Law in Contemporary Society
          Days after we finished our finals we received the following email from the Dean of our law school which I am reposting here:

Congratulations on finishing your exams. I wanted to write to you about an issue that is important to all of us: the timely submission of grades. I know that not having timely grades can complicate job searches and can impact students in other ways as well. So I wanted to let you know that the faculty and I have been focusing on this issue, and that we voted last Friday to set a hard deadline for grading exams and to impose penalties on faculty who do not meet these deadline. Essentially, starting next academic year, grades will be due on the Friday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (the Friday before the start of classes) for the fall semester, and on June 15th for the spring semester (except, of course, for graduating students, whose grades are due before graduation). Those few members of the faculty who have a combined total of more than 150 exams to grade will have an extra week. Faculty who do not comply will be included on a list circulated to the faculty and students, and they will also be fined. I realize that there will still be some situations when, for extenuating circumstances, grades will be late, but my hope is those situations will be rare. We realize that the issue is important to you, and we are committed to addressing it. I want to thank those of you who have raised the issue with me. Your suggestions are important to us.



          I am not sure how the rest of you reacted but aside from some choice GSF emails we received throughout the year, this had to be one of the most ridiculous law school communications I have read thus far. Choice parts that I reacted to include the hard reasons that the Dean gives for exactly why timely submission of grades are so important. He writes that it can "complicate the job search" and gives the highly illuminating explanation that it "can impact students in other ways as well." Oh well that explains it. It is important because of the things that it does to the people. Right.

          Now, I know I have friends who were certainly frustrated by late grades last semester, but can anyone explain to me how exactly this impacts us as students? To me, I think it is a blessing. Employers actually have to interview you and speak to you, speak to your references and maybe even read writing samples to evaluate you as a candidate. The only complication seems to be that employers have to open the cans and taste the meat instead of just reading the label- maybe the Dean can send them can openers instead of circulating lists that to me seem to be nothing more than a form of bullying. I am pretty disgusted by any form of public shaming as a coercive measure and the list of faculty who don't submit grades seems to be just that. And then fines? The Dean has so little control over the faculty that he de facto leads that he has to dock their pay?

          Maybe there are students to whom this issue is important and if so, I would love to hear the reasons why, but to me this is little more than a foolish email that has much potential for Above the Law lampooning and on a more serious note threatens the kind of evaluative feedback that classes like this provide. If there are students who feel the same way and want to explain to the Dean why we need more feedback instead of just faster grading of exams, we should get together and formulate a way to present our thoughts to the Dean.

-- ElviraKras - 23 May 2012

Hi Elvira,

Thanks for posting this - i completely agree and would definitely be interested in getting together and looking at ways of trying to make a change on this. One of my personal goals this summer, inspired by Eben's initially confronting teaching style (which was unlike any i've ever experienced, both professionally and in a family of teachers), is to start to get my head around some of the adult/tertiary education literature in order to see how current best practices in tertiary, graduate school, and professional school teaching in particular differ from those in pre-k, primary and secondary education. My next step after that is to begin researching and compiling a list of innovative law school teaching models from around the world, in order to determine if any themes can be discerned and applied to our environment. Finally, I'd like to set up some time to talk with some professors in the law school - preferably those with an interest in innovative teaching methods - about their suggestions for reform. If you'd be interested collaborating on any or all of these ventures, please let me know. Also, some others in addition to myself have expressed interest in the related topic of curricular reform on the Duncan Kennedy thread (Skylar, Abiola, Meagan, Angeline, Jared and Alex if i have read it correctly), so if you do began to move forward on this it might be worth combining the two threads and people for greater impact.

-- RohanGrey - 23 May 2012

Hi Elvira,

I found your post really interesting. I do have alternative views on what you consider to be a "blessing" and the punishment that the administration plans to impose on professors who do not turn their grades in on time. First, I would like to play devils advocate with your description of a "blessing." I know of some students who applied for jobs at firms without their grades, had interviews, and were well liked by their interviewer(s). When the firm got a hold of their grades, which were not up to the "standards" of the firm, they were not offered positions. While this may be a testament to the flaws in basing employment on grades that are more or less arbitrarily given (based on the fact that the candidates were well liked based on their resume, work experience, and education and were not offered a job), I also think that it speaks to the ways in which certain valuations are ingrained in certain spheres of the legal profession. I do believe that potential employers should take a more holistic approach to analyzing candidates, however, I don't believe that what some students may perceive as "slacking" by tenured professors can be contrived to be viewed as a blessing in disguise.

Secondly, I agree that public shaming isn't a productive way to handle the ways in which the faculty may be slacking on getting their grades in on time. I do believe, however, that there should be some form of accountability. If not a fine than some way of insuring that professors are encouraged to get their grades in on time. If not for something that requires meeting a hard deadline like a job, a scholarship, or an application for an academic position, generally knowing how well one read, analyzed, and applied information can be essential to one's emotional and mental well being. Considering that 1L final grades are the only form of evaluation we get after our first semester, it is understandable why our peers would be anxious to receive their grades and why the administration felt compelled to make changes in the grading policy.

I'm personally not gunning for a firm job, but I can definitely empathize with those who may have been bothered by the slow turn around between taking their finals and getting their final grades.

-- JenniferAnderson - 24 May 2012

Elvira I too felt that email was absurd and insulting. I was mostly pissed off the Dean tried to act like this was for the benefits of the students and the Dean cares so much about what the students want, when I doubt getting grades submitted on time is the number one concern or complaint of students. And I doubt if polled, students would choose this issue as the one which they'd like the dean's threats of empty power. I'd be happy to help either you or Rohan in whatever way I can.

-- SkylarPolansky - 26 May 2012

Elvira, I completely agree with you and thought the dean's e-mail (and his priorities) was very disappointing. I was considering sending him an e-mail explaining my thoughts, but if you would like to coordinate something, I would definitely be game. Rohan, I would also love to contribute to your efforts as well - I'm not sure what energy I have to expend at this point, but if you need someone to bounce ideas off, etc., through this thread, I would definitely be game.

-- JaredMiller - 28 May 2012

Elvira, as far as the grades issue, I would have to agree with Jennifer. Not having grades is only a blessing if people actually decide whom to hire based on what they "taste from the can", but more than likely, they wont (unless we have no grades). In the end, everyone opens up the can and everyone tastes the meat, not having grades "on time" just makes them focus on the meat a little bit earlier, and maybe longer, than they would have. Plus, are resumes, interview and references really the best way to "taste the meat"? Does a 20 minute scripted conversation really tell you all that much about anyone? Not only do people prepare heavily for interviews, most resumes are highly doctored. Even taking references into account, something we have a little bit less control over, does anyone ever put down a reference that wouldn't say they were the best person in the world? At the end of the day, grades are one of the only truly objective metrics that anyone can go by. Flawed as they may be, from an employer's perspective, grades are probably the best option (especially when they have to differentiate between a group of individuals with impeccable resumes, interviewing skills and references).

(Elvira, I didn't address the other portions of your post either because I didn't have anything productive to add, or I agreed)

-- JonathanBrice - 28 May 2012

Jonathan, if not having grades means employers focus on the "meat" a little bit earlier and longer than they otherwise would have, isn't that making Elvira's point? Scripted conversations, tailored resumes and overly complementary references bring their own problems, but the answer there is to have less scripted interviews, and greater scrutiny over resume claims and references, not to give up on actually trying to get to know people as human beings. The biggest risk, in my opinion, of having grades in an interview is that they are the easiest of all the various components to directly and quantifiably measure people against each other, and as such will function as the default triage mechanism before any meaningful attempt is made to actually get to know each person.

Also, I'm a little worried that after everything we've talked about this semester in class and outside, you still say grades are "truly objective metrics" - objective in what sense? How often do we receive an exam back with comments and an accompanying grading metric? Do we ever get given lists of expected outcomes and performance indicators, sample answers from varying bands of performance or comparisons of raw performance scores to weighted rankings - a.k.a. grades? What about statistics on the average grades received by women vs. men, minorities vs. non-minorities, direct-from-undergraduate vs. non-direct, or different undergraduate majors? Without such information available to analyze, it's extremely difficult to assess the extent to which this grading system is even "objective" within its own educational paradigm, and that's before getting into everything we've talked about in class about the inherently political nature of testing "mastery" of a substantive area of law using a time-limited, research-exclusive, non-collaborative format based around hypothetical issue spotters or a true-false/multiple choice questions. Although my academic and professional education background is limited to the pre-k, elementary and secondary levels, I've also attended seven other tertiary institutions in various capacities prior to CLS, and can say quite confidently that the curriculum and assessment system at law school is the most opaque I've ever come across. We didn't even get a syllabus for Contracts last semester! Another professor emailed me prior to the release of grades to let me know that despite my (undeniably) poor exam performance, they thought I was one of the better students in the class and had bumped my final grade up as far as they could without being unfair to other students. Now, while I personally appreciate the fact that professor realized that exams aren't the be all and end all, I can't see how such a system, or indeed one in which Eben is able to tinker with grades over summer, should ever be considered "truly objective."

I'm also not sure I understand what you mean by "impeccable resumes, interviewing skills and references." Can you elaborate? No two people have identical life experiences, personalities or intellects, so I don't see how you can evaluate two resumes as both being "10/10". Isn't that type of reductive and dehumanizing "apples-to-apples" approach far more likely to occur with a grading system in which there are only five commonly used grade levels (A to B-)?

-- RohanGrey - 28 May 2012

Rohan, I don't think it is because it is unlikely to be determinative. To me, its only a benefit if it makes a difference. In the end, the employer's frame of reference will still be warped by the grades. The only way to make employers truly focus on the meat is to devalue grades by pulling an HLS or just not give grades.

Sorry, maybe "objective" wasn't the best word to use in that situation. What I was trying to say is that they are one of the few things that we can't tamper with as students. Flawed as they may be, they are what they are. While I will agree that grades should never define an individual, from an employer's perspective, how else are you suppose to initially differentiate between the meat worth tasting and the ones not? Not only are employers receiving hundred or even thousands of applications per position, a lot of the applicants are often very good candidates. Without grades, they're forced to taste all the meat, something that's just not economically feasible. In the end, because no employer realistically has the time or resources to taste every can, they read the labels in order to set aside a pile of the ones they want to try. While they will miss some good meat by doing that, they're hoping that the marginal benefit in terms of the bad meat they eliminate will outweigh the marginal cost in terms of the good meat they discard. Whether in reality this is true or not, I'm not sure, but I can see how one would be inclined to believe that it is.

To me, its seems that what you're getting at is not grades as much as the lack of feedback. I agree with you that we should get more feedback, but that doesn't necessarily mean that grades are bad. I don't see why we can't get both. And yes, grades will probably be dependent on variables such as sex, race and socioeconomic class, but that speaks more to the weaknesses of the education system. We should find a way to make it so that ones success is not determined by your race, sex or socioeconomic background, not just get rid of grading. Getting rid of grading just put a band-aide on a broken bone.

Regardless, I am more inclined to view grading as a good thing when it comes to something as the legal profession. As lawyer's, we serve clients. If our work product please our clients, they reward us, if it doesn't, they don't. Why cant we view professors as clients? Each semester, we are tasked with providing them with a work product, if it pleases them, they reward us, and if it doesn't, they don't. Just like real life clients have to pick what firms to rank as their top go to firms, teachers pick which students they want to rank at what position--your story about the professor bumping your grade goes to show this. The one flaw with this analogy is that we are also their clients as well. A professor's job is to make sure that we learn how present a good work product. This is the area where things like feedback and a syllabi would be helpful.

Yes, no two people have identical life experience, personalities or intellect, but a lot of people have some that are sufficiently impressive enough to not be able to conclusively pick one over another. When I say "impeccable resumes, interviewing skills and references", I mean that students at schools like CLS probably have very impressive resumes, interviewing skills and references; thus, its hard to differentiate them solely based on that. And yes, you can't quantitatively measure two resumes, but you can say that one resume is better than another, if you have to. Practically, that differs very little from whether you assigned one a higher numerical score that helps convey your overall emotions. In the end, while I do agree that this is a reductive and somewhat dehumanizing "apples-to-apples" approach, I personally see why people use it...its fast, cheap, easy, and more efficient that anything we have at our disposal. What else would you suggest? (I actually want to know if you have any suggestions) - 30 May 2012 - 02:34:41 - JonathanBrice?


Didn't you answer your question in the first paragraph of your response? Why is it that our peer institutions (Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley) have done away with letter grades, yet Columbia continues to hang on? The students at our peer institutions don't seem to be performing worse in the job market with their Pass/Fail grading system. The employers that hire these students don't seem to mind that they must rely on more than grades to make an assessment of a student's capabilities. I would be remiss not to mention a great deal of attorneys who have told me (and I believe you as well) that law school is nothing like practicing law, law school does not do a good job of training future lawyers, and how well an individual does in law school is not a good indicator of how good of a lawyer he or she will become. Comparing law to other fields, a number of medical schools have also done with away with letter grades because of the focus it takes away from education, yet residency programs do not appear to have trouble finding students that they'd prefer to train.

So much of the law school system is flawed; there are too many students and giving letter grades based on a 1L curve is one of the flaws. When I am paying over $70,000 a year for my legal education, I do not want something that is fast, cheap, or easy for anyone involved in the process.

-- AbiolaFasehun

For me it's pretty simple. When I was applying to different jobs last semester (both firms and other), a lot of places considered my application incomplete until I could provide a fall transcript. Until all my grades were in, my applications to various places were held up and the whole job-hunt process took longer. Now, please don't take that as me saying that grades don't suck and that I think this issue is a top priority or anything like that. Anyone who took a non-Moglen class with me this semester probably knows how much I care about grades themselves. But it was definitely annoying to have my job hunt delayed because a professor or 2 would take a month to grade exams.

-- JosephItkis - 3 June 2012


I honestly don't see it as a solution. It might help us, as students and potential employees, in that employers wouldn't be able to characterize us based on our law school grades, but it doesn't solve the problem of them finding good meat. None of the other things they would look at would actually be tasting the meat, it would simply be tasting what we give would simply force them to roll the dice and hope they get a good can. I honestly don't believe that firms have a better idea of what type of students they're getting when it comes to our peer schools that don't issue letter grades...from all the recruiters and employer's I've talked to about the HLS/YLS/SLS?BLS system, it seems that all they do is try their best to turn the "grades" those schools do give into something they can use, hoping they get a good can (HP, P and LP are still grades)...but maybe I'm wrong. It also seems that they rely a lot more on their undergraduate grades, something they would likely do with us if we got rid of grades. Don't get me wrong, I think getting rid of grades is moving in the right direction, but I don't see it as a solution.

Also, yes, a great deal of attorneys have told me that law school is nothing like practicing law, but 90% of them have also been transactional attorney who barely do anything legal. In talking to litigators, both in the public and private sector, it seems that a great deal of them disagree with the statement that law school is nothing like practicing law. While yes, they echo that we still have a ton to learn before we can become standalone attorneys, they seem to disagree with the statement that law school as a whole is nothing like practicing (some types of) law. Lastly, while I don't disagree with the statement that how well an individual does in law school is not a good indicator of how good of a lawyer he or she will become, I also don't agree with it. To me, if the system was that flawed (in that grades we're completely useless and didn't decide anything), it would seem that employers would place a lot less weight on them.

In the end, maybe the system is flawed on an even deeper level (assuming that this isn't the way the system was mad to work). For example, in the beginning we have good meat and bad meat. Because we can't effectively separate the good from the bad, we assign them grades that don't rightly define them. The good meat that gets a good labels gains confidence and becomes a good lawyer, and the bad meat that gets a good label gets a good start, but is soon doomed by the fact that they are bad meat. On the other end of the spectrum, the good meat that gets the bad label is shaken at first, but because they're good meat, they still succeed; the bad meat that gets the bad label does nothing, and ends up exactly where they would've ended up if they had gotten a good label. If that's the way the system actually works, which I honestly don't know, then grades and whether or not employers look at them means absolutely nothing in the long run...and we basically shouldn't worry ourselves about them.

Ps: I realize that this has deviated from the original purpose of the thread, but I sill ascribe to the view that late grades don't benefit students.


Hello all,

I wrote the below letter and am thinking about sending it to Dean Schizer. Anyone who would like to join in on sending it with me is more than welcome (would love to get a big group of students behind this). Any and all comments/suggestions/edits are much appreciated. Thanks!

Dear Dean Schizer:

We are second-year students who wanted to voice our concerns relating to the e-mail you sent to the student body last month about professors' timely submission of grades. The tone of the email was dismissive and insulting. An elaboration of the "other ways" in which late grade submissions effect students as opposed to a dismissive, catch-all phrase would better show your concern with and attention to the problem. A closer look at how late submission of grades effects students will reveal the underlying problem of a lack of feedback. This is not an affect which can be addressed through public shaming and moderate fines imposed on tenured professors.

While we and our fellow students appreciate that you are asking professors to be more cognizant of the timeline of our job searches when submitting grades, we are worried that the attention being paid to speed in the grading process obscures a much larger and (in our view) far more pressing problem: the serious lack of feedback that students receive as part of their evaluation. There is obviously much debate among the student body as to whether grades should be kept or abandoned, but one thing almost all students agree on is that the amount of constructive feedback we receive to complement those grades is grossly inadequate. Yes, most professors are happy to take the time to go over your exam and point to areas of potential improvement, but many only have the time to do so months after we received our grades, at a time when we have little memory of the issues and the feedback contains little value.

There are larger issues at play apart from busy professors that contribute to the lack of adequate feedback. We understand that there is a long tradition in law schools of students being evaluated by a single exam at the end of a semester or year. But such a system makes it impossible for students to have any real improvement or any guidance from the professors whose mandate is, in part, to teach us how to improve. Our entire grade is based on our ability to spot issues, make arguments and reason logically over the course of four hours, but when we take our exams at the end of first semester, this is the first time that we have done this, apart from a few practice exams that we take in the weeks leading up to the exam, also completed without any feedback or constructive criticism from professors. Our professors spend the semester teaching us the substantive material relevant to contracts or property, but they don't give us any guidance as to how to incorporate this information into a successful legal analysis until after the exam.

Yes, many students don't like grades in part because they create stress and competition, but we largely don't like grades because they seem arbitrary and unrepresentative: They reward students who have an intuitive grasp of the skills required and leave those who don't with no understanding of what they should have done better, and they fail to account for the fact that students who have the ability to improve those skills over the course of a semester can be just as effective lawyers as those who "get it" earlier in the learning process. Giving students more opportunities to be evaluated (either officially or unofficially) throughout the semester would help solve this problem, as would emphasizing to professors how important feedback is to the learning process.

We understand that teaching is only part of a professor's job requirements. We also understand that, as a result, professors have limited time to devote to working with individual students, especially in large 1L classes. But the way the system is set up now, students have very little opportunity to improve upon the skills on which they are being evaluated and which are vital to building successful lawyers; consequently, many students will leave Columbia with largely the same aptitude in legal reasoning and analysis that they came to campus with three years earlier. For those students, Columbia becomes merely a gate they must pass through on the way to a legal career rather than a place that actually builds lawyers. That, we think, is a shame. Again, we appreciate that you have taken the time to pressure professors to submit exam grades more promptly, but we would like to see that the larger problems surrounding the grading process are being emphasized and remedied as well. Thank you for your time and we look forward to continuing this dialogue.

-- JaredMiller - 09 Jun 2012

I hope people won't mind a little humorous cynicism but I often feel like this describes law students' idealism about grades very well.

-- JosephItkis - 10 Jun 2012

In my experience no potential employer has ever asked me for my transcript but I see the validity in the point that while we still have grades, having grades in on time is important. I still object strongly to the tone and tenor of the email, as well as, the "solutions" that are to be implemented. Jared, I think you drafted a great email addressing feedback and grading issues that we have felt. Personally, I would like to stress more the particularities of the email the Dean sent out and our response to that and then segue more into a discussion of the grading and feedback that we receive. Thoughts?

-- ElviraKras - 12 Jun 2012

Elvira, I'm of course open to any and all changes, but I'm not sure what you mean exactly about "stressing the particularities of the email the Dean sent out." Perhaps you can make changes/additions in the wiki and we can work on it. I would like to send this out sooner rather than later if at all possible but am happy to collaborate on it - anyone else interested in joining?

-- JaredMiller - 13 Jun 2012

For other 1L courses I have no objection about the “timely submission of grades” policy. It’s not like we are going to learn anything more about Criminal Law or Constitutional Law after we finished our exams. But for this course, I feel strongly against it. Eben told us that learning is an ongoing process, and indeed it is. I got into the habit of rereading the materials we covered in class in the evenings. Those articles begin to show different meanings. Now I can take my time to appreciate the subtle points, pause from time to time to think, and jot down some notes. It’s unbelievable how many interesting points I’ve missed in the Folklore of Capitalism when I first read it! And it has been particularly thought provoking to read people’s comments. If we want grades to truly reflect commitment and improvement, giving them out in June probably is not a good idea.

-- MeiqiangCui - 12 June 2012

I took a stab at addressing what I thought was the most offensive part of the email - the flippant tone. Elvira, what do you think? Once we have something finalized I would be happy to send the letter with you Jared.

-- SkylarPolansky - 14 June 2012

Skylar, thanks for the edits. I'm a little concerned that what you inserted was a bit too aggressive (e.g. saying that he is being "dismissive and insulting"). I understand wanting to reveal our unhappiness with the initial e-mail, but personally I think it's a better course to be a bit more cordial and see first what kind of reasonable (or unreasonable) response we get back.

I was also a bit unsure of what exactly was changed. Perhaps the best way to do this is to put additions in another color? I've tried to do that with what I think you had inserted. I feel like group edits are easier in theory in this thing than in practice...

Otherwise, hi! Hope you're having a wonderful time in LA.

-- JaredMiller - 15 Jun 2012

I like this conversation, and the proposed letter. It relates well to my second paper, which is all about feedback (I'd appreciate any comments, by the way). One of the issues I faced seems to be replicating itself here. We all seem to agree that law school doesn't involve enough feedback, but I think that's the easy part. My question for everyone is what would your ideal course look like in terms of feedback? Let's assume we're talking about 1L classes with ~100 students. Obviously feedback isn't impossible in that setting, since I think this class is accomplishing just that. Do you think the same sorts of techniques (e.g. collaborative writing) would work just as well in a class like contracts or torts, where the professor ostensibly has a goal of teaching a textbook's worth of "substantive" law? Or maybe that shouldn't be the point of 1L classes to begin with...

-- MarcLegrand - 15 June 2012


I think that you’re right to stress the importance of feedback and to take the discussion one step further by inquiring what is actually a feasible mode for feedback in large law school courses. A class like this that is concerned with society, current events, and quite a bit of history, is much more suited to individual responses and creative discussion than are substantive law courses . It would be much harder to set up a similar wiki for, let’s say, torts—unless it is mainly focused on policy aspects or reform. As important as discussion and critical thought are, I feel comfortable knowing that some of my classes are teaching me black letter law at least some of the time. Of the classes I’ve had over the past year, I was not incredibly frustrated with the lack of collaboration in class, mostly because the subjects didn’t seem keyed toward collaboration. It’s like the difference between collaboration in an geometry class versus a writing seminar.

That said, I would have liked explanations of my grades or maybe multiple assignments throughout the semester. In Civ Pro, we were assigned to write a complaint and engage in a discovery exercise with a partner, both of which were actually more memorable to me than the exam itself or even reviewing before the exam. Even if the assignments weren’t graded or included in the final grade, having projects to complete would give students more incentive to talk with their professors in office hours or engage with their fellow students. I know many times I’ve thought I should go in for office hours but I couldn’t think of a “good reason” to be there—which is frankly just stupid for me to think in the first place. The thing that I like most about this course specifically is that it focuses on improving throughout the semester, and I think that can be true for any course regardless of subject matter. But to improve, you have to have something to improve upon. In my mind that something should be a project or assignment—written, oral, or quantitative—something more than just reading the cases for each class.

-- AnneFox - 15 June 2012

My civpro section didn't do anything like drafting a complaint, but I would have liked to. One of the problems I have in law school is that while I understand the theory is important, I feel like we do very little that relates directly to legal practice (except perhaps the LPW / moot court courses). Of course it's important to develop a background of knowledge in various areas of law, but I always think it's a little strange, for example, that we never saw (much less drafted) a contract in "contracts" (beyond isolated portions discussed in the cases). That's probably largely the case just because that's how things have been done for decades. It also reminds me of something I've heard too many times talking to 3rd or 4th year associates at biglaw firms: "Sometimes I get to edit some really substantive motions." I always try to hide my wince, but I suppose it's not surprising that those associates aren't given more responsibility in the first few years at a firm when they have little practical training from school and the firm's clients have little interest in paying bigbucks for that development themselves.

Anne, I think you're right that some form of assignments throughout the semester is a key part of meaningful feedback. More explanation of exam scores would be interesting, but largely pointless since it would come after the class ends (although some advice might apply to exams in later semesters). Including more collaborative projects for students (graded or ungraded) would encourage engagement without creating too much additional burden on professors, I think.

-- MarcLegrand - 16 June 2012

Okay, sorry my prior comment wasn't very clear, but Skylar you seemed to understand what I was getting at. I objected to the tone of the email and the solutions (fines + public shaming). To a lesser degree, I found the Dean's stated reasons perplexing since he seemed to only come up with one.

I think this thread brings up a separate issue regarding how we are taught and how we are evaluated in law school, which I think goes to Rohan's initial comment on this thread.

Is there an easier way that those of us who want to address the email can collaborate, other than on this thread? And Rohan, what is the update on your project and in what way can we help?

-- ElviraKras - 17 Jun 2012


It seems that our views on the letter are perhaps slightly different, so I think I might just go ahead and send my draft by myself. I hope this isn't construed as being rude - I just figure it would be easier to convey our opinions separately. I'll let you know what happens - let me know if you end up writing to the Dean as well! Maybe some bombardment of letters will actually accomplish something.

-- JaredMiller - 26 Jun 2012

Got a very quick response:

Dear Jared,

Thanks for your thoughtful email, which I will share with others who are working with me on a set of related issues. It is useful to us to have a sense of your thoughts on this important subject.

One issue that I have been discussing with faculty is the importance of having either a model answer or hosting a session to talk about an exam. We want to be sure that faculty follow a set of best practices in this regard.

It soulds like this is partially but not completely responsive to what you are asking for.

Another initiative we are discussing involves incorporating more writing assignments in the first year small section in order to ensure that first year students, in their first semester, receive more feedback and have a more interactive experience in their first year.

Would you also like us to encourage faculty to give midterms? Or are there other specific ideas that you would like us to consider?

Like you, I see value in exploring different possibilities.

I should say one thing for the record, though. I disagree pretty strongly with the idea that our students are at risk of not learning how to incorporate substantive material into an analysis, such that the school is just a "gate to pass through," as you put it. A socratic conversation in class, for example, is precisely an occasion for students to offer this sort of analysis orally. Those of us who have taught at the School for a number of years can tell you that we certainly do see students become increasingly comfortable with this set of intellectual challenges over the course of their years with us. There also is a parallel phenomenon in which people often see their grades improve as well. This is not to say we can't do an even better job at training people -- that should always be our ambition -- but my sense (and, I should add, the sense of those who hire Columbia Law students) is more positive than perhaps you are suggesting about where we are now.

Thanks again for writing to me about this.



Any thoughts/comments? I'm going to try to respond by the end of the day, but any input would be helpful.

-- JaredMiller - 26 Jun 2012


I don't agree with most of the Dean's points, and I see the e-mail as dismissive of many of the issues you raised. For instance, there is not necessarily a parallel between a socratic conversation in class and performance on an exam. Exam writing is an art, and an art that Columbia law professors never taught. Many of us were successful seeking other programs that taught proper exam writing, but many of us were not. Thus, exam performance does not signal intelligence or improvement in the socratic method, but rather who was able to figure out the art of exam writing on their own the fastest. Also, it is rare that a class will actually factor class performance into account of the "grade" one receives (e.g. Con Law with Metzger or Civ Pro with Gluck in my experience).

Many of our professors (e.g. Rap for Torts) are lazy and really don't teach students. Then, we are supposed to receive grades that signify our aptitude or capability in the legal profession. However, and I think this should be emphasized to the Dean to in a follow up e-mail as well, we do not put enough emphasis on the practical skills one needs to perform at a high level in the legal profession. We need more emphasis on legal writing. One hour/week course is not enough.

Law school should teach us the practical skills we need. We should not have to learn these skills from our first place of employment after graduation. Grades are not reflective of legal aptitude, especially after the first year of law school with relatively little feedback in most cases. Midterms could help, but the best change would be an exam writing course either to replace legal methods or as an optional course along with legal methods before classes begin.

When I taught before law school, I could not test students on material without making sure I adequately prepared them for the assessment. If law school is all about the art of exam writing during the first year, Columbia should teach it to us before classes officially begin. If students choose not to subscribe to its method, that is on them. However, they should at least give us some guidance so the assessments can be as fair as possible.

Please let me know if you have sent the e-mail because I would like these initiatives presented to the Dean as well. There is a lot of good work of this thread. This is what Eben wanted us to do. Learn how to change institutions/law using innovative/creative strategies. If we bring it to the "powers that be," they will have to listen to us.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 27 June 2012

William David,

Thanks for your comments - I will try to incorporate them into a follow-up, though I would encourage you to e-mail him independently as well. I wrote back to the dean telling him I would respond more substantively in the next few days. Any other suggestions, especially concrete proposals addressing the lack of adequate feedback?

-- JaredMiller - 27 Jun 2012

The number of TAs for each class should be increased to reflect the amount of students that want adequate feedback. There should be an TA orientation that each professor holds per class in which he or she explains what students should glean from that class and how that is best expressed through an exam format. Then, students (no more than 10) will be assigned to a TA. The TA should not only review material each meeting, but encourage students to submit practice exams to him or her in order to get feedback that is tailored to what the professor wants to see out of an exam. If the students wants more feedback, he or she can sign up for office hours with the professor.

I understand that this will take a lot of students serving as TAs, but I think enough students will sign up with the right incentives. Another option would be to increase the amount of professors and to have only small sections (40 max) for 1L courses. This would allow professors to look over more exams themselves and thus less TAs would be needed.

I will e-maill him personally to address the concerns mentioned to you earlier. Columbia has a duty, especially considering how much this education costs, to prepare us to be the best lawyers we can be. It's about time the training given matched up with this duty.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 27 Jan 2012

Jared, I was surprised at how responsive DS was. Were you? It seems like you created an opportunity, probably in part because you were thoughtful about your tone. He asked about midterms-- which indicates that he may be open to "encouraging" professors to add evaluative assignments. What those assignments are can probably be negotiated.

If he's open to adding assignments that develop and measure skills that create effective lawyers, it might be good to think of some proposals for what those skills are. For example: written and oral communication, collaboration, persuasion, negotiation, building and maintaining relationship with a client.... Then a few proposals for assignments tailored to honing those skills.

At this point the final exam is probably not leaving, so for now supplementing it would help. One idea is an un-timed, take-home fact pattern with a strict word limit (to encourage professor buy-in) early in the year to be handed in and returned with written feedback from a professor. Ideally, shared on a class blog so you could learn from others. This might help make the final exam a less random evaluation and would probably have independent learning value as well.

TA sections seem like a good idea too, if they have a purpose in their own right and don’t become a semester-long exam prep session. Maybe each TA section could be responsible for a group project (developing research, oral + written, and collaborative skills). Something like a research project on a topic in a given subject (like rent control or co-ops v. condos in a Property class) or even get some practical learning experience and, for example, write a contract in contracts.

Maybe suggest creating student focus groups to work on this with DS.

Anyway, this is very exciting and cool that you did this. -- SamanthaWishman - 28 Jun 2012

I also sent an e-mail to Dean Schizer this past Wednesday detailing concerns and suggestions for improvement, but he did not respond yet. I am not sure why my response time was not quick as well. If he does not respond in a week, I will send a follow up e-mail to reiterate that I would like his thoughts on the issue and hopefully some changes to be made.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 29 Jun 2012

Thanks for the helpful suggestions and the support, Sam! I was also very surprised at the quick response (I literally sent it before I went to bed and had a response when I woke up) - it does seem to be a rather promising omen. William David, I'm sure he'll respond soon. Hope all is well with both of you - will be sure to keep you updated.

-- JaredMiller - 29 Jun 2012

Hi Elvira,

I'm really sorry I haven't got back to you earlier - I wanted to wait until I had something substantive to say but at this point I'm still in the research phase and don't really have a cohesive view worth sharing. That said, This project is partially a long-term endeavor for me and will likely take a far greater scope than can realistically be expected to apply to any meaningful change in the law school. I've been thinking about the best way to actually make an impact and at this point am of the view that advocating for reform of a few specific policies while trying to promote broader campus awareness of alternative visions is probably going to be more effective than presenting a complete break from the status quo and arguing for its superiority. Dean Schizer's apparent willingness to consider midterms is a good sign, and it's possible that we will have better luck splitting the two activities so that we can remain polite and on good terms when advocating incremental change while simultaneously pushing for radical change with sufficient force to generate some actual resistance. To that extent, I think the best path going forward is for us to collectively try and compile a list (perhaps on a new thread for clarity) of realistically achievable changes we would like to see, in order to then triage based on importance/feasibility and distill down to 1-3 policies to lobby for over the upcoming year. I will try to devote more attention to this while continuing to research big-picture ideas, but in the meantime we can start with suggestions already expressed by others above.

Here are some proposals that I have been toying with. I may modify or replace them with better ideas as time progresses/we all discuss further.

1. Requiring an upfront, explicit written description of grading policy and exam format (if there must be an exam) at the beginning of class (so that we don't have a confusing discussion in class in the final weeks).

2. Requiring a clear and instructive list of expected outcomes for any assessment, including an exam, to be provided beforehand.

3. Requiring some form of diagnostic/formative assessment prior to the final summative exam.

4. Explicit acknowledgment in early student welcome materials of unorthodox learning opportunities/pathways - i.e. Rules 3.1.2 and

5. A commitment to conduct and report to students meaningful data analysis of macro-level grades - i.e. Are there any observable patterns in individual grades or grade trends between men and women, minority and non-minority candidates, students from different undergraduate majors, etc? What is the distribution of different grades for the same course via different professors?

6. Improvement of exam feedback tools and commitment to provide support for teachers to use these tools - i.e. sample answers at different bands (not just a single "model answer" but also "this is what a B+, B and B- answer looks like"), publishing of marking guidelines for exams (when they are used), and an official digital repository on lawnet so that students can directly compare the use of these tools by different professors.

7. Expansion of the relative credit value of the LPW class vis-a-vis doctrinal classes (thereby reducing the GPA weighting of 1L classes overall) - I need to check the ABA rules about this though.


Rohan - Thanks for compiling this list and working hard to rectify these concerns. I addressed the general ideas behind these points in an e-mail I sent to Dean Schizer on June 27th. His response is below.

Jared - Dean Schizer responded to the e-mail that I sent on June 27th today. He definitely seems concerned and willing to implement innovative strategies to improve education at Columbia Law School. His response to my e-mail is below. Looks like we are moving in the right direction. I'm glad we spoke up.

*Thanks for this thoughtful email, William. You make some very good points, and we are taking these concerns seriously.

I met this morning with Jody Kraus, who is the chair of our student services committee. Our plan is to ask the faculty in the fall to enact a policy in which every first-year teacher in the fall semester is required to devote some time to giving students advice about taking exams. Professor Kraus and I will also encourage the committee to ask the faculty to enact a requirement that faculty in all semesters give feedback on exams.

In addition, I have a meeting scheduled next week for all faculty who will be teaching small sections, and will discuss with them the idea of incorporating more writing assignments with feedback in the small section (this is, of course, in addition to the legal writing sections students already have).

We have invested a lot in the past few years in increasing the scope of our legal writing sections -- they are now two semesters, and used to be one, and the program is now run by a colleague whose sole full-time responsibility is the writing program (Ilene Strauss). I'm glad to hear you agree that the program is important, and it's useful to hear your thoughts about how we might improve it.

May I share your email with colleagues who are working on these issues with me? Do you prefer for me to share the content but not your name? Please let me know.

By the way, congratulations on making law review.



-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 6 July 2012


Thanks for sharing this (and congrats again!). My thoughts:

1. "give students advice about taking exams" - we should ask this to be upfront and written, so that students can know at the outset what the professor intends them to get out of the course and how they intend to assess whether we did or not, as well as hold them accountable.

2. "enact a requirement that faculty in all semesters give feedback on exams" - what feedback? Just on our performance or also on the exam itself (i.e. median/mean scores, SVs, performance by demographic, etc)? We should ask that this information be uploaded to a universally accessible location on lawnet so that future generations can see the feedback from previous years. We should also ask that the professor provide feedback on a mock exam prior to the students' actual exam (some professors may already have examples of this they can provide, others will have to make new ones) - ideally it would be good to see feedback on high/medium/low performing exams, but at least one would be a start.

3. I would affirm he is in the right path with emphasizing legal writing but also suggest he could do a lot more - there are many other forms of legal writing students should have a chance to explore. LPW doesn't have to become a Fred Rodell style course but it could and should be more diverse and creative than the narrow memo-->brief world.

-- RohanGrey

I'm conflicted about the various "advice on taking exams"-type suggestions. On the one hand, I agree that exams (particularly fall semester 1L) are largely a measure of who was the quickest to grasp transcendental nonsense and the magic words it involves. In that sense, exam advice may help level the playing field. At the same time, the focus seems to me to be slightly misplaced. I (and from what I gather, most of us) want increased feedback and diverse assignments so that our tuition money yields dividends in terms of our lawyering skills. I'm not sure that focusing on how to take exams accomplishes that goal; it almost seems to work in the opposite direction.

-- MarcLegrand

Marc, I completely agree - that said, radical change (such as a complete reorientation of 1L away from an exam-oriented approach) is unlikely to be achieved through a polite dialogue with Dean Schizer and some other administration members. I've been thinking about Eben's comment in an old interview about how he, Larry Lessig and Yochai Benkler and Pamela Samuelson each took different roles in advocating for free software, with Eben being the "bad boy" while others played the role of public figure and industry diplomat. In a similar vein, it might be beneficial to organize a meeting and discuss strategy and tactics, including the possibility of delegating to individuals or subgroups responsibility for presenting palatable reforms (i.e. making exams more transparent) to the administration with the aim of getting them enacted, while others provide systemic criticisms and advocate for broader structural reform through organizing the student body.

One reform that I believe would represent a significant improvement over the current grading system would be to replace the grading curve with a standards-based system, where an "A" corresponds to "x level of achievement" rather than "x percentile of the class." This is quite a large change, however, and would probably require implementing some smaller reforms first (like as I mentioned above, an upfront assessment policy with outcomes and details of assessments and a post-exam analysis of student performance and the exam itself) to familiarize staff with the new tools necessary to make the switch. So building on the division-of-labor/distinguishing roles within reform advocates idea, perhaps one individual or group can argue for this, taking the long-view, while others can present the more achievable short-term incremental reforms.

Hey Rohan, Just a side note: That interview sounds intriguing, but I can only seem to get a preview without paying. Do you (or Eben) have the full version? Thanks.

-- JaredMiller - 09 Jul 2012

Not sure if this helps, but I was able to just scroll through the whole thing within the frame on that page without having to pay/register/etc.

-- MarcLegrand - 09 Jul 2012

Hey Jared, the better link is here. (fixed -ML)

-- Dean MGK sent an e-mail on July 6th to student leaders to meet with her and Dean Schizer in order to discuss how to make the the Law School more student-focused. There are two dinners planned: one on July 19th and one on August 7th. If you all are in NY during those times, you should definitely go. We could even meet up beforehand to discuss the best way to approach it. Even if you didn't get the e-mail, send Dean MGK an e-mail and she will probably allow more people to attend.

As Rohan alluded to, making things better for others that come behind us may mean working within the system first for incremental change. However, those initiatives could later lead to systemic change. Also, presenting the gamut of initiatives/ideas to the administration may make some of the less extreme ones appear insignificant, when those reforms would really amount to substantial reform. The Civil Rights Movement would not have been as effective without Martin and Malcolm. Dr. King appeared much more safe as compared to Malcolm X, which allowed many of Dr. King's reforms to take place. However, Dr. King started to become more radical later in his life, leading to more initiatives such as the Poor People's Campaign. After his prior reforms, his more radical moves were accepted and even some of Malcolm X's ideas were better understood.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 09 Jul 2012

Are people around to meet this weekend? Sunday 5.30 at AmCaf? (or a better venue of someone's choosing)?

[This weekend is not good for me. We could always meet at 6 pm before each one of the dinners and then meet sometime in between if needed. - WDW]


I've been meaning to post on this thread for a while, and now I'm hesitant to jump in here because you all have been going at this for a while, but I figure a somewhat different perspective may be helpful as you guys move forward with reform (radical or otherwise).

First, I'll just note that I didn't find Dean Schizer's email all that insulting. Timely submission of grades, like it or not, is a pretty common student concern. Whether or not we place importance on grades in this class, it doesn't take more than 30 seconds sitting in Lenfest to hear complaints about how long some professor took to get grades out. The near-instantaneous posting of when grades are released on a class-by-class basis on Facebook seems like a pretty clear indicator that students care when grades come out. Now, obviously I don't think DS should be focusing a large portion of his time on this, but I imagine he can walk and chew gum at the same time, so it doesn't bother me all that much. I also think there's some psychological benefit to getting first semester 1L grades when you're at home with family as opposed to in the bubble of law school, but that's hard to quantify and probably not all that relevant.

Second, while I think we all agree that the 1L year needs more "evaluative feedback", it just isn't a feasible goal at this scale. This class was unintentionally instructive on that point. Eben tried to build a course designed around the kind of individual evaluation we want, but it's clearly not possible for professors (given their other obligations) to give feedback in a timely fashion to 100+ students. Could it work if class sizes were capped at a much smaller number? Sure. But, judging by comments here and in course evaluations, "good" law professors are in short supply. If the trade-off is between individual attention and professor quality, I'm not sure what the best solution is. I'd also note that I don't think it's a viable solution to cut CLS's overall class size (at least not without raising tuition to even more astronomical prices).

Third, in terms of the unpreparedness of law students to practice law upon graduation, I don't think that's a real concern coming from students at elite law schools. It's true that law school doesn't provide much in the way of practical legal experience, but I don't think it's clear that that is what great law schools should be providing. After 1L year, I think everyone here is better able to understand case law, read a contract, and "speak the language of law." After two years of medical school, med students haven't had a whole lot of practical medical experience, but anatomy and biochemistry create a foundation for good doctoring. That's all that we need law school to do. So long as employers are willing to pay graduates of top law schools to work (and train), I'd venture that CLS students do well with the current structure. (Although, to be fair, I think a strong case can be made that schools where students face lesser employment prospects would benefit from a more practical curriculum.)

I realize the counter to my preceding paragraph is that students should be able to practice law upon passing the bar and that the concept of employer-training leads to the license-pawning that we all fear. Personally, I haven't been able to find a meaningful distinction between pre-bar training and post-bar pawning. If I'm willing to pay for three years of legal education, why should I be unwilling to accept payment for additional education? To jump back to the med school analogy, how would this be any different than residency?

-- SanjayMurti - 09 Jul 2012


Thank you for your comments. I will address all of your points in turn...

First, I was not upset with Dean Schizer's e-mail either. I have no problem with him wanting to make sure that students receive their grades in a timely fashion. However, those grades don't tell us much and should not be used by employers in order to ascertain who "has the right stuff." The first year does not replicate legal practice and most professors could care less if you actually learn the material that they do teach. Grades are anonymous anyway and the curve allows many professors to be lazy. After telling one of my professors in the fall semester about my time as a high school teacher, he said that he was too lazy to work that hard. In that vein, grades and the curve are actually counterproductive because they allow professors to not be held accountable for their teaching. Thus, it is no so much the "grades" as it is that the emphasis should be placed on the teaching/training. Money or time is not an excuse. It is just a stubbornness to actually change the status quo.

Second, I disagree that evaluative feedback is not a feasible goal. If medical students can receive extensive feedback, we can as well. Eben actually gave us feedback every single day in class and if it was not for one professor not being able to teach this past semester, we would have had more feedback on the wiki too at this point. Plus, the course is not over and I am not sure it ever really will be. Eben is attempting to build relationships with us in this process called life. He engaged us in class periodically and pushed us to strive to pass the imagination test. I believe part of this imagination test is understanding that the law school system or anything for that matter can change if you have the proper strategy and follow through with it. Professors' first obligation should be their students or they should pick a different "profession." Why else would they be professors? We might as well call them academics. There are enough resources at this school to make sure every student has feedback in their classes. It is not that there are not enough good professors, but rather that many professors have their priorities mixed up. Professor Gluck (now at Yale) was a really good professor who gave her students feedback. She was willing to devote a lot of time to her teaching. There are other professors like this, but they either are not at Columbia or there is not enough administrative pressure to force them to change. One of the reasons why I really like this class is because Eben realizes that students are a great source of feedback too. If we cooperated more like students do in medical school, for instance, students would learn more. Not only could we use more upperclassmen as TAs to help us, but we should be required to open up to each other about our learning to help each other be the best lawyers we can be.

Third, I also disagree that preparedness is not a real concern, especially if you are referring to "real lawyers." Granted, many people here are okay with the current system as long as they have a six figure job after graduation. However, lawyers that strive to make an impact yearn to be prepared. Also, these "top law schools" are not really great if they are not providing more practical training during year one. We are actually being trained to appreciate hierarchy, and we are not given enough skills so that we will be just fine with doing doc review for our first few years at a corporate law firm (CLS does not hide that it is a corporate law firm factory). If we had more skills when we graduated, we would expect more out of ourselves and our profession. Instead of reading a contract, we should actually work to write one for instance. Medical school is not a good comparison because they receive a lot of practical training their first two years. I was in a previous relationship with a medical student who is now a doctor, so I had an intimate view of her day to day life. They did have lectures with about 100 students, but they supplemented lectures with labs where they practiced on cadavers. Also, no one expected employers to pick the "best doctor" after the first or second year of medical school. Grades were P/F with a possible honors distinction, which fostered a more cooperative community.

It is not really doing "well" in the current structure, but it is about making a difference in your profession. Training will always occur and should, but we should definitely come with more skills to make the transition easier and also with a better understanding of why we picked a certain route. Many people burn out after four years, with relatively few skills or experience to fall back on. Residency could not start without medical students receiving the proper training/education beforehand and, do to significant exposure to different fields during the their third year, understanding what area truly makes them happy and most fulfilled.

Pawning occurs when you sell your license for monetary gain instead of actually using your license to be a positive force in your community. Before we can get to pawning, however, we should make sure the license is meaningful. Since law school is now required before taking the bar, it should provide the proper training/education in order to create the type of lawyers that really make a difference in society. Coming from Columbia Law School, we are among those best positioned to actually change the world for the better. Yet, we are being trained to be cogs in the machine. We deserve better. The world deserves better.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 10 Jul 2012

I will be the first to say that the grading system should change, or at least be transparent. But the premise of this thread is that there was something wrong with Dean Schizer's email. I don't think there is. Professors should get grades in on time. Period. It shouldn't take more than a month to grade 120 exams when that is the only feedback they provide all semester. There are plenty of things to be upset with the administration about. This isn't one of them.

-- HarryKhanna 10 Jul 2012

If the only issue behind Dean Schizer's email is whether a professor could sit on their exams for an extra month or not, perhaps we would be having a different conversation. But aside from the obvious and uncontroversial problems with the perspective that law students' biggest concern today is/should be the speed with which their transcript is updated, this proposal has deeper and more insidious implications. Most importantly, there are many reasons why a professor may choose to take time before providing a final grade, including but not limited to the desire to maintain a sense of continuous learning beyond the final "break point" of the last day of the formal semester. For the hypothetical professor - let's just call them EM - who feels that the grading system is damaging to the learning process they are trying to create, this process of public shaming and fining is an attempt to ensure compliance to the administration's goals at the expense of their own educational vision.

I don't think anyone who took this class was mislead about Eben's views on grading, nor have they been denied the ability to receive a grade within the administratively determined time period. But by attempting to empower students by giving them grades in a more timely manner, this policy ends up disenfranchising those who wish to have an alternative learning experience with professors who are willing to provide it by pressuring professors to fall in line.

Furthermore, this email frames the entire problem as one of professorial laziness rather than administrative structure and a failure of managing the various expectations placed on academics. Perhaps this proposal would be more palatable to me if Dean Schizer had promised to place himself and every member of his administration on every public shaming list and also agree to a personal fine equivalent to the sum total of all fines allocated on professors as a demonstration of the equal responsibility of management as well as the workers in addressing this issue. Until then, I remain outraged.

-- RohanGrey 10 Jul 2012

Eben is the only professor who provides the "alternative learning experience" you speak of. And he handles the constraints of the grading system rather well. The rest of the professors don't get grades in on time for other reasons. Eben can continue to assign interim grades next year by June 15 and revise them by July 15 without public shaming or penalty.

I admit, I don't really get your outrage over this. This new policy is designed to shame professors that just DGAF and get them to do their jobs. Eben and this class's experience won't really be affected.

Our 'breakpoint' is July 25. After that, work on the wiki will only receive credit if you do independent study with Eben. Next year, that breakpoint will be July 15.

Is your outrage really over a 10 day difference?

-- HarryKhanna 10 Jul 2012

Eben may be the only 1L professor to offer a different vision of learning, but i'm not so sure he's the only one in the school. At any rate, one's enough.

My concern is not with changing the date, it is the methods used to ensure compliance with that date and the so-called "hard deadline" (which I imagine contrasts with the current system in which Eben - and possibly others - continue to fight about what is reasonable throughout summer and potentially flout that July 25 deadline when they deem it appropriate). The new policy is not designed to shame professors that DGAF, it's designed to shame professors that don't fit with the administration's desire to construct an assessment schedule around the sole consideration of corporate law recruiting. Why not have an option where 2L/1L elective professors not wishing to comply with this deadline can do so provided they say so upfront in an evaluation policy? Dean Schizer's framing of the problem as one of pure teacher laziness, and his assumption that the best solution to the problem is criminalesque fines and public shaming is indicative of a model that punishes underlings and assigns responsibility for systemic failure to the worker rather than those responsible for managing the system itself.

I worked at a school prior to coming here, and observed similar tactics being used to ensure teachers met homework grading and lesson planning requirements. It was part of a broader arsenal of policies that together functioned to dissolve any responsibility on the leaders of the school for the teachers' high level of stress and overwork, as well as frame every educational problem to the school community as one of poor individual teachers rather than broader systemic structure. Of course, being a "reformist" charter school, there was no such thing as tenure so the final stick (to complement the carrot of bonuses for higher test scores) was simply to fire teachers late on a Friday afternoon, and whitewash their existence from the school by Monday.



First, I'm not sure grades are any more arbitrary than any other mechanism that employers could use to find out who "has the right stuff." I think we've touched on the value (or lack thereof) of grades enough in this class though, so I'm not going to push any further on this. However, I'm not clear on where you see a connection between the existence of anonymous grades/a curve and professor laziness. Frankly, I think you're wrong about the majority of the faculty not caring about students learning the material. I don't think I've had a single professor here who I thought actually didn't care about the success of his/her students. I'm sorry if you've had a different experience.

I think, though, that this is probably why we disagree on the viability of individual evaluative feedback. Where you see laziness, I see physical impossibility despite sincere effort. Regarding this class, I think the idea that "Eben actually gave us feedback every single day in class" is silly and a copout. For all the things this class was successful at (and it was), it wasn't at providing the level of feedback that Eben initially said it would. Now, I'm not in the loop on what you meant by "one professor not being able to teach" causing us to receive less wiki feedback than originally intended, so I'm willing to take your word that this semester was an aberration. Lastly, on a related point, I'm not so sure that students should always be professors' number one obligation. If we're demanding more practical education, it only makes sense that lawyers with experience practicing teach more classes. For the hours that Judge Lynch (for instance) dedicates to teaching, I'm confident his students are his focus. But being a Judge is also a full-time job.

On preparedness, I'm moving away from the med school example just because I don't know enough about med school to make the argument (although to uninformed me, it seems like lab hours : doctoring :: LPW : lawyering). First, I don't know what you mean by "real lawyers." Second, I didn't mean to argue that everyone should go to a corporate law firm upon graduation to get training. I meant, rather, that the best practical education you can get is practicing law (whether it's at a corporate firm, at the DA's office, or independently). I don't understand why we'd expect (or want) to get practical training in a classroom. Eben's repeatedly made the point that you can start practicing law in the real world right now. Maybe the problem is just that law school is too long. Would a world where law school ended now and we got practical experience for two years suit you better? Is this just a timing issue?

-- SanjayMurti

Hey Sanjay...

I just mean that as long as there is a curve, students will always get As despite how much they really learned. Thus, it doesn't really matter if one is a good teacher. For example, secondary schools have end of grade tests and diagnostics at the beginning of the school year to assess how much students have learned and they hold teachers accountable for those results. Also, there is constant feedback throughout the year to assess one's growth toward their learning goals. Law schools could learn from this model.

I didn't say all teachers are lazy, but the current system does not put that much emphasis on the student and what he/she wants. I would vouch that the majority of students would likely want a more interactive experience in law school during 1L year, despite how well they have done. I really like Eben's class, and the reason why I said he gives us feedback every single day is because his class was devoted toward teaching us how to be the best contemporary lawyers we could be during each one of his class sessions. Especially when you engaged him in class, as I did often, you learn a lot about your journey as a lawyer and how you can move closer to passing the imagination test. That's why I do not think that statement was a copout. We received feedback on exactly what we were being assessed on.

Although you could figure out how to be successful, most teachers of our substantive classes did not provide much feedback in terms of preparing us for the final assessment. I actually enjoyed the Socratic method, but that really did not prepare us for a three to four hour written exam. I actually would like to see more take home exams, which would better replicate legal practice. Law school should not be about having to teach yourself. I have taught before and my students would not have done well having to figure it out on their own. Two of my one 1L substantive classes, Con Law with Metzger and Civ. Pro. with Gluck were moving in the right direction with feedback, but more can still be done. In Metzger's class for instance, although an 100+ section, there was a TA session every week and a large portion of the sessions were devoted to discussing sample exam questions. To go further, it would have been beneficial to turn in one sample question answer before exams to see if we were progressing in the right direction. I realize that more resources would be needed to do this, but I know more can be done especially in our small sections.

When I say real lawyers, I mean those lawyers that actually want to create positive change in society and are not just invested in a paycheck. Those lawyers want to be properly trained and do not throw their morals (whatever they may be) to the wayside when they pick a job.

Lab hours are more frequent and hands on, but I understand what you are saying about LPW. However, I think our LPW class can be better and should therefore be more frequent.

More practical training now would be moving in the right direction. I think class sections could be supplemented with practicums, even if they are only a few times per semester. 1L year, considering the fact that it is so important, should have assessments that really reflect legal practice. And if these assessments do not yet, in the meantime more feedback should be provided so students can receive the best education possible and no one would be left at a disservice/disadvantage.

Yeah ... it is a timing issue and an evaluation issue. Employers should not look for canned meat after the first year, especially if the current system persists. Also, 1L year should be intermixed with theoretical and practical training to give students an optimal education in the first year. 2L and 3L year offer more practical classes and if you are proactive you can likely get a lot of them. That's why I don't think law school has to end now, but the training should be much more conducive to preparing students for the legal profession. I care more about learning than the final grade, but I realize everyone is not like me. I just want to be the best lawyer I can be, and do not want my classmates to miss out on a great education either.

Also, law schools should understand that everyone doesn't learn the same way. They should work to diversify the learning experience. I enjoyed Socratic method, but every class doesn't have to be that way.

As a teacher I had to hold myself accountable for my students learning, so that is why I am really invested in the education now in law school.

Honestly, I think we want similar things but we just have different visions of how to get there. But I do know that the 1L education can get better. Dean Schizer has already informed me how it has improved over the last few years, and he seems optimistic about improvement in the future.

-- WilliamDavidWilliams - 11 Jul 2012


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r55 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:05:37 - IanSullivan
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