The dean of the Howard University Law School has resigned after university President James E. Cheek, confronted by a group of protesting students, indicated he would overturn a decision by the law school faculty denying diplomas to students who failed to meet all graduation requirements.
Dean John T. Baker, who was named to his post less than a year ago, told the faculty that he was leaving because he had not received the resources and support he needed, according to several persons who attended a special faculty meeting last week.
Yesterday Baker confirmed the account of his resignation given by several faculty members and students, but said he could not comment publicly until he leaves the university payroll on June 30.
Darcel Clark, the president of the graduating class, said that Cheek had decided that almost all of the 13 "aggrieved students" would be allowed to graduate Saturday.
"President Cheek has been very sympathetic to the students," said Clark, who said she and about 60 other students spent 2 1/2 hours with the president May 1 in his office. She said Baker "was just not supportive at all" when the group asked him the previous afternoon to overturn the faculty decision.
Alan Hermesch, the university spokesman, confirmed that Baker had resigned, but said late yesterday that neither Cheek nor other senior university officials were available for comment.
The faculty and students said all the cases in which Cheek acted involved students who had passed slightly less than the 88 credit hours required for graduation or had not passed a required course.
Baker, 46, became Howard's law dean in July after serving as a professor at Indiana University and earlier as an associate law professor at Yale. He graduated from Howard's law school with honors in 1965.
In a speech reported by the law school student newspaper Res Ipsa Loquitur, Baker said Howard's admissions standards had been "too low," although they were raised slightly last fall when the school drastically cut the size of its entering class from 169 to 100 students. Baker added, according to the newspaper, "Students have not been pushed hard enough in classes. There is just not enough academic rigor."
In several speeches and interviews, Baker said Cheek had charged him with raising the persistently low passing rate of Howard law graduates on bar examinations that lawyers must take before they can practice. According to the March issue of Washingtonian magazine, he quoted Cheek as having told him, "We can't keep letting people in, taking their money and not have them get licensed."
Baker also said that the school, whose enrollment of 437 students is 92 percent black, should become "more racially diverse" while continuing its century-old mission of educating black lawyers and promoting civil rights. In the mid-1970s, according to figures compiled by the American Bar Association, about 20 percent of Howard law students were white.
Baker's call for "racial diversity" prompted an outpouring of criticism from students.
But faculty members praised Baker warmly and criticized Cheek for letting students "wiggle free" of law school requirements. They declined to let their names be used, saying they feared reprisals.
Wiley A. Branton, a respected private lawyer who served as dean from 1978 to 1983, also praised Baker as a lawyer and scholar with a "very fine reputation."
Branton said no overall figures exist on the passing rate of Howard's law school graduates on bar examinations. In Maryland, the only local jurisdiction that issues bar exam results for individual schools, 13 percent of Howard's law school graduates passed from 1981 to 1985, compared with an overall passing rate of 65 percent.