular student. He raises his hand and asks questions just like the rest of us.”And like other students, Foster says he never knows when the professors in his three classes are going to call on him.“It’s very embarrassing to be called on and say, ‘I don’t know’ in front of 40 to 50 people. Because if you’re the governor, you’re supposed to know a few things,” Foster says.Foster says his most embarrassing moment at law school came when he fell asleep one day in class — and was abruptly awakened when his book crashed onto the floor.Foster also quickly discovered that tardiness is not tolerated at the law school.“If you’re a minute late to class, you’re out the door. That’s me or anybody else. It’s automatic. They just point at the door and away you go,” says Foster, who says he has managed to be on time for every class that he attended.Likewise, anyone who misses more than 20 percent of the classes automatically gets an “F.” Foster did not miss a single class during the entire semester.“It was like just having another student in the class,” says classmate Richard Cotton. “He (Foster) put the work in, and was prepared when he came to class. You never know whom the professor is going to call on, because they have some unique ways of determining whom they chose. And when he didn’t understand a point, he was comfortable enough in the class to ask a question about it.”Cotton says Foster was unfairly lambasted early in the semester by critics who argued that the governor should be devoting all of his time to state business instead of taking law classes.“There are always going to be a few pundits out there who are going to take a shot in a situation like that,” Cotton says.Other critics complained that Foster was admitted without taking the Law School Admissions Test, which is usually required for admission to the Southern University Law Center or any other law school.B.K. Agnihotri, chancellor of the law center, says Foster was admitted conditionally, with the requirement that he take the LSAT in October.Foster says he took the LSAT in October, but declined to reveal his score, noting only that he had done “so-so.”“What happened with my LSAT was that they had a big parade in the middle of it,” Foster says, noting that he took the test at another university that was celebrating homecoming at the time.“They wrote us all and offered to throw that grade out because of the parade disturbance,” he says. “But I said, ‘Nah, what the heck?”Agnihotri said no minimum score was required of Foster. The governor merely had to take the test.The chancellor explained that the school’s admissions committee can waive certain admission requirements or admit someone conditionally if there are mitigating circumstances.Agnihotri recalled one case in which a civil rights activist was admitted to the law school even though he did not have an undergraduate degree at the time.And while Foster is the first student to enroll in a new part-time program, Agnihotri says the program was not created just for the governor.The new program has been in the works for several years, he says. When final exams rolled around, the governor quickly found that he couldn’t rely on his name recognition to help boost his test scores. As part of its normal procedure, Southern Law Center routinely assigns each student a numeric code for the finals. That assures the professor who grade the tests won’t know which are Foster’s.Foster says he has enjoyed attending classes at Southern Law Center, but isn’t sure if he can continue next fall because of the demands of his job. With the Louisiana Legislature set to come into session in March, the governor says he may not be able to squeeze in the time-consuming legal studies this spring.“I hate the time that it’s taken on my weekends and my nights. But I love it because it’s something that I have always been interested in,” Foster says.
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