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February 15, 2012
Student Sues Law School Over Grading Curve
Law students have found another reason to sue a law school according to this article in the Houston Chronicle. Two students are suing Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law because they received Ds in Contracts II, placing them below the 2.0 cumulative average necessary to stay in school. They claim the grading decision by a visiting faculty member was arbitrary and capricious and complain that the school will not let them see the evidence of how the grading took place.
I have mixed sympathies, from the both the receiving and giving end of grades. Curves unfortunately result in students getting lesser grades in relation to their peers in a particular class despite the quality of work. Schools use curves as a way of minimizing grade inflation though it [does not feel good] to be near the bottom of the curve. Law schools have been accused of using curves as a way to cutting off merit scholarships when a student falls below a particular average. That is not the case here. The implication of a single D causing someone to fall below a 2.0 average questions the quality of other grades awarded. That information is not discussed in any of the news reports, so I will speculate no further on it.
Curves are in some sense arbitrary by their very nature, but I'm not sure if capricious is an apt description. I don’t know what the likelihood of success in this cause will be as it depends on what information can be brought out in this particular incident. It is, nonetheless, another cautionary tale for those still willing to apply to law school. The lesson: law school is a highly competitive environment, much more so than in undergraduate work. The learning is highly technical, even if the curriculum is mostly theoretical. Law school costs lots of money, and flunking out doesn’t erase that debt from the first few semesters. Be absolutely sure about being up for that challenge. Ask prospective schools about their grading policies and be realistic about your chances under them. [MG]