Professor Mixon retires after 60 years

Witnessed many changes in school, students, and the law.

For years, Professor John Mixon used cartoon drawings to illustrate points of law in the classroom. What started more than 40 years ago as a private “trigger” for remembering his talking points during “extemporaneous” speeches turned into a law school institution. Students asked him to post his notebook doodling at the end of class and he realized the sketches might help them remember also. “I think students remember the drawings more than any point of law from my classes,” he joked.

For years, Professor John Mixon used cartoon drawings to illustrate points of law in the classroom. What started more than 40 years ago as a private "trigger" for remembering his talking points during "extemporaneous" speeches turned into a law school institution. Students asked him to post his notebook doodling at the end of class and he realized the sketches might help them remember also. "I think students remember the drawings more than any point of law from my classes," he joked.

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MixonFeb. 20, 2013 - Law school may seem like an eternity to some students. To Professor John Mixon, it has only been 60 years. He came to the University of Houston School of Law in 1952 as a student and officially retires this year from the classroom of a much different U of H Law Center. He has seen the school grow from the basement of then-new M.D. Anderson Library to a larger, contemporary facility anchoring the northeast corner of campus. The student body changed as well from a handful of mostly male, older, no-nonsense, military veterans to classes of more than 300, young, computer-driven future lawyers divided almost equally between men and women. Mixon himself evolved over the years in his philosophy toward law and his teaching methods.

Born in Crandall, near Dallas, but raised on a hard-scrabble farm near Cushing in East Texas, Mixon, 79, became enamored of the law as a teenager when he first met a lawyer and marveled at his fashionable blue and white seersucker suit. After earning his undergraduate degree at Stephen F. Austin State University, he enrolled in the UH law school whose subterranean facility seemed "sumptuous" when he first arrived.  "Coming from where I came from, I didn't have any idea it wasn't the finest law school around," he said recently while seated in the comfortable living room of his home near Rice Village. The floors in the cramped, basement law school were deteriorating, he remembered, giving off a reddish pink dust that covered the shoes and pant legs of students and made them readily identifiable across campus. "It required regular laundry service," he understated.

Before he even graduated, Mixon was asked by Dean A.A. White to fill a vacancy on the small faculty, launching his professorial career at the age of 22. The adage, "Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach," doesn't necessarily apply to law, he said. Many top graduates today serve judicial clerkships for several years before going right back to academia. "It doesn't hurt someone to have a couple of years of practice, he said.  Coming directly out of law school as I did carries some disadvantages in that I really didn't know what I was doing. I could have used some seasoning."

Over the years Mixon taught Contracts, Land Finance, Oil and Gas, Property, and other courses to meet the demands of the law school. He picked up an LL.M. in 1962 from Yale where his views of the law began to evolve. Under then-Dean Newell Blakely, the Houston law school instilled orthodox, black letter law in its students. Classroom instruction reinforced the rule of law without question.  At Yale, Mixon said he was exposed to "legal realism" and learned that law wasn't all black and white. The rules of law provide a starting point toward understanding a problem and solving it,he said, adding that he learned the importance of social policy in law.  He 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 itself. The rules are handy, stable, rational, but whether they do justice is another matter," he said.

Alumni may order a free copy of Professor Mixon's book, Autobiography of a Law School: Stories, Memories and Interpretations of My Sixty Years at the University of Houston Law Center, by emailing briefcase@uh.edu. Please include name, address, and phone number.

Mixon has seen the law school change during his tenure from classes that have grown from dozens to hundreds, and recruiting and faculty hiring that has expanded from strictly local to national and international in scope. He praised the current faculty for its credentials, teaching expertise, scholarship, and work ethic. The student body changed many times with the advent of affirmative action, the feminist movement, the "nutsy days" of hippies in the 60s and early 70s. But, the single greatest change, he said, was the introduction of the computer, especially the laptop, whose effect on the classroom and the law in general was "immediate and disastrous." "I think the ease of access to computer-driven information has caused people to take law as process less seriously and I don't think graduates today are as likely to come out with a sense of justice and propriety." Mixon said computers already have changed the law itself, moving toward a more mechanical, grind it out practice.  As to the judiciary, Mixon suspects computers will lead to even longer opinions as entire pages of case law will be cut and pasted into decisions.

Mixon said he has no idea what law schools should do about the current downturn in legal markets other than "stop turning out so many graduates."  He gave high marks to the development of clinic and practice courses over the past 30 years for preparing graduates for the real world of "lawyering."

Mixon said he is ready to leave academe and plans to travel with his wife in their RV which already has logged 25,000 miles in one year.

"Law school has been described as a loophole in life," he said, "and I totally agree. It has been more fun than anything else I could have done."

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