February 10, 2006
Important and Disturbing New Article About Peer-on-Peer Bullying in Law School
Much of my research has been devoted to the problem of bullying in elementary and secondary schools, but I was completely unprepared for what I read in Darby Dickerson's recent article, "Cyberbullies on Campus," 37 U. Tol. L. Rev. 51 (2005). I read a draft of the article last spring, and I have been eagerly awaiting its publication ever since because I think it may be one of the most important and groundbreaking articles about legal education in many years.
Darby Dickerson, who is Vice President and Dean of Stetson College of Law, discusses frankly and openly some very disturbing incidents of peer-on-peer bullying at her law school and presents empirical evidence suggesting that what she discovered there is very likely happening elsewhere across the country. The article should be read widely in the law school community.
If you are unfamiliar with the phenomenon of bullying, you may be tempted to think it a trivial problem that students should be tough enough to endure with a little humor and a little backbone. What you'll find in Darby's article will change your thinking.
You'll find that bullying isn't at all what most people imagine it is. "Bullying" is an unfortunate term because it evokes for Americans images of something childish and relatively harmless. If the research had begun in this country instead of Europe, the phenomenon would likely have been termed something that for Americans would be more evocative of its true nature, because what researchers are talking about is not harmless teasing or even occasional mean-spiritedness. It is an ongoing, debilitating abuse that does real damage to its victims, who are often outnumbered and usually powerless to stop it. And it is happening in higher education; there really isn't any doubt about that anymore.
What is critical to understand about bullying is that faculties at the elementary and secondary level are nearly always oblivious to its existence, even though it has been shown to be shockingly prevalent in our lower schools. Bullies operate underground and are exceptionally clever at hiding their actions from school officials and talking their way out of trouble.
It is therefore incumbent upon the law school community to avoid the mistake so routinely made in the lower schools. We cannot assume that these dynamics do not exist in our schools simply because most of us are unaware of them and because we assume law students are too mature to be inflicting such cruelties on others. If lower schools are any guide, we need to take seriously the possibility that some of our students are suffering serious and ongoing abuse by some members of their classes and we don't know about it.
Perhaps we will find that our schools are free of such problems. But after reading Darby's article, I don't think you'll believe it is safe for us to assume that they are. (dbw)
February 9, 2006
First Regional Announced!
This Is a "SAVE THE DATE" Notice!
The Northeast LSAC Regional Academic Assistance Workshop will take place at Roger Williams University Ralph R. Papitto School of Law in Bristol, Rhode Island, on Thursday, June 15 and Friday, June 16.
Why Thursday and Friday? Sunday is Fathers' Day ... many attendees may need to travel on Saturday.
Who should consider attending? Those new to the Academic Support field. We intend to have some "old hands" on board to help those who are developing programs, and/or who are themselves newcomers to law school academic support.
Would you like to present solo, or as part of a duet or panel? Let me (Dennis Tonsing) know what you have in mind (by e-mail, please). Do you have a suggestion as to what ought to be presented (by someone other than you)? Let me know.
Details? Forthcoming. Watch the blog, and watch the ASP list-serve. (djt)
February 7, 2006
Please Skip the Laundry List
I know I have been away awhile. In part, this is due to preparations for our Law School's sabbatical inspection coming up in a few weeks. In part, this is due to preoccupation with my daughter's college application process. And, in part, this is due to dealing with a recent moderately unpleasant medical diagnosis.
However, as I have been reviewing more and more practice exams of students preparing for the Bar Exam, I have been struck by a common problem: the tendency to approach a subject by talking about everything on the laundry list of topics, rather than exercising discretion on what topics are truly raised by the facts.
As an example, I gave a Civil Procedure question with two calls. One called explicitly for a discussion of defendant's motion to dismiss for failure of the plaintiff to join a particular person. Rather than immediately begin a discussion of Compulsory Joinder and structure the answer along the lines of FRCP 19, most students began by discussing personal jurisdiction, then subject matter jurisdiction, then venue, and finally, after using most of their time, students got to the first of three sub-issues raised in a Rule 19 analysis.
This tendency should be of great concern to us in our training of lawyers. As Dennis Tonsing has written, and as we all recognize, there are analogs between what we ask students to do in Law School and what they are asked to do in the professional practice of law. Selecting and divining the right issues, and only the right issues, for discussion on an exam has its analog in narrowing and selecting the right issues to research and prepare for when a client walks in the door, because clients have neither the time nor the money to pay for unnecessary research.
We therefore need to caution students that, while it makes great sense to go into an exam with a mental checklist of possible issues, they should not answer a question by automatically writing everything on the checklist. They must learn to critically consider which issues are raised, and which are not. This facility is part of "thinking like a lawyer." (mwm)
You Had the Power All Along...
This weekend, my older daughter will be appearing in the school play (7:00 p.m. Saturday at the Pierce School in Brookline, MA, tickets are going fast....), the Wizard of Oz. She is a chorus member—as are all the 2nd and 3rd graders (it is a "Grades 2-6 production"). The 4th graders get to be munchkins and "winkies" (my daughter had no interest in being a winkie, because, as she pointed out giggling, she is a girl...). The chorus members sit on a riser throughout the play, patiently waiting to chime in where needed.
Now, I understand that giving big parts to little kids (no matter how talented, says the proud mother) is a big risk, but when you think about it, the "chorus only" system requires the youngest children to do the most difficult things: sit still, pay attention to the story (although not being a part of it) and remember context free words to songs and when to sing along. That is a lot to ask of 7, 8 and 9 year olds.
Then I thought, doesn't law school ask first year students to do the most difficult things as well? Does it make sense to give students with the least law school experience the most arduous tasks? We ask first year students to take year long classes and get very little feedback from professors until they have to hit their target on a final exam. We make them wait all year to find out if they understand the material and get a final grade. Although we do have midterms here, they are not half the grade but rather a quarter. We ask first year law students to master legal writing and analysis within the first month or so of law school and then we expect them to be able to do all this with increasing skill throughout the year. We ask them to read thousands of pages of what looks like English, but is really law language.
Certainly, in academic support, we warn students about the expectations and their propensity for exponential growth. But first year law students, fresh out of college or working, are still blown away by the amount of work. I am not one of those curriculum rebels who thinks Langdell should be hung in effigy from our fourth floor atrium (I haven't really given it that much thought, honestly), but I think we need to remind students at this time of year how far down the yellow brick road they have come.
To this end, I tell students to look at their first case brief or even their first writing assignment and let them see the progress they have made. They have all come a long way from those hazy days of orientation. They are now capable of things they could not do even a month ago. They have risen to the challenges and have mastered a great number of skills. (Case briefs and memos and outlines, oh my!!!) There are no magic ways to get what you need in law school; essentially the Wizard of Oz himself was just a nervous man with good common sense.
So on Saturday, I will happily hand my daughter flowers after her performance because even though she is "only in the chorus," she worked hard, took it seriously and did her best. Our students deserve this recognition as well. We need to remind them that: (as the endless soundtrack in my head says in a very high little voice...), "you're out of the woods, you're out of the dark, you're out of the night. Step into the sun, step into the light..." Ding dong. (ezs)
February 5, 2006
Looking for Work?
Dear Academic Support Community Friends ...
Today (Sunday) I posted three position openings. I make note of that here, because sometimes we don't scroll down far enough to see what's posted below.
Keep in mind, you can find any old posting by checking the Chronological and Topical Archives you'll find on the right-side frame of this blog. Once you arrive at the Archives page, scroll down to the topic you're interested in (in this case, "Jobs—Descriptions and Announcements"). (djt)
Is Massachusetts in Your Future?
The Academic Support Program at Southern New England School of Law invites you to apply to Direct the Program. The Director will be responsible for designing and administering an academic support program to enhance the study skills and learning of all law students, particularly wunnelles and upper-level students on academic probation, by ...
•Presenting academic skills workshops for day and evening students on case briefing, outlining, multiple choice strategies and techniques, grammar and punctuation, study skills, time management, and exam writing;
•Holding one-on-one academic counseling sessions with day and evening students;
•Holding one-on-one writing tutorials with students in the process of working on writing assignments;
•Supervising and training teaching assistants for first-year discussion groups and tutorial sessions;
•Meeting individually with 1L students and 2L and 3L students on probation to assist with
strengthening students' study habits and analytical skills;
•Providing an essay writing program aimed at improving both law school exam and bar exam writing skills;
•Working closely with the Dean of Legal Skills to reinforce the writing curriculum and strong writing skills;
•Working closely with the Orientation committee to assess student ability during and before orientation through diagnostic testing;
•Working closely with the faculty and Associate Dean to identify and accommodate students with learning and/or other types of disabilities.
QUALIFICATIONS: Applicants should have a strong commitment to academic support, a distinguished academic background, and strong organizational, administrative and interpersonal skills. JD and law school academic support or other comparable experience required. The candidate should have excellent communication skills and the desire to work with faculty and staff in developing and implementing the program. SNESL is an equal employment opportunity employer and invites applications from all interested parties.
You are invited to send a résumé, cover letter and contact information for two references to:
Professor Frances Rudko
Southern New England School of Law
333 Faunce Corner Rd.
North Dartmouth, MA 02747 (djt)
Those Leaves are Beautiful!
Take it from me, folks, Vermont is beautiful! Professor Ellen Swain, Director of Vermont Law School's Academic Support Program is looking for an Assistant Director of the program.
Vermont Law School, a private, independent law school on the beautiful White River in rural Vermont, seeks an Assistant Director of Academic Support to be responsible for assisting the Director in administering programs aimed at improving students’ academic skills and ensuring success on the bar examination.
1) Coordinating and designing workshops or classes to ensure students possess academic skills necessary for the passage of the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Performance Test and the state essay section of the bar examination;
2) Designing programs to improve skills relating to bar passage;
3) Counseling students regarding options for bar study;
4) Monitoring bar passage rates;
5) Assisting the Director in designing and developing Academic Support Programs for upper-level students;
6) Maintaining a website devoted to bar preparation; and,
7) Assisting students with disabilities with the use of assistive technology.
Applicants must: be a licensed attorney, possess a strong academic background and excellent writing, speaking and organization skills as well as a commitment to academic support. Prior academic support experience (either professional or as part of a graduate or law school program) or teaching experience (i.e., legal writing or comparable teaching experience in writing and analytical skills training) is preferred. Evening and some weekend work is required.
To apply, Professor Swain asks that you send your résumé, cover letter, a writing sample (five pages or less), and three references with contact information to: Human Resources, Vermont Law School, PO Box 96, South Royalton, VT 05068 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Vermont Law School is an Equal Opportunity Employer. (djt)
Mourning a Friend of Academic Support
Professor Adam G. Todd, Director of Academic Support & Assistant Professor of Legal Writing at Northern Kentucky University's Salmon P. Chase College of Law, sadly informed the Blog of the passing of Chris Iijima.
As reported in the University of Hawai‘i newspaper, Chris Iijima, "...beloved law professor, lawyer, teacher, musician, community organizer, and scholar, died peacefully in Honolulu, Hawai`i on December 31, 2005, surrounded by his family. Chris battled amyloidosis, a rare blood disease, for several years with courage and humor. He reached the age of 57 the week before he died."
Many of us had a chance to meet Chris at some of the past LSAC academic support conferences. He will be missed.
Professor Todd writes, "Chris’ article entitled “Separating Support from Betrayal: Examining the Intersections of Racialized Legal pedagogy, Academic Support, and Subordination” 33 Indiana Law Review 737 (2000) is a must read for academic support professionals."
Too Cold Where You Are?
This past week, Prof. Linda L. Berger of Thomas Jefferson School of Law announced this position opening: Director of Academic Success.
The successful candidate will further develop, coordinate, and evaluate a comprehensive program that provides academic support to students from orientation to law school through admission to the bar. Depending on the successful candidate’s background, experience, and interests, the position carries with it the opportunity to play a broader institutional role.
The future development of the program will be determined by the new Director in collaboration with the faculty and senior administrators. Components may include learning and study skills workshops for all students; individual counseling and referral for at-risk students; substantive courses incorporating learning and study skills; and involvement in summer pre-law programs, new student orientation, bar preparation coordination, community outreach programs, and faculty teaching workshops.
Thomas Jefferson School of Law is a non-profit, independent, ABA law school located in San Diego, an attractive and diverse urban community along the Pacific Coast.
Review of applications will begin immediately. Thomas Jefferson is an equal opportunity employer and encourages applications from women and people of color.
Professor Berger asks that applicants send a résumé and cover letter to:
ASP/Bar Pass Task Forcec/o Prof. Linda L. Berger
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
2121 San Diego Ave.
San Diego, CA 92110
email@example.com (Electronic submissions are welcome.)