UNM Bar Exam Found Unequal

A national bar exam, recently adopted by New Mexico, may contain bias.

“The change has affected minorities and women,” said UNM Law School Co-Dean Sergio Pareja. “We are seeing that Native American passage rates have plummeted catastrophically, and Hispanic passage rates are also down significantly.”

Meanwhile, pass rates for white males have remained the same, he said

A total of 14 Native-American students — eight from New Mexico — took the Universal Bar Exam and none of them passed, Pareja said.

Women scored eight percentage points below men in February and six percentage points below in July, he said, adding that women typically perform better on the test.

Historically, first time passage rates for the old bar exam was 80 percent for UNM students, Pareja said. After switching to the Uniform Bar Exam, there was a 72 percent passage rate in February for first-time takers, and 68 percent in July.

He said these results are consistent with peer institutions, but the UNM School of Law is not accustomed to seeing passage rates this low.

The trend has put the Law School in a position where administration will reconsider curriculum and admission requirements, Pareja said.

“Curricular changes are a possibility,” he said, “As well as mandating a bar review class and considering different paths to admission.”

In the past year and a half, six faculty have left voluntarily and three are currently on leave, reconsidering their position, Pareja said.

“There is no question that we have felt budget cuts,” he said “They are affecting our ability to do what we’ve always done.”

A Uniform Bar Examination consultant assured that the new test would have little impact on the passage rate, Law School Co-Dean Alfred Mathewson said. This was one of the reasons the New Mexico Supreme Court adopted it.

The UBE is comprised of 50 percent multiple choice questions, 30 percent essay and 20 percent performance, Pareja said. The essay portion can be worth less based on tester’s multiple choice performance.

“Students who tend to be strong writers, and not as a strong on multiple choice, clearly struggled,” he said.

A taskforce has been formed to create initiatives to help students pass the bar exam, Pareja said.

“The law school’s commitment to the success of the students has not changed and will not change,” Mathewson said. “All of our faculty have become engaged in this discussion.”

Financial Updates

Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Chaouki Abdallah gave University updates regarding the budget and new grants.

Four-year graduation rates rose to 22 percent from 14 percent four years ago, he said.

This is the first time a New Mexico higher education institution has had this high of a four year graduation rate.

UNM has also received a National Science Foundation grant for $3.3 million to support women and minority faculty in STEM fields.

“This is a very prestigious grant to support women and underrepresented groups in STEM,” Abdallah said.

The University was able to match the grant through a $1.5 million endowment from an anonymous donor, as well as a $1 million contribution from UNM, he said.

UNM Valencia will receive $1 million a year for five years through a grant to focus on STEM programs, Abdallah said.

The Quantum Information Group received a $2.2 million five-year competitive grant from NSF, competing against MIT and other higher education institutions, he said.

UNM’s College of Education also received a $1.2 million grant for supporting training and education for Native-American faculty, Abdallah said.

“These grants are a testament to what faculty have been accomplishing at a time when there are budget concerns,” he said. “They’re doing their best to educate New Mexican citizens and focus on world class research.”

UNM is now faced with a new compliance order from the Department of Labor which will add additional costs to the budget, Abdallah said.

“We are hoping UNM will not be cut more than 5 percent,” he said. “We will have a difficult decision in trying to adjust the budget, also cut last year.”

Nikole McKibben is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @nmckibben92.