May 29, 2008
Facing Academic Dismissal
Students have received their grades. And, those who were on probation last semester and did not make the necessary grades are telephoning, e-mailing, and arriving on my doorstep. It is the time of year when I have to balance realism, ambiguity, and compassion carefully.
Realism comes into play as I try to help students understand the pros and cons of their situations in their decisions whether to petition to be allowed to continue. For some, there are few "pros" in their favor. I gently get them to think of options should their petitions be denied. For some, there are obvious extenuating circumstances and a significant upward trend between fall and spring grades. We talk about what needs to be included in a petition.
Ambiguity comes into play because each student petition is unique. Although I have some idea of the chances for success based on past decisions, there is no formulaic answer. The decision-makers will discuss the pros and cons of allowing a student to continue as a 2L or to re-start as a 1L again, depending on the type of petition. The up or down vote results are not always what one would expect.
Compassion comes into play because I want each student to know that I am willing to listen, make suggestions, and help with weighing options. I also want them to know that I care about them and understand how traumatic the situation is. Shattered dreams, parental anger, embarrassment, guilt, and feelings of failure are just some of the components.
For the students with whom I have worked, the conversations are based on trust and rapport. We have spent a great deal of time together. In many cases, I can write a supporting letter for the petition packet.
However, the hardest conversations for me are the ones with the students whom I have never met. They decided in January that they did not need any help from Academic Success - even though multiple people urged them to work with my office. So often, as I listen to their tales, I see multiple places where I could have made an effective intervention and gotten them back on track.
When someone on probation shows up in January with a grade point average of 1.6 or lower, I warn them that we have a tough climb. But, if they truly want to remain in law school and are not prepared to withdraw, we give it our best shot. Fortunately, not all of my probation students have such significant gaps between fall grades and the requirements.
I cannot guarantee that the students who work with me seriously (as opposed to showing up in body only) will make the requirements, but usually I can help with techniques that cause their grades to jump significantly. If my probation students do not make the requirements, then most of them will have shown enough improvement to be able to petition if they had extenuating circumstances.
Fortunately, the probation students who did not make requirements are balanced by the probation students who excitedly e-mail me their grades to let me know that they are off probation. I am always blessed by being able to celebrate successes while being able to console and listen for those who need it. (Amy Jarmon)
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