St. Thomas Lowers the Bar

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It's the academic version of a pump-and-dump scheme.

When St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens wanted to better the image of its law school, it brought in former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth in 2003.

Butterworth had an ambitious plan to increase the size of the student body and the law school's coffers: Recruit students at the bottom of the applicant pool, require them drop $20,000 on the first year of law school, and then push 'em out when they can't make the grade.

Or at least that's what a former student alleges in a class-action lawsuit filed in July against St. Thomas University in New Jersey federal court. The Catholic university's law school "is engaged in a major consumer fraud," 25-year-old Thomas Joseph Bentey claims.

Bentey, who started law school in August 2005, says he and about 85 other first-year law students were expelled -- a 25 percent fail-out rate -- in spring 2006 for not maintaining at least a 2.5 grade-point average. The reason, he says, is that St. Thomas used a modified grading curve, "subjecting a large percentage of students to academic probation and eventually dismissal."

After becoming dean in 2003, Butterworth increased the law school's class size by 50 percent. In his first graduating class, only 11 of 31 students passed the Bar -- a 35.5 percent passing rate when the state average is 73.2 percent.

Butterworth and a spokesman for St. Thomas did not return calls for comment. But in June, Butterworth told Riptide: "Whenever we accept anyone, we believe that this person can pass here."-Trevor Aaronson

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