Thursday, July 1, 2021
According to author Jesse Singal: "Power posing, grit and other trendy concepts are scientifically unproven but have become enormously popular by offering simple solutions to deeply rooted social problems."
In particular, Singal suggests "[b]ecause they promise so much reward for so little effort, social psychology fads often win attention and resources long before there is any evidence of their effectiveness." As evidence, Singal writes "only about half of all published experimental psychological findings are successfully replicated by other researchers." Singal, J., "The False Promise of Quick-Fix Psychology," WSJ (April 10, 2021).
While I haven't yet had a chance to dive into Singal's book, as a trained mathematician, I have my doubts regarding any research results making make singular claims about human nature because human nature, it seems to me, is just too complex to nail down to one variable of influence. Singal, J., The Quick Fix, Macmillian (2021).
That being said, I do share with my students research about growth mindset and grit, for instance, and the empirical claims about associations with learning effectiveness.
Nevertheless, I'm not sure that growth mindset and grit is something that you can just call upon on command. Rather, I see our roles as educators to come along side our students, in community with them and with others, to help them see themselves as valuable members of our educational community. In sum, I sense that growth mindset development is more the result of a sense of well-being and belonging within the academic community, which for many of our students, is often felt lacking.
So, rather than focus on pep talks about growth mindset and the power of grit, I think that it might be more valuable for our faculty and staff to get to know our students, to hear them out, to let them express themselves. With summer well in swing, one possibility for beginning that project is to form a one-evening book or movie club this summer with a handful of staff and faculty members and a few entering law students, current law students, and alumni members too.
Closer to home, with bar prep in full swing, this past week, I've been hosting a number of zoom chats focused on reviewing mock bar questions with them. My first questions, almost without exception, are about their passions for the law and about how they are doing. With close to 200 students this summer, I sometime feel like I just don't have time for the so-called "niceties," But without the "niceties" of life, there really is not much to life because it's the "niceties" of life, the opportunities to learn, grow, and discovery together, that really make life well-lived. And, I'm not so sure that my role as as an educator is to fix people but rather to live with them in community, something that has seemed to be particular difficult in the midst of this pandemic.
So, as we appear to be turning a page on the pandemic, I am looking forward to meeting and working with students, faculty, and staff together again, and in person, too! And, I look forward to seeing you again at a conference or other event! Cheers! (Scott Johns).
Thursday, June 17, 2021
According to a recent article, research suggests that changing the way curriculum is presented and taught can improve retention of underrepresented minorities in STEM programs. Berman, Jillian, How to Get More Women Into Technology: A Number of Programs Have Tried to Steer Women Into Step--Here's What Works, WSJ (Jun 1, 2021)
The article focused on a number of programs within the STEM fields in trying to increase representation and graduation in STEM majors of women and underrepresented minorities. The overall trends are not promising. For example, the percentage of women earning computer science degrees has decreased in the 20 year period from 1998 to 2018, and the percentage of Black women earning computer science or engineering degreee has likewise decreased during the same time period 1998 to 2018. Nevertheless, one comment in particular caught my eye and it has nothing to do with programs but with a person - a person making a difference.
In the article, Dr. Cara Gomally laments that courses, particularly introductory biology courses, are often taught as a "march through content with no connection of why you should care." Id. Sounds a bit like some introductory law school courses to me.
That lack of connection, of a nexus to purpose, the article suggests, leaves some people behind, particularly in the STEM fields. To remedy the deficit, Dr. Gomally is designing curriculum to focus not just on content but on the broader connections and uses one can make with the content, such as exploring questions with students as to how antidepressants work or whether students should participate in genetic testing. Id.
Those sorts of "why-questions" are filled with life; they create space for people to see how what they are learning can make an impact for them and for their communities and the world at large. It's in those opportunities in exploring the why of what we are learning that we start to see ourselves, as I understand the article, as valuable participants in the enterprise of, in this case, science. Id.
This summer, we are working with a number of recent law school graduates preparing for next month's bar exams who, for the most part, will not practice constitutional litigation or contract law or the law of future interests or defensible fees. Consequently, much of bar prep seems like rote memory and regurgitation, without making connections or exploring meanings to something greater than the mere content and skills in which they are tested by bar examiners.
To the extent that our graduates fail to make such connections with what they are learning to their future lives as legal practitioners, I think we are doing a disservice to them. Because many of our graduates want to practice immigration law, I like to explore connections to the word of immigration law within the midst of the bar exam content and skills. Let me share a few examples.
First, take the definition of a refugee - one who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected characteristic with the government unable or unwilling to protect them.
That sounds a lot like a type of tort, perhaps both an intention tort and also a bit like negligence with the state unable or unwilling to protect the person fleeing persecution.
Second, take an article this week from the southern border about the U.S. government's decision to ask non-governmental organizations (NGO's) to designate some asylum applicants as especially vulnerable and therefore eligible to enter the U.S. to proceed with their asylum claims while leaving others behind.
That raises at least two constitutional issues, both of which are tested by bar examiners. First, there's a question as to whether vulnerability determinations by the NGO's constitute state action. Second, there's a question as to whether vulnerability classifications used by individual NGO's violate the equal protection principle. That's just getting started. What about procedural due process and substantive due process considerations?
Recently, I talked with a graduate, heading into criminal defense work as a public defender, who shared that they were not doing very well on contracts multiple-choice questions. As to why, the content just didn't excite the person; it seemed irrelevant - totally unconnected - to their future practice as criminal defense counsel.
In reflection, I asked whether there might be any connections b between contracts and the person's future work as a public defender. It's just a hunch, we surmised, but we suspected that guilty pleas are contracts, which would ostensibly be governed by common law contract principles, such that if a government withheld exculpatory evidence, that would not only be a constitutional violation but also a contract defense of unconscionability.
To cut to the chase, the graduate said that in some ways contract law might actually reinforce the person's future clients' constitutional protections.
In short, there can sometimes be more to the content than just mere rote learning. Perhaps one day, somehow and someway, something from bar prep will lead to a new way of looking at how the law applies, really applies, to best protect rights and freedoms. And, in the course of exploring those possible connections with our students and graduates today, we might just be able to help them see that they belong in the legal field, that their experiences count, that they have more than what it takes to be attorneys. (Scott Johns).
Friday, March 26, 2021
M. Griggs (Washburn) & D. Rubenstein (Washburn), It’s Time to Re-Set the Bar for Online Proctoring (Bloomberg Law, March 24, 2021).
ASP's own Professor Marsha Griggs and her colleague ask crucial questions here. Everyone in ASP should be aware of these troubling issues.
From the intro:
Online bar exams administered during the pandemic were marked by controversy around the use of proctoring using artificial intelligence and allegations of cheating that mostly were proved false. Washburn University School of Law professors David Rubenstein and Marsha Griggs say regulation and best practices are needed, since online exams appear to be here to stay.
(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)
Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Sarah Schendel, Listen! Amplifying the Experiences of Black Law School Graduates in 2020, __ Nebraska L. Rev. __ (forthcoming 2021).
From the abstract:
Law students graduating in 2020 faced a number of unusual challenges. However, perhaps no students faced more emotional, psychological, logistical, and financial challenges than Black law school graduates in 2020. In addition to changes in the administration of the bar exam (including the use of technology that struggled to recognize Black faces) and delays in the administration of the exam that led to anxiety and increased financial instability, Black communities were concurrently being disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to increased care-taking responsibilities for many, concerns over the health of family members, and a lack of quiet and reliable space to study. Black law school graduates already struggling to juggle these challenges were also confronted with a rise in anti-Black police brutality, and the racist words and actions of politicians. As a result of this unprecedented series of stressors, many Black law graduates struggled to focus on studying for the bar, with some choosing to delay or abandon sitting for the bar altogether. Many expressed anger, disappointment, and betrayal at the profession they have worked so hard to enter. This Article summarizes the survey responses of over 120 Black law students who graduated in 2020 and were asked how the COVID pandemic and increased anti-Black violence impacted their health, education, and career aspirations. It seems likely that the impact of 2020 on the presence and wellbeing of Black lawyers in the legal profession will be felt for years to come. As professors, deans, lawyers, and policymakers reexamine the function of the bar exam and confront inequalities in legal education, we need to listen to these graduates’ experiences.
Foundational ASP Scholarship:
Paula Lustbader, From Dreams to Reality: The Emerging Role of Law School Academic Support Programs, 31 U.S.F. L. Rev. 839 (1997)
From the abstract:
Reviews the history, rationale, development, and different program structures of Law School Academic Support Programs; briefly summarizes learning theory and explains how ASP can implement those theories to teach academic skills; and suggests that notwithstanding the significance of helping students develop solid academic skills, probably the most important work that ASP professionals do is to provide the non-academic support by making the human connection to students and believing in them.
(Louis N. Schulze, Jr., FIU Law)
Tuesday, January 12, 2021
When I was a kid, I saw an episode of the TV series Maude that was broadcast on November 1, 1976 – the day before Election Day. Maude, the assertive main character, was trying to convince everyone to write in Henry Fonda for President. When her featherbrained neighbor Vivian asked Maude why she was in such a rush to get the idea out, Maude looked at her severely and explained that the election was happening tomorrow.
“Tomorrow?!” exclaimed Vivian. “And it seems like only yesterday it was Halloween!”
Well, today, with the results of the October bar exam barely in hand for many examinees, we have leapt right back into preparation for the February exam. Perhaps the final casualty of the Endless Summer is the strict reduction of time to process the relationship between all that happened before the exam and the results that came out of it. Individuals who just found out in late December or early January that they did not pass have had to decide very quickly whether to register for the February exam. A California repeat examinee could still register next week, with as few as 32 days left before the exam is administered. And while many states and law schools have seen an increase in bar pass rates compared to July of 2019, we have entered the February bar study period without some of the data we might ordinarily use to assess the reasons for any changes in passage rates. At least here in New York, some of the granular data about subject-matter performance on the MBE portion has not been provided, and information about statewide trends have only been reported in the most general terms. This makes it harder to determine the effects of the delay, of the changes in format and delivery, and of strategies adopted or resources provided in response.
Tomorrow is February?! It seems like only yesterday it was October!
Thus, even though the February bar exam represents a great stride towards “normalcy” in many jurisdictions – in that it will be delivered on a traditional set date, with typical full UBE content – this will still be an unusual administration, affected by ripples of the pandemic. Some repeat examinees will be facing a compressed study period, although I have observed that a least a portion of them, perhaps spurred to greater-than-normal pessimism under the circumstances, began preparing prophylactically even before scores were announced. In any case, those of us who work with repeating graduates may be asked to provide additional support.
More frustrating to me is having to determine what aspects of the support provided to our examinees over the five months between graduation and the October bar would be most advantageously replicated over the next two months. The extended prep period was, I felt, grueling for all involved, but it provided time and motivation for examinees and teachers alike to try new strategies. Based on our results, some of these strategies appear to have beneficial. But which ones? And are they replicable between now and the end of February, or were they successful because, and not in spite of, the long stretch of time before the October administration? Without all the information I wish I had, this feels in some ways similar to what many of us had to do this summer: reacting to a novel situation without certainty, and ending up (very likely) relying in part on intuition and extraordinary effort.
Hopefully, knock on wood, fingers crossed, things won't feel this way come summer 2021. For now, the one thing I am fairly certain played an important part in my examinees' performance that is likely replicable now was the increased sense of camaraderie and support that they reported as a result of the very high-touch summer and fall. With so many changes so frequently, and with unbelievable levels of anxiety among bar studiers (who on the whole are not typically known for tranquil, detached attitudes), I initiated what would turn out to be bi-weekly (or more frequent) Zoom meetings to pass along news, share strategies, and provide opportunities for feedback. Already feeling isolated by the pandemic, the students reported that these meetings helped them feel connected to each other and to the school, and it appears they took more advantage of the resources we made available (including lots of one-on-one meetings with me). This was kind of a form of intrusive counseling. It seems to have worked, at least under those recent conditions, which in some ways are still ongoing. So, while I am still hoping to develop more clarity about how other specifics contributed to examinees' performance, this is one lesson I took from yesterday that I can apply today to help my examinees prepare for tomorrow.
Thursday, December 10, 2020
According to a recent article, law school applications are up 35 percent at this point in the admission cycle in comparison to the previous year. https://news.yahoo.com/law-school-applications-rise-means-150112132.html
As cited in the article:
"Reginald McGahee, associate dean of admissions and student affairs at the Howard University School of Law in the District of Columbia, explains that people who have been contemplating law school for a long time had more time for soul-searching during quarantine. With that time and space for introspection, some individuals realized that they wanted to become lawyers, McGahee suggests. 'The pandemic has forced a number of people to really take stock of the fragility of life and the importance of doing things that are fulfilling and nurture you and advance the goals that you set for yourself,' he says. He adds that because people had to 'slow down' during the pandemic, they couldn't distract themselves from big questions about what a good life is. 'We've been able to focus on those things that are really important to us, and I think that a lot of people are reconnecting with the idea that, if I'm going to work, let me add something to society that I didn't really think that I was adding before,' McGahee says." Id.
Dean McGahee's points are worth remembering. Students are drawn to legal education to pursue purposeful lives. That's something that I need to remember when I meet with my students.
I sometimes think that many (if not most) academic issues are not really at the heart academic issues at all. Rather, I find that many students who are so-called underperforming are really underperforming because we - as legal educators - are not always measuring up to helping connect their educational experiences with the heartfelt desires that brought them to law school in the first place, i.e., to make the world a better place.
One of the questions that's been circulating around is what sort of guidance one might start with in meeting with students or bar takers who have not performed as they hoped. I always try to start by asking them to tell me about their passion in life. What brought them to law school? How have their law school experiences related to their purposes? Is law school not just shaping them but are they shaping law school for the better? Those are big questions, and most of our students have come to law school with big questions on their minds with big hearts of passion to enrich the world for the better. (Scott Johns).
Sunday, November 29, 2020
Raising some up does not diminish the work of others. Instead, it improves the whole of legal education. – Darby Dickerson
I am encouraged by the words of AALS President, Darby Dickerson, who calls out the caste system in law schools and advocates for its abolition. The caste system is an unnatural stratification that unnecessarily subdivides the legal academy in a manner that is contrary to the goals and best practices of quality legal education. Yet it prevails.
Dickerson acknowledges that there is much work to do in the quest for parity. She points out that some schools pay those with non-tenure track appointments (“NTT”) one-half or less of the average pay for tenure-line faculty, even with the same (or greater) number of credit hours taught. She also addresses the disrespect and other “affronts” that many NTT must bear, like exclusion from faculty meetings and votes.
ASPers know too well the stinging bite of having tenure-line administrators and faculty dictate which courses we teach and what the content of those courses will and will not include. Sung like the song of our collective souls, Dickerson recounts the common practice of having faculty or faculty committees change or attempt to change program design (e.g., number of credits, grading schemes, course titles, etc.) “without consultation and sometimes over [our] expert objections.” Our ideas and experience-based practices and recommendations for course revisions and program redesign are too often challenged or disregarded. Failing to acknowledge the expertise and accomplishments of non-tenure track faculty and staff is a mistake that should be avoided at all costs.
Of particular interest, is that Academic Support is neither assigned, nor expressly described by, a caste. If titles correlate to perceptions of one’s status, the omission of an entire skills discipline should sound an alarm. ABA Standard 405 makes specific reference to legal writing faculty and clinical faculty, and none specifically to ASP. Legal writing professors deserve every advance they have fought for over the years, and more. Still we cannot presume to be included in the decades-long battle to erode the hierarchy separating doctrine from skills.
Our legal writing and clinical counterparts are rarely categorized as staff. Yet many in ASP have staff classifications, despite teaching required and elective courses. Too many in ASP are denied a voice or vote in the programs they teach or direct, are physically segregated far from the faculty hallways, and are denied budget funding for travel and professional development, and have 12-month appointments that limit writing projects and scholarly pursuits. Have law schools and the ABA created a caste-in-caste system by further subdividing the “skills” faculty? Why is ASP too often omitted from the from discussions about hierarchy and status?
Dickerson asks what our law schools would look like without the labor and skill of NTT. Would our program of education be as robust? Would student class performance and outcomes decline? Would our students succeed on the bar at the same rate? Perhaps we can add to her well-voiced list of questions: 1) how would our profession look without the unnecessary stratification that law schools perpetuate? and 2) what are we willing to do about it?
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
As we near the end of this first full semester under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic, my colleagues and I are developing a clearer and broader picture of the sometimes unanticipated consequences of a shift towards distance learning. The biggest surprise for me has been the magnitude of the cumulative loss of the daily presence of my fellow teachers and administrators.
Halfway through spring semester last year, the State of New York ordered all SUNY schools, including the University at Buffalo School of Law, to move entirely to remote teaching. This was a shock and a strain for students and teachers alike, but we quickly figured out how to make it work reasonably well and get through the end of the school year. If it was a little rough and wearying, it seemed that everyone understood that we were all doing the best we could under exigent circumstances. For me and my graduating students, the stress did not let up over the summer, as the twice-delayed and newly remote NY bar exam was a source of unpredictability and anxiety all the way through to October. But at least, it seemed, my colleagues and I would be able to take what we had learned from all of this and apply it to plan and execute a robust, well-constructed hybrid program for the fall -- one that would allow a limited number of smaller in-person classes while taking advantage of the best practices we had developed for teaching other classes online. We provided rich pre-orientation and orientation programs for our incoming 1L students. Our school's experiential program directors worked tirelessly to adapt to the new conditions so that upper class students could continue to receive the benefits of clinical practice. And those of us in student support made extra effort to reach out and make ourselves available to students scattered throughout the virtual ether. It seemed to me -- and, I think, rightly -- that we, like many law schools, had recognized, prioritized, and attended to our students' novel needs.
What I did not realize until recently that I had overlooked was the value of simply being in the building every day with other professors and administrators. It seemed at first just a slightly lonely little inconvenience, having to work from home most days, and seeing maybe one or two people in the hallways on the days I did go in. After all, we still had regular online meetings of various staff groups and committees, and emails and phone calls were still happening, so it was not as though we did not see each other or even basically know what each of us was up to. And being busier than usual with student queries and online meetings, one might have thought it was a blessing not to have to commute in every day and to spend precious time walking from one end of the building to the other, bumping into people and engaging in chit-chat along the way.
But in these last couple of weeks, I have come to realize what has been reduced because of the lack of interaction with my colleagues: sharing, synergy, and sensibility. I think we (or, who knows, maybe it's just me) greatly underestimated how much gets communicated when you see people two or three times a week, spontaneously ask for opinions or bat ideas around, notice which students they are meeting with, or ask a quick question that would probably take twenty minutes to write adequately in an email. And suddenly we're only a few weeks from finals, and I discover that a student who has been working with me on one specific issue is actually contending with a related issue in a different class. In a Zoom meeting, one doctrinal professor brings up a pervasive issue among her 1L students, and several others realize they've been dealing with the same problem. I'm accidentally left off a group email discussion thread and don't find out for three days -- something that could never have happened if we were all in the building, as I would have wandered into the offices of at least one of the group members every day.
We took so much care to make sure we stayed connected to our students (although they, too, undoubtedly suffer from the dearth of day-to-day contact, with us and with their classmates, in the hallways and before and after class), but, perhaps a bit too stoicly, assumed we'd do fine with more tenuous connections to our colleagues. But now I see. We've missed opportunities to share ideas about the law school and information about our students. It's been harder to improvise together, to pool our strengths to come up with good solutions. And without the little bits of intelligence we pick up from out colleagues -- the pointillist accretion of points of light that add up to the big picture -- it has become harder to be sensitive to concerns that might affect one student or might affect an entire class.
Here I had been thinking that reaching out too much to my absent colleagues would be only a selfish pestering, a feel-good reprieve from isolation. But no! It would really be for the good of my students, and for the whole school. Starting this week, I have begun setting up regular one-on-one chats with folks, agendaless, just to catch up. Everyone I have proposed this to has welcomed the idea. And when I make my weekly visit to campus, I'm going to get out of my office and walk every floor of the law school, just to see the few people whose schedules overlap with mine. Who knows what good, if any, will come out of any particular encounter? All I know now is that nothing good comes from losing them altogether.
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
AASE is hosting a Wellness for Academic Support and Bar Support Professionals webinar, this Friday, November 13th. It's time we took care of ourselves, as well as our students! See information below, time zone is Eastern. There is no requirement to register, you can just click the link on Friday at 1 pm eastern!
Hope to see you there!
Monday, November 2, 2020
Elections have consequences. As we sit on the eve of an election, Teaching the 2020 Election: What Will You Do on Wednesday?, provides helpful suggestions about how to engage and support students after November 3. In addition to articulating several guiding principles, the article also links to resources for educators looking to situate themselves, and better prepare to facilitate and navigate difficult conversations after Election Day.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
This is a scary time of year – a time of growing cold and darkness. The terror of the unknown, of loss and calamity. The young ones, they don masks – smiles or stoic glares – to hide their fear. They binge on the distracting delight of sweets. But the elders know. It is the time of the season. Days are shorter. Workloads are increasing. Midterm grades are coming in. Soon it will be winter, and with winter come final exams. Minds once lit and warmed by the excitement of a new school year are feeling fatigued and worn, craving respite, giving in to torpor. And the sleep of reason breeds monsters:
Witches: Dazzled by the apparent power of the esoteric words wielded by the great jurists of the past, these students become convinced that the path to glory is paved with sorcerous phrases. They fill notebook after notebook, or thumb drive after thumb drive, with quotations of passages from lectures and cases and textbooks, daring not to cut a single word, sparing not the time for reflection or comprehension, merely hoping that they when they need it most, they will choose the right magic portion to make their professors fall in love with their essays.
Ghosts: These poor souls are caught between worlds and have not found a way to move on. In a former life, they were happy and successful. Maybe this one was a college student, coasting through noteless classes on innate brilliance and heady all-nighters. Maybe that one had prospered at work, a wizard with people and systems but never paying too much attention to the written word. Perhaps another one came from a truly different world – another country, another culture, another field of study – where things just work differently. We must all pass through the veil of law school admission and climb the stairway to replevin, but a few of us are held back, tethered to our pasts.
Werewolves: The most unexpected of all monsters, these accursed brutes look and act like happy-go-lucky, indifferent law students . . . most of the time. But every month or so, as the glare of an impending exam or deadline grows increasingly full, they undergo an uncontrollable metamorphosis! Their mild-mannered calm deserts them, and they howl like beasts as they despair over the seemingly impossible task before them. Raving overnight in the darkness, they may teeter on incomprehensibility until the magic hour finally passes, and, exhausted, they tumble into bed – awakening the next day with no apparent memory of the horror they are thus doomed to repeat.
Zombies: Once ordinary scholars, these creatures have been blighted (some say through contact with other zombies) and are now driven by a single impulse: BRAAAAAAINS! MUST HAVE BRAAAAAINS! Their every conscious (term used loosely) moment is devoted to consuming books, lectures, outlines, practice tests, flash cards, supplements, mnemonics, YouTube videos, omega-3 fatty acids, and biographies of Supreme Court Justices. And they will pick at their professors’ brains if they can. They have little time for other sustenance and none for camaraderie.
Vampires: The wampyr is a tragic being, at once part of the human world and cleaved from it. Rarely seen in daylight, it hides in the dark corners of the classroom, feeding off the thoughts and words of others, but fading, like a mist, when its own opinions are sought. The vampire does not project an image, so it can be seen neither in mirror nor in Zoom class. What keeps it from the fellowship of humanity? Is it anxiety? Indifference? Misunderstanding? Perhaps this spirit feels that it is the one who is misunderstood.
Yes, this is the moment to meet the mysterious menagerie! And you might fear, as Ichabod Crane discovered, that a teacher is no match for a spectral fiend. But remember, every monster is merely a suffering human. We do what we can to restore them. We teach the witches that the power they seek is not in the words, but in what they can learn to make with them. We show the ghosts how to take the best parts of their old lives with them as they rise to face their new ones. We help the werewolves release themselves from their curse by breaking the waxing and waning cycle of rising anxiety and falling productivity, through the mystical art of tempus administratione. We demonstrate to the zombies the benefits of a more balanced diet, one enhanced with practical experience, meaningful relationships, proper recreation, and appropriate amounts of fiber. We reach out to the vampire, drawing it into the light, the better to see what is keeping it at bay and to see to what degree they bring an affliction to school, and to what degree the school imposes an affliction on them.
Happy Hallowe’en to all!
“There is no situation in life but has its advantages and pleasures--provided we will but take a joke as we find it.” – Washington Irving, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Wednesday, October 7, 2020
As I write these words, my former students are busily working through the final session of the most unusual and stress-inducing bar examination I have ever known – one that has been twice delayed, resulting in erratic study schedules and lost employment opportunities; that is being delivered entirely online using new software, after the cancellation and hacking of online exams in other jurisdictions this summer; that permitted registration only to certain groups of law school graduates, some of whom waited on tenterhooks for weeks before finding out that they would be permitted, or not permitted, to take the exam; and that examinees had to prepare for in the midst of a global pandemic and one of the most contentious political environments in the past 150 years. The last five months have provided a cavalcade of anxiety, uncertainty, pessimism, and anger, marching in different permutations through opinion pieces, Facebook posts, public hearings, Twitter threads, and Zoom discussions, week by week, right up until yesterday at noon, when the examinees finally had to slay the dragon.
And yet. Here we are, 30 minutes or so from the end, and mostly . . . things seem okay.
Except for the odd momentary computer freeze, I have not yet received any panicked reports of tech problems – no crashed programs, no lost data. The dozen or so graduates testing on campus have been in cautiously good spirits and have reported that they felt the test has been fair. The graduates testing at home have largely been quiet, though I encouraged them to reach out to me if they encountered any difficulties.
This is lucky, to be sure. Although in the media (social and traditional) I found no reports of widespread, catastrophic system failure, there are plenty of individual reports of examinees losing data, having trouble with facial recognition software, or simply being unable to get the testing program to work. According to ExamSoft, the company whose software delivers the exam, 98.4% of the estimated 40,000 examinees had successfully started the exam by late Monday. Even if some people chose at the last minute not to take the test, that still leaves potentially several hundred frustrated examinees.
So far, my graduates have not reported problems. Still, we might just be in the eye of the hurricane. It remains to be seen if everyone can upload all the required answer and video files before tomorrow night’s deadline. An overly fastidious review of the video files captured by the remote proctoring program could lead to objectionable disputes or even disqualifications. And it is impossible to predict what the grading will be like, given the smaller number of questions, limited pool of examinees, and delay in administration, compared to an ordinary bar exam. If the results that come out in December are wildly different from those of previous years, there may be complaints that it was too hard – or too easy.
Nevertheless, the facts that we have now arrived at the end of day two of the remote examination without witnessing the “barpocalypse” some had predicted, and that we have not yet arrived at any foreseeable end to the pandemic that forced remote testing in the first place, suggest that we should at least be thinking about preparing for another remote test in February. There may be other approaches to bar admission, such as diploma privilege, that we should continue to advocate for. But there was always the danger/promise that a relatively successful remote administration would lessen resistance to future remote exams.
I am pleased to see that – at least according to the early reports from my students – the nature of the remote exam seems to have caused far less distress than the delay and uncertainty that preceded it, and which hopefully will be avoided in the future. And I am enormously proud of the effort, attitude, and skills that these examinees displayed under such extreme conditions as they prepared for and then took the exam. But the fact that the remote exam was not a total disaster does not mean that it couldn’t have worked better, or that no examinees were unfairly disadvantaged or prevented from testing. If we have to have another round of remote testing in February, let us continue to press for ongoing improvement in its administration.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Back in the day (2019 and earlier), the first few weeks of law school was a time of intense bonding among classmates. Shared feelings of excitement, tinged with fear of embarrassment and workload-motivated shock, served to turn strangers into friends in a matter of days. These friendships would last throughout law school and beyond, and to good effect: Students would always have at least a couple friends in each course from whom they could borrow notes if they missed class due to illness. Friends, and, okay, sometimes mere acquaintances, would form study groups to share and test ideas. Soon, 2L and 3L students would introduce themselves, visiting classes or tabling in the hallways for various organizations, broadening the new students' networks of connections to include those with similar interests or backgrounds. After law school, these connected students would be connected lawyers, and would do what lawyers do in the real world: provide referrals, share expertise, give moral support. Part of learning to be a lawyer is learning to be part of a legal community.
This year, to varying degrees across the country, the first few weeks of law school have a different texture. In my school, as in many others, only a portion of classes are being conducted live, in a classroom, and those usually the smaller classes. Larger classes are being conducted online, where commiseration over an awkward cold-call response is much more difficult, and where, with no one sitting next to you, idle introductory chit-chat is almost as hard. Representatives from student organizations will probably still visit Zoom classes to introduce themselves and their groups, but with mostly empty hallways, opportunities for getting to know new students in conversation will be less frequent.
In short: it is going to be harder, and in some ways less natural, to make the kinds and numbers of connections that twelve months ago we all would have taken for granted. If you have lecture classes that are entirely online, or even asynchronous, it would be all to easy to think of those classes as a kind of enhanced television program, something that grabs your attention but does not feature you in the cast. Resist this temptation! Instead, make developing your social network one of your goals this semester:
- Join and participate in GroupMe and Facebook groups when invited, or form them yourself.
- Speak up in class, whether orally or in the chat box, and when possible, respond directly to classmates whose views interest you.
- Ask your professors or student life directors to help connect people interested in forming study groups.
- Seek out and contact the leaders of student organizations that interest you.
- Visit your professor's office hours -- real or virtual -- and chat with the other students who attend.
- When you find other classmates who share something in common with you -- an alma mater, a hometown, a hobby, etc. -- use that as a reason to approach them and perhaps get to know them better.
Although all this will take some additional effort, at a time in which you may already feel you are working harder than you have ever done before, that effort is an excellent investment. Later in the semester, as you start preparing for final exams, you will find the community you have made will make your work easier. Your law school experience will be enriched by the support, perspective, and opportunities provided by your network. And that network, and the skills you will develop in forming relationships within the legal community even under trying circumstances, will benefit you throughout your career.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
A sharp sense of time has always been a key attribute of successful modern law students and lawyers. Awareness of deadlines, efficient time management, careful accounting of time spent -- all of these contribute to law school performance, and are usually part of a practicing lawyer's quotidian world of minimum billable hours and filing periods.
How unsettling, then, that many of our incoming, current, and recent students find themselves adrift in the time stream. New 1L students in many jurisdictions, starting their legal educations under conditions that have limited orientation activities and warped customary fall semester schedules, are not falling as easily into the clockwork demands of law school as other students have every year before them. Second- and third-year students have already been through six months of time-shifted classes and unwinding employment and internship opportunities, and are beginning a new school year very different from what they had experienced before. And around the country, many recent graduates (such as mine) have grown simultaneously complacent and anxious as their planned bar examinations have been postponed multiple times. Many students and graduates appear to take this all in stride, but it seems a significant number are manifestly affected -- falling behind on long-term projects, working with a diminishing sense of urgency or an inflated sense of panic, or having difficulty juggling responsibilities.
It feels as if the unexpected loss of schedules and signposts that so many took for granted has left some people unmoored, warping their senses of time in the same way that isolation and darkness affects cave explorers. In 1993, for example, sociologist Maurizio Montalbini spent a full year alone in an underground cavern, but because the solitude and lack of natural light had stretched his sense of time, he believed that only a little more than 200 days had passed.
Human beings need cues to help keep our sense of time on track. In a new situation, or one that has changed drastically, we may not perceive sufficient cues to keep us oriented, and we may not even be aware that we are slipping. We can help our students and recent graduates maintain their crucial awareness of the time they have -- and of the time they need to achieve their goals -- by providing supplemental cues. Introducing students to their professors' expectations over the course of the (in some cases altered) new semester, and touching base with reminders of upcoming opportunities and deadlines, may help anchor them when classes are asynchronous and gatherings are infrequent. Weekly emails, frequent online group meetings, and providing and reviewing supplementary materials can help bar examinees feel less disconnected and more engaged in this interminable bar study period. And frequent communication with our colleagues in other departments and schools -- learning their plans for the semester, sharing ideas and insights, and organizing joint efforts -- can help us retain our own sharp senses of time -- especially important if we are going to serve as the touchstones to others.
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
The AALS Section on Academic Support’s next Final Fridays Webinar, titled “Difficult Conversations on Racial Equity When Educating Law Students,” will focus on facilitating difficult conversations in law school.
On Friday, July 24 at 1:00 EST, panelists Yolanda Sewell (Cooley), Russell McClain (Maryland Carey Law), and Goldie Pritchard (MSU) will provide concrete suggestions on how start difficult conversations around racial equity. We will also discuss who bears the responsibility to facilitate discussions on racial equity and pointers for how to successfully facilitate such conversations. Afton Cavanaugh (St. Mary's) will moderate the discussion.
Though you will have the benefit of participating live as well, we also ask that you submit questions ahead of time at this link: https://forms.gle/y1RFEUPTnZPJDeYE6. The panelists will address these questions throughout the webinar.
AALS-ASP Final Fridays Webinar Series
“Difficult Conversations on Racial Equity When Educating Law Students”
July 24, 2020
1:00 – 2:30 p.m. EST
Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 869 437 8868
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Participation is free and open to all. The webinars will also be available for on-demand viewing later, via the members-only section of the AALS Section on Academic Support webpage. The benefit of participating live is the ability to ask questions of our panelists and to engage in the discussion.
The AALS Section on Academic Support Executive Board
Chair: Jamie Kleppetsch, DePaul University College of Law
Chair-Elect: Melissa Hale, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
Secretary: Kirsha Weyandt Trychta, West Virginia University College of Law
Treasurer: Joe Buffington, Albany Law School
Board Member: Afton R. Cavanaugh, St. Mary's University of San Antonio School of Law
Board Member: Maryann Herman, Duquesne University School of Law
Board Member: Haley A. Meade, City University of New York School of Law
Board Member: Herbert N. Ramy, Suffolk University Law School
Sunday, June 21, 2020
This is my leap of faith to be transparent with the hope that I am the voice of someone’s situation. Previous posts by me on diversity on this platform garnered unexpected responses, not in a positive way. I hope that the openness I see around me will allow all who read to receive my words. One thing I learned from my mother is to speak when you feel it is necessary and know that every word and action is a risk. Today, I feel it necessary to write. Let me forewarn you, this may be raw and heartfelt for some but not out of the ordinary for others.
I am a Black woman in law school academic and bar support. As simple as this seems, it is a weighted statement. I contend with a myriad of impressions, judgments, expectations, and stereotypes projected on me by virtue of being black, by virtue of being a woman, by virtue of being in a law school environment, and by virtue of being in academic and bar support. The word count does not permit me to fully explore each aspect but generated here is an outline for a paper. Expectations thrust on me in the professional environment about how I should carry myself, how I should dress, and how I should speak are abundant. Also thrust on me are expected and projected limitations in my ability to be successful and thrive professionally are daunting. I balance this all while carrying the weight of expectations of immediate family, extended family, adopted family, and community because “I made it”. Why didn’t I matter earlier when I expressed the struggles I carry?
I am touched by the individuals around me who check-in, ask if I am okay, tell me I am valuable, show care, express anger, and even apologize. I used to say I am okay but lately, I say I am not okay. It is not because of all the happenings on the news, though I am significantly impacted by it, it is because those around me only seem to hear my voice now, but I am still invisible to them. I understand that for some it is too “real” to have a conversation that might highlight the fact that you injured me by your actions and inactions and made me feel less than and undervalued even though you thought you supported me. When will we have that conversation? Will you still be invested in me a month from now? Six months from now? Therein lies why I am not okay. Your silence makes me fearful that you are not committed.
As academic support and bar professionals, our focus and heartbeat are our students. I was once a black student, a female student of color. We need to examine ourselves and ask if we do not provide our colleagues of color with the care and support, then are we truly living up to the mission, values, and origins of law school academic support. I challenge my academic support colleagues and others who do not identify themselves as individuals of color or of indigenous populations to evaluate how they engage with colleagues of color and students of color. Please be proactive and intentional. Do not simply say you are an ally and you care but have no action to support your statement. Be courageous and willing to stand for and endure the consequences for something or someone you say you care about. If you value me, you will see me, you will hear me, you will try to understand me, and you will empathize with me.
My experiences and life are not a trend; I am a human being just like your grandmother, mother, sister, cousin, and daughter. Please show-up as an ally and not simply as a bystander as I am destroyed by others. Someone once said, say what you mean and mean what you say. Honestly, I do not have all the answers and my concerns may be very different from the next person, but I call you to action and challenge you to:
- Read and implement information from Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project on the AALS page
- Read the #BlackInTheIvory, while focused on higher education, information is applicable to black, brown, and indigenous colleagues and students in the legal arena
- “Cite Black Women”, persons of color or indigenous persons
- Use your power to occasionally give up your seat for the next person
- Dismantle the “isms” for the rest of your life
- Notice a silenced voice and amplify it
- Share the microphone and spotlight
- Be uncomfortable
- Mean what you say
- Use your power
- Take a risk
If you expect the process to be perfect, I am sad to tell you it will not be. You are going to mess up and you might mess up a lot. You must start so start with someone who is open and will tell you the truth. I can be blunt on occasion and don’t speak for everyone, but you are more than welcome to start with me.
True change starts with you!
(Goldie Pritchard - Guest Blogger)
#BlackIntheIvory was co-founded by Dr. Sharde Davis and Joy Melody Woods
 ”Cite Black Women” created November 2017 by Dr. Christen A Smith to push people to engage in citation that acknowledges and honors Black women’s intellectual product
Monday, June 15, 2020
One year ago this month, I wrote my first post for the ASP blog. And while it seems like only yesterday that I began my quest to bombard readers with my weekly musings, I have decided to step aside to make room for other voices to be heard through this forum. Today will be my last post as a regular contributing editor, and I will use this opportunity to reflect on the wonderful learning and growth experience that the year has brought.
I’ve learned that:
Education and advocacy are not parallel paths, but rather an important intersection at which the most effective teachers are found. I left a high stakes commercial litigation practice for a role in academic support. I naively believed that an effective teacher had to be dispassionate and objective and more focused on pedagogy than on legal advocacy or controversial topics. However, I grew to realize that the very skills that made me an effective lawyer still guided me in the classroom to teach my students and to open their minds to new perspectives. My realization was affirmed when ASP whiz, Kirsha Trychta, reminded us that the courtroom and the law school classroom are not that different.
Anger can have a productive place in legal education and scholarship. I don’t have to conceal or suppress my passion to be effective as a scholar. I am angry on behalf of every summer (or fall) 2020 bar taker. I am bothered by states that are so tethered to tradition that they refuse to consider the obstacles and challenges of preparing for a bar exam during a pandemic. It troubles me to see law schools close the doors to their libraries and study spaces, and yet expect 2020 bar takers to perform without the benefit of quiet study space and access to internet and printing. I am flat out disgusted by the notion of forcing law students to assume the risk of death to take the bar exam. And I waive my finger to shame the states that have abandoned exam repeaters and that waited or are still waiting to announce changes to the exam dates and format after the bar study period has begun. These states have essentially moved the finish line mid-race, and our future lawyers deserve better. But thanks to the vocal efforts of others who have channeled their righteous anger into productive advocacy and scholarship, I’ve seen states like Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Utah, and Washington emerge as progressive bar exam leaders in response to a crisis.
Silence is debilitating. Like so many others, I was taught to make myself smaller, to nod in agreement, and avoid topics that would make others uncomfortable. The untenured should be seen, not heard. I am the person that I am because of my collective experiences. Stifling my stories and my diverse perspective would be a disservice to my calling and to the next generation of lawyers who need to be met with a disheartening dose of racial reality. As soon as I showed the courage to speak up and step out of other people’s comfort zones, I found that I was not alone. My ASP colleagues, like Scott Johns, Louis Schulze, and Beth Kaimowitz and others, were right there speaking out too.
Glass ceilings become sunroofs once you break through them. In the last few years, I have seen more and more of my ASP colleagues earn tenure or assume tenure track roles. And while a job title or classification, will never measure one’s competence or value, our communal pushes for equity are visibly evident. ASP authors continue to make meaningful contributions to scholarship in pedagogy and beyond. Thank you to Renee Allen, Cassie Christopher, DeShun Harris, Raul Ruiz, and the many, many, many others who I can’t name but whose work I’ve read and admired. With varied voices, we are paving the way to enhanced recognition and status in the academy, and with mentorship and writing support we are forming the next wave of formidable ASP bloggers, scholars, textbook authors, and full professors.
June 15, 2020 in About This Blog, Academic Support Spotlight, Advice, Bar Exam Issues, Bar Exams, Current Affairs, Diversity Issues, Encouragement & Inspiration, News, Publishing, Weblogs, Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, June 8, 2020
But opportunity is real, and life is free, equality is in the air we breathe. – Langston Hughes
Today I see my country, my life, my career, and my future through the convoluted lens of multiple opinions. My aspirations, both professional and private, are crowded by polarized expressions of rage, shock, and dissatisfaction. As I fight the soul soothing desire to escape the madness that for me is today, yesterday, and tomorrow, I retreat into a self-denying sense of duty that is my temporal high calling – to help others. To help others pass the bar exam and to succeed in law school is the calling of academic support. I am one of a wonderful community of academic support professionals who work tirelessly to help law students and law graduates develop the skills for academic success and bar readiness. As I ponder this special calling, I ask myself, what if countries were like ASP?
What if we had ASP-like programs and opportunities that were available to all members of society? What if coaching, and other resources were made equally available to every and any person who wanted or needed them? What if governments sought out the weakest and most vulnerable members of society to make sure that those most in need of extra help were aware of the resources available? What if national communities were organized in the most ASP-ish of manners, so that support resources could be shared freely, and various cities and states could benefit from this system of open-access without costs or competition? What if all members had the benefit of practice exams and test drives that carried no lasting consequence other than early exposure and preparation for the true tests of life?
For those unfamiliar with the term ASP, Cornell Law School provides some guidance. ASP, or “Academic Support Programs, are available to help all students develop the skills necessary to succeed in law school.” Law schools are purposely, and rightly, inclusive in the scope and description of their academic support services. CUNY School of Law is “committed to providing academic support services to all students who need them.” These descriptions are both accurate and aspirational. ASP is for everyone and anyone who wants or needs it.
Yet, those of us who lead and direct institutional academic support programs know that, although available to all, not all students take advantage of ASP. In fact, the students who we serve most commonly, or rather those who are most often targeted for inclusion in our programs, are the ones most in need of the supplemental opportunities provided by ASP. We willingly make resources available to all, but the success of our programs will be measured, inter alia, by the degree to which we mitigate the “failure-risks” presented by some students based on admissions indicators or law school performance.
As I again consider my precious and special calling and my wonderful ASP colleagues and the many students in whose lives we make real differences, I ask – what if ASP were like countries? What if we could not single out the students for whom our programs were created? What if we were not permitted to tailor the focus of our programs for those with the greatest academic need and those with socioeconomic disadvantages? What if we were forced to dilute the quality and quantity of remediation for the ones at risk of academic dismissal, to prevent the appearance of non-inclusiveness? What is ASP “for all” was interpreted to mean that ASP “for some” was exclusionary and an affront to the importance of the entire student body? The notion of academic support available to all is not cheapened or compromised by the calculated and deliberate act of making sure that the reach of our services extends to, and includes, those for whom denial of such services would make legal education far less likely. After all, ASP exists to level the playing field and make a diverse and inclusive legal profession more likely, not less.
In the end, I guess I am glad that ASP is not like the countries that I know of, and I am left to wish that countries could be more like ASP.
Monday, June 1, 2020
My house is made of candy, and sometimes I eat instead of facing my problems! – Gru, Despicable Me 2
As a nation we have problems to face, but a complacent majority seems to be turning to self-comfort and denial instead of confronting the problems head on. In the legal profession, complacency will cause the voice of the oppressed to fall on deaf ears. The greatest risk of self-regulated and unregulated professions is smug indifference to social change. As legal professionals, we are trained advocates. Trained first to advocate for ourselves and then for our clients, our students, and the protection of the rights of the commonwealth.
We took oaths to defend the Constitution and to conduct ourselves ethically. History and now recent events have proven and reminded us that silence in the face of injustice is unethical. We are not powerless to uphold law and order. We are equipped with the voice, credibility, network, skill, education, and training to effect change and to preserve lawfulness. In our silence and inaction, we become complicit in crimes and civil wrongs against those in dire need of advocacy.
Like all of us in ASP, I am a fervent advocate for my students and alumni. I want them to have sufficient bar prep resources, and fair and reasonably transparent practices in the administration and scoring of the bar exam. One of the most important things about our bar policy advocacy is that we are advocating for positions that will not affect us personally or professionally. On a daily basis, we demonstrate staunch support and fervent advocacy for a fair exam process for bar takers, even though we already hold law licenses and don’t need to take a bar exam.
In that vein, we should also be able to lend our voices to causes that may not “seem” to directly impact us. The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct remind us that as lawyers, we have a “special responsibility for the quality of justice.” As legal educators we are molding the next generation of lawyers. A generation that should be shaped with more than our thoughts and prayers. Last week the world witnessed a modern-day lynching by knee, with the assailant face to camera and hands in pocket. This horrific and callous homicide and all events in its aftermath will not be brought to justice on social media or in the courts of public opinion.
If the Constitution that we are all sworn to uphold means anything, then lawyers, law professors, judges, prosecutors, clerks, and peace officers will put to use their advocacy skills, training, and public reach to bring about the justice that has continued to elude people who look like George Floyd, Philando Castile, Botham Jean, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Alton Sterling, and others. Unless we use our voices and our knowledge of policy, procedure, and statutory construction to protect people who jog, play in public playgrounds, drive luxury autos, travel by car with their children, and eat dinner or sleep in their own apartments, we will have progressed too far down a path of Constitutional disregard.
Our houses are not made of candy, and we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to challenges to justice and equality.