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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Academics & Research

Law professor steps down


A UH Law Center professor will retire after a 60 year career.

| Courtesy of UH.edu

Law Center Professor John Mixon kept his students intrigued by drawing cartoons | Courtesy of UH

John Mixon began as a student at the law school in 1952 and, upon graduation, began to teach at the law center.

“I have watched the school change in so many ways,” Mixon said. “The changes have been enormous, with more buildings, more and better students, more and better professors and a steady climb to academic excellence.”

The UH Law Center has grown from the basement of the M.D. Anderson Library to its own sector on the northeast corner of campus.  The center’s student body was made up of a small group, mostly men, and has developed into classes of more than 300 — almost equally divided between men and women.

Born in Crandall, Texas, and raised on a farm near Cushing in East Texas, Mixon, 79, said he became interested in the law as a teenager when he met a lawyer and admired his fashionable blue and white suit. Upon completion of his undergraduate degree at Stephen F. Austin University, Mixon enrolled as a student at the University of Houston Law Center.

Mixon was offered the position by the founding dean of the center, A.A. White, to join the small faculty before graduating with his law degree.

“Coming directly out of law school, I didn’t know what I was doing,” Mixon said. “I could have used some seasoning.”

Mixon taught classes such as contracts, land finance, oil and gas and properties and developed a unique way of teaching using cartoon drawings to illustrate points of law in the classroom.

“Professor Mixon always arrived to class early to cover the whiteboard with cartoons and notes,” said Erin Osbourne, a 3L candidate May 2013, who has taken classes with Mixon. “He would then sit quietly until the second hand ticked past twelve and he was off. He had a booming voice that commanded attention and kept us all on the edge of our seats.”

The cartoons started more than 40 years ago, as a personal trigger for remembering his talking points during spontaneous speeches and developed into a law school institution, he said. Students asked him to post his notebook doodling online at the end of class, and he realized the sketches might help them remember also.

“Mixon taught his students more than just the black letter law — he taught us how to argue and to consider our audience,” Osbourne said.  “He asked his students to think and not just memorize rules.”

The rules of law provide a starting point toward understanding a problem and solving it, Osbourne said.  Mixon began to take a broader view of the law, taking into account science, psychology, sociology and other social factors to make more sense out of the law.

“The rules are handy, stable, rational, but whether they do justice is another matter,” Mixon said.

In Mixon’s book, “Autobiography of a Law School: Stories, Memories and Interpretations of My Sixty Years at the University of Houston Law Center,” he describes the computer as being the greatest change for students — especially the laptop.

“I encourage students to work hard, study a lot, argue about what is right and leave your computers at home,” Mixon said. “Computers in a wireless classroom are a total distraction.”

Computer-driven information has caused people to take law, as a process, less seriously, and graduates today are likely to come out with a sense of justice and propriety, Mixon said. He suspects computers will lead to longer opinions, as entire pages of case law will be cut and pasted into decisions.

Mixon said he enjoyed his legal career but is ready to leave academia.

“It was the best way I could have spent my professional life. Retirement is fun. I will miss students and colleagues, but I don’t miss grading exams.”

Mixon said he plans to enjoy Houston life and travel with his wife.

“My wife and I will continue to travel in our van, sleep in national parks and Walmart lots and enjoy our life in Houston,” he said. “We also have vacation homes in Galveston, Lake Hudson in Oklahoma and Vignanello, Italy, 40 miles north of Rome.”

Mixon had a huge impact on his students and developing their way of thinking, Osbourne said.

“Professor Mixon introduced me to legal philosophy and the arbitrariness of law. He taught his students to consider reality when forming an argument. Judges are people, and their decisions are influenced by a variety of factors outside of the law. I’m very thankful to have had Professor Mixon. I only wish I had decided to attend law school a few years earlier and had the opportunity to take more classes with him.”

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