Monday, December 13, 2021
Last Friday’s NECASP Conference on Fostering and Maintaining Inclusive Communities was amazing. It was well organized and carefully curated. I left with some amazing ideas of how I can make my ASP welcome mat larger and make students who cross that threshold feel that we are a caring community. Community=success! A special thank you to the NECASP executive team: Amy Vaughan-Thomas, Brittany Raposa, Phil Kaplan and Danielle Kocal for a wonderful conference. I have often said, and I stand by it, that the ASP community is the kindest community in law school academics: to our students, our schools, and to each other. The sheer talent and intellect of my colleagues is breathtaking.
This morning I walked my dog, Leo, super early because we were escorting my son to before school physical therapy (he hurt his arm when he and his bicycle encountered a curb back in the summer and wrestling practice made it hurt more). My husband is also away on business in (what looks like heavenly) Portugal and he had previously been doing this walk. I will add that I also spent the night with this dog who would not go downstairs, takes up as much space as a human (he weighs 40 pounds, so that was surprising), and doesn’t smell as wonderful as you would hope. The ultimate chutzpah was when he barked at me to pick him up and put him on the bed because he is too short. And judging from the sentence before that, you can imagine how much resistance he got from me, and besides, the cats were unwilling to help. In any event, there I was: tired, cold, and entirely not in Lisbon when Leo and I saw this:
Leo and I continued on our walk under this cotton candy sky until we were almost home. As we passed the post office, we saw this bit of pink sharpied advice:
There is no greater ASP hook here except maybe we all need to be reminded to look around and make connections as we make our way through this season of grading and early darkness.
Monday, November 1, 2021
*I am going to preface this by clearly admitting that I am not someone who regularly teaches bar prep and I know that what I am saying may come from a place of relative ignorance on many issues. I am sure I have missed some important nuances here-and for that, I apologize in advance.*
Recently, we got the news that my youngest child has passed all his required MCAS exams for high school graduation (MCAS is the Massachusetts Child Abuse System according to my kids, but really the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System). These are the standardized tests that students in public schools start taking in third grade and take until they pass the required high school level exams for graduation. The elementary grade exams do not have any impact on grades in classes or promotion between grades-they may indicate a need for other school-based interventions or testing, but that is it. I’ve never let any of my children even see the reports that are mailed to parents.
These yearly exams are meaningless…until they have ultimate, high stakes meaning. Students cannot (without jumping through some significant, fiery hoops)graduate from high school without passing the English, Math and Science exams. Some parents complain that “teaching to the test” ruins learning for their children-which is a valid point. Some parents worry about the achievement gap between various groups of children (mainly along racial and socio-economic lines) which is a complete and unavoidable truth. If a test cannot be administered fairly, what is it assessing at all? And why would we attach such significance to an instrument that is irremediable?
And so, we arrive at the current iteration of the Bar Exam. At times, it seems to test a student’s ability to take the exam more than assessing knowledge of the concepts, theories, and skills it purports to assess. The same criticisms that are true about the MCAS are relevant here. We should not teach to a test-we should be teaching for learning. The achievement gap has not been bridged despite being widely acknowledged. And yet, the Bar is the key that opens the gate to many careers in law. With COVID and remote bar exam issues (technical, physical, and psychological), can we really say that it is an accurate instrument of assessment for practice readiness?
Has it ever been?
My thought for this Monday morning is this: since we all know people (not students, but peers) who have passed the Bar and were not ready for primetime, and we all know people who did not pass but were born ready to practice law, then how is passing the Bar a guarantee of anything? Think about it: (just about) every person who has ever been disbarred must have passed the Bar. So why not just pull the goalie here? What are we protecting when not every shot to the goal goes in--even when no one is there? The fact that law school accreditation is in some part contingent on bar pass rate shows, at best, a lack of creativity in assessment. At worst, it shows that we do not really wish to welcome all the qualified potential members into the profession. We can do better.
Thursday, October 14, 2021
It's the aftermath of the first day of the AASE (Association of Academic Support Educators) Third Bi-Annual Diversity Conference, hosted by CUNY Law. Unfortunately, my notes are a mess, much like life I suppose.
But I managed to jot down some key thoughts from speakers and participants that pierced my heart today, leading me to reflect deeply on what I, personally and professionally, must do next, must be next.
So here's some of what grabbed my heart from today's conference. It's just one person's view. And I realize I left out much. But, in case you weren't able to participate today, I share with the hope that what we learn together in community might truly be life-changing for so many of our students, left behind and hidden.
- Be willing to and make the invisible visible.
- Generosity of spirit.
- Ask questions about the learning environment, culture, the institution.
- Who's here? Who's not here? Who's rules? Who created them?
- Be a sponge - absorb.
- Be curious, especially about who's uncomfortable.
- Reach out to student groups. Don't wait for them to reach out to you. Be the instigator.
- Build rapport and relationships.
- Grow in humility.
- Social Identify Mapping: A Tool - Use it! Share it! Practice it! Live it!
- Humble ourselves.
- Be willing to lose control so the others might grow and learn.
- What's your definition of academic freedom? Who is it for? What does it serve? How does it help or hinder our students and their learning?
- Are you living mission statements or mission? Truly? Really?
- Why so hard to talk about race? What are you waiting for?
- Crown Act - creating and crafting successful curricular ways to teach learning, build DEI, and grow in respect and appreciation for others.
- A few possible communication principles for living, learning, and growing, together: "Vegas---Wall Street---weather.com"
- There's more to academics than academics - much more.
- Pandemic Education - What worked? What didn't? What will you continue? Who did it work for? Who didn't it work for? How were you changed by it? How will you let what you learn positively impact your teaching and your students?
- Don't be afraid to let your students see you, know you.
- Create space for expression, for belonging.
- Ask more questions.
- Make Good Trouble--Yes, Be a Trouble-Maker!
Finally, thank you to the organizers and leaders of this conference - Professors Yolonda Sewell and Haley Meade - and all of the participants, speakers, and sponsors for giving so much of themselves to us for others. And thank you to Dean Hayat (CUNY Law) for your opening remarks and Dr. Spates (Kent State) for your keynote address. Truly inspirational. (S. Johns).
Monday, September 13, 2021
Like all mornings, an email from the Chronicle of Higher Education landed in my Inbox today. One of its articles bore the following picture:
Immediately, I noticed something troubling: Unlike the other three quotes (not pictured), the visual specifically named only FIU. Thus, out of the thousands of schools around the nation that for decades have pursued USNWR rankings, this picture chose to call out and specifically name only a school enrolling a majority of students who are nonwhite.* In fact, several of the schools discussed in the article are those where a plurality of students are People of Color. To make matters worse, above their article that implicitly chastises a school serving mostly students who are nonwhite, the authors affixed the heading “Privilege.”
Really digest that for a second: The heading “Privilege” above the name of the only singled-out school, the majority of whose students are nonwhite.
Apparently, when such schools use the exact same methods as less diverse schools to improve their students’ opportunities, the method is derided as out-of-line. And, while the article raises important issues about rankings, the choice to address those issues in this way is deeply problematic.
But today's example is just one instance of the biases, insults, and micro-(and not so micro) aggressions many of our students constantly experience: The insinuations that their successes are somehow artificial; the assumption that they are “less well-prepared for law school” than their peers at other schools (despite their 159/160 LSAT median and 3.69 UGPA median); off-hand comments by academics specifically noting their race; my colleague Raul Ruiz being introduced at a conference as “Paul ROO-izz” and without the “professor” title accorded to other panelists. And, today, FIU's movement in the rankings is deemed nefarious while majority- or plurality-white schools garner praise for their genius.
In making these observations, I have to acknowledge my own white-male privilege. My career path did not include the obstacles facing many of my students, obstacles instantiated by the brazen biases signaled by the headline above. But I sincerely hope that I am correct in believing that this privilege should not preclude me from loudly objecting to the conditions that impede my students’ success.
Because in law school academic support, that is precisely what we do. Let’s do it loudly.
(Louis Schulze, who proudly teaches at FIU.)
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
A plethora of recent scholarship to report:
1. B. Templin (Thomas Jefferson), Integrating Spaced Repetition and Required Metacognitive Self-Assessment in a Contracts Course (2021).
From the abstract:
This article provides an example for doctrinal law professors to integrate metacognitive exercises into their courses in order to increase student retention and understanding of the material as well as improve exam test-taking skills. Teaching metacognition is traditionally the domain of law school ASP departments. However, when ASP methods are supplemented with required exercises in a doctrinal course, student performance can improve measurably.
2. S. George (Suffolk Law), The Law Student's Guide to Doing Well and Being Well (Carolina Academic Press, 2021).
From the abstract:
The ABA and most state bar associations have identified a wellness crisis in the legal profession, and called for educating students on how to better cope with the challenges of law school and practice. At the same time, students must learn how to maximize their brain health so that they perform well in law school and on behalf of their clients in practice. The same way musicians would tune their instruments, or chefs would sharpen their knives, law students must sharpen their minds. This book aims to help students “do well” in their ability to learn, and “be well” in the process, by exploring the deep connection between brain health and wellness.
3. A. Soled (Rutgers) & B. Hoffman (Rutgers), Building Bridges: How Law Schools Can Better Prepare Students from Historically Underserved Communities to Excel in Law School, 69 J. Legal Educ. 268 (2020).
From the introduction:
This article discusses the needs of law students whose circumstances—including but not limited to economic status, race, nationality, sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or educational background—disadvantage them in relation to their classmates whose privileged environment better prepared them for law school. This article first discusses factors that affect academic performance at law school. Second, it illustrates prelaw school and law school programs that target the needs of students from historically underserved communities. Finally, this article proposes ways law school faculty and administration can help these students succeed in law school and in their careers.
4. K. Testy (Washington), Advancing an Evidence-Based Approach to Improving Legal Education, 69 J. Legal Educ. 561 (2020).
From the article:
Student-centeredness should not be a remarkable idea for legal education.
Yet, some educators resist student-centeredness on the grounds that such an
approach sounds too much like “the customer is always king.” Under this
line of thought, faculty members instead see their role as the expert with the
duty of deciding what the student needs. As one of my faculty colleagues once
explained to me, “Dean, you pay me to mold them, not to listen to them.”
In my experience, however, students usually do know what they need; we
can learn a great deal by listening
(Louis Schulze, FIU Law)
Thursday, August 26, 2021
I hesitate to admit this: I've used this phrase so many times that it just sort of swims to the surface and color almost all that I do to include how I approach my work as an academic support educator. However, as Professors Kris Franklin and Rory Bahadur remind us in a recent publication, this phrase is relatively meaningless as to the real purposes behind legal education. Directed Questions: A Non-Socratic Dialogue about Non-Socratic Teaching (Aug. 16, 2021).
And, I might add a bit dangerous in the sense of destructive of learning...
First, notice the word "a".
That doesn't seem to leave much room for differences among our future lawyers. Rather, it seems to suggest that there is only one type of lawyer. Exclusive. Not part of broader society. One type of which I must be trained to think like. It leaves out the "me" in lawyering. In short, it suggests that unless I give up what is really me and become someone else, this mythical lawyer, I will not succeed; I will not belong; I will not think like a lawyer.
Second, notice the word "think".
I do a lot of thinking, well, mostly day dreaming. Much of my thinking is not productive. Why not? Because I don't act upon it. It just remains hidden from action, in my mind, silently powerless. In fact, by suggesting that we are going to train our students to "think" like a lawyer, we are really leading them astray, because law is much more than just thinking. It also requires communication, it requires action, it requires practice, it requires leaning in and giving up of yourself for representation and betterment of others. And, if truth be told, it requires a lot of writing, too.
Third, sticking with the word "think".
Of course, learning requires thinking, much thinking, deep thinking. But learning takes much more than thinking because we learn through what we experience, what we try, what we fail in and what we succeed in, and how we learn to overcome and improve through and with our learning experiences. In short, the phrase sells learning short. It suggests that we can think our ways into being lawyers. Like the practice of law, learning requires lots of practice too, lots of action too.
I'm not sure what should replace this phrase. But maybe it's a lot more showing what it is like to be and serve and work and counsel and act as lawyers. As a starting point, I just wrote our faculty and staff and suggested that they bring some of their former students, who just graduated and took the bar exam recently, back to their classrooms, their programs, and their offices to talk about how they learned in law school and what they are learning now. In other words, there's lots of room for lots of different lawyers with lots of different ways to practice. Letting our students know that they are allowed to be who they are and that there's room for them just as they are might just go along way to helping our students thrive as they begin the fall studies.
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)
Friday, March 19, 2021
Society of American Law Teachers Presents:
Social Justice in Action Webinar Series
Can You See Me?
Inclusive Practices for Entry
into the Legal Profession
Friday, March 26, 2021 from 3:00 to 4:00 PM ET
From law school classes to artificial intelligence proctoring, students of color are asking, “Can You See Me?” Myriad stressors contribute to disparate bar pass outcomes that deprive the legal profession of much needed diversity. Some stressors are the costs, content, and cut scores of the bar exam; others manifest in the law school classroom.
Can we challenge and mitigate these stressors without exacerbating stereotype threat? Recent law grads, professors, and an identity researcher will address the problematic invisibility of students of color and present law faculty with interventions to promote inclusion.
Panel discussion with including Octavia Carson, Areeb Been Khan, Victor Quintanilla, Heidi Williams, and Pernell Jackson
Moderators: Marsha Griggs and Joan Howarth
Panelists will be available until 4:15 PM for Q&A.
Sunday, February 7, 2021
WMU-Cooley Law School is pleased to announce the online conference Teaching Multicultural Lawyering: Development, Integration and Conversation. There is no charge to attend.
The conference, and a recently completed textbook Multicultural Lawyering: Navigating the Culture of the Law, the Lawyer, and the Client (https://cap-press.com/books/isbn/9781531020415/Multicultural-Lawyering) was born from their course Multicultural Lawyering.
The conference will focus on teaching stand-alone courses in the topic, infusing multicultural lawyering throughout the curriculum, teaching multicultural instruction within professional identity programs, and developing learning outcomes for the topic. Some of the sessions will have break-out groups to facilitate small, in-depth discussions. There will be a keynote panel sharing the experiences of faculty who have been teaching these topics for many years, with an opportunity for discussion with them as well.
The online conference will take place on Thursday, March 11 (from Noon-3:30 p.m. EST) and Friday, March 12, 2021 (11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. EST).
The conference agenda is designed to accommodate the many demands on your time by focusing on two afternoons with two sessions each day and a keynote panel discussion on Friday.
Please contact us at email@example.com with questions and if you would like to be added to our interest list to receive updates about conference registration and other details as they become available.
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 19, 2021
ASP Foundational Scholarship Series: This series focuses on the seminal ASP/ Bar Exam scholarship that contributed to the development of academic and bar support best practices.
For the first-ever post in this series, I was stuck between two choices. So, I chose both:
1. Knaplund & Sanders, The Art and Science of Academic Support, 45 J. Legal Educ. 157 (1995).
This article was one of the earliest and most robust empirical analyses of law school academic support programs. It helped ASP faculty defend the then-controversial pedagogy of "contextualized academic support" and answer the question "Why should we spend money on an ASP?"
From the introduction:
• Our analysis of seven distinct academic support initiatives at UCLA shows that support can substantially and demonstrably improve both short-term and long-term academic performance, but the effects vary markedly across UCLA's programs.
• The variation in academic effectiveness across UCLA's programs follows distinct patterns that yield definite guidance on the pedagogy of academic support.
• We found some evidence that academic support programs can have valuable benefits apart from their impact on grades.
2. Russell McClain, Helping Our Students Reach Their Full Potential: The Insidious Consequences of Ignoring Stereotype Threat, 17 Rutgers Race & L. Rev. 1 (2016).
Coupled with Professor McClain's conference presentations on this subject and a related TEDx Talk, this article was the first to analyze the phenomenon of stereotype threat specifically as it pertains to law students. It serves as a crucial resource for ASP faculty, and all others, to understand their potential in ameliorating the effects of implicit bias in the law school classroom.
From the article abstract:
A psychological phenomenon may be a significant cause of academic underachievement by minorities in law school. This phenomenon, called stereotype threat, occurs as a result of the fear of confirming a negative group stereotype.... When subject to this threat — as a consequence of being confronted with environmental or explicit triggers — people do worse in academic settings than they otherwise are capable of doing. In this article, I explore the implications of the research on stereotype threat for law schools and make several recommendations to deal with the threat.
There are natural implications for law school admissions, of course. If a portion of our applicant pool is affected by stereotype threat, then we cannot trust the accuracy of the metrics we typically use in law school admissions, i.e., prior academic performance and LSAT scores of law school applicants. Indeed, those credentials actually may under-evaluate the academic potential of these applicants, who are often minority students. This should cause law schools to reevaluate their admissions policies.
After students are admitted, law school provides fertile ground within which stereotype threat can flourish. This, of course, means that the performance of minorities in law school — in class, on exams, and in other areas — is likely to be diminished, such that many minorities will not perform up to their academic capacity. And, obviously, we would expect this same dynamic to play out on the bar exam.
Law schools can address stereotype threat at each of these levels, and they should do so. This article lays out a framework for understanding and dealing with the threat.
(Louis N. Schulze, Jr., FIU Law).
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?
Thursday, November 12, 2020
In general, I don't believe in show and tell lectures. In particularly, I'm not convinced that a few powerpoint presentations about the benefits of mindfulness or positive growth mindsets can make much of a difference in academic performance. But, I do believe in the power of show, tell, and do experiences in changing lives for the better. And, there's research out of California funded in part by AccessLex to support my supposition.
As previously detailed, a brief intervention focused on belonging can make a big impact on undergraduate academic performance, especially for underrepresented minorities. Be-Long-Ing! It's Critical to Success (Oct. 3, 2019). Now, researchers in partnership with the State Bar of California and funding from AccessLex have expanded that work to the field of bar licensure. https://mindsetsinlegaleducation.com/bar-exam/
The brief 45-minute online program was made available to all bar takers for both the July 2018 and July 2019 California bar exams. Id. Interested bar applicants were able to freely sign-up for the program, which was timed to coincide right before bar preparation studies began. "The program include[d] an introductory film, stories from prior test takers, and a writing activity in which participants share[d] insights and strategies that m[ight] be useful to them and to future test takers." Id. In their research, the authors controlled for traditional bar performance predicators (LSAT and LGPA) along with psychological factors, demographic factors, and situational factors to evaluate whether the brief 45-minute intervention yielded statistically beneficial improvements in bar exam outcomes. Id.
According to a summary of the findings, "[t]hose who completed the full program and thereby received the full treatment saw their likelihood of passing the bar exam rise by 6.8-9.6%. Among all people who passed the bar after completing the program and thereby receiving the full treatment, one in six would have failed the bar if they had not participated in the program (emphasis in original)." Id. Significantly, as stated more completely in an article by the researchers, "[t}he program particularly helped applicants who were first-gen college students and underrepresented minorities, according to our analyses." Quintanilla. V., et al., Evaluating Productive Mindset Interventions that Promote Excellence on California’s Bar Exam (Jun. 25, 2020).
In finding evidence in support of the program, the authors posited a possible social-psychological explanation for the promising results:
"The California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories Program was designed to improve passage rates by changing how applicants think about the stress that they encounter and the mistakes that they make when studying for the exam. Our initial analyses of the effect of the program on psychological processes suggest that the program worked as intended, by reducing psychological friction. Participants appear to have succeeded in the face of stress, anxiety, and mistakes by adopting more adaptive mindsets. They moved from a stress-is-debilitating mindset to a stress-is- enhancing mindset. They learned to reappraise the anxiety they experienced. And they shifted toward meeting mistakes with a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset." Id.
As I understand the research, the researchers provided bar takers with research about tactics to turn stressors from negatives into positives and engaged bar takers in implementing those strategies. In my opinion, a primary reason why the intervention was so promising rests with the last step of the intervention, in which bar takers took positive action to help future bar takers, by having bar takers write letters to future takers sharing their experiences in learning to transform frictions into pluses.
In short, the intervention empowered people to make a difference, not just for themselves, but also for future aspiring attorneys. That's a wonderful win-win opportunity. And, there's more great news. The researchers are looking for additional participants to expand the program to other jurisdictions. For details, please see the links in this blog. (Scott Johns).
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.
Monday, October 19, 2020
A colleague recently shared an ABA Journal article with me entitled: “For Minority Law Students, Learning the Law Can Be Intellectually Violent.”
In the article, Professor Shaun Ossei-Owusu discusses the deleterious effects that a race-neutral, all-sides-matters approach to teaching law can have on BIPOC students, particularly as they struggle to reconcile that approach with the “world’s racial realities.” Professor Ossei-Owusu offers BIPOC law students two coping strategies in the absence of a more race-conscious curriculum: compartmentalizing and engaging. As the nation continues to grapple with the most recent reckoning on racial injustice and the uncertainty of the future, including the future of race-related trainings, these issues—and the way they are addressed (or not addressed) in law school classrooms—matter and have implications for students’ well-being and academic performance.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
Sunday, October 18, 2020
The UBE is spreading through the country faster than any legal education reform in recent memory. A few short years ago, multiple people with information on Oklahoma's decision making thought the UBE would never happen in Texas, and following their lead, Oklahoma would also be one of the last states to adopt it. Oklahoma disavowed scaling just a few years ago, and then, Texas followed the UBE lemmings. Once Texas joined the crowd, the Oklahoma Supreme Court created a committee to study adopting the UBE. One major question for the committee was whether the UBE, through scaling, would impact diversity. The court also wanted to know if certain cut scores would impact diversity. At that time, no one had a great answer. No study looked at both the bar's impact on diversity along with cut score implications. For Oklahoma, any information was even more irrelevant because Oklahoma was one of only a few states not scaling essay scores to the MBE. The court proceeded to adopt the UBE without much information on that issue.
At that moment, there was a complete lack of information on critical topics. Thanks to AccessLex and a team of researchers, we now have a quality study on cut scores' impact on diversity. AccessLex offers grants for research on legal education issues. You can read numerous interesting articles on their grant page. The most recent article on California bar exam cut score is especially interesting.
The article Examining the California Cut Score: An Empirical Analysis of Minimum Competency, Public Protection, Disparate Impact, and National Standards considers the impact of California's cut sore on diversity while also asking whether cut scores really protect the public from incompetent or unethical lawyers. The analysis is very interesting. I encourage everyone to ready the study. We are in a unique period for bar exam reform and UBE expansion. We should definitely ask whether the bar accomplishes its intended goal of protecting the public, especially if the impact functionally prohibits diversity of the profession.
Monday, August 10, 2020
A foundational part of our professional lives as ASPers is providing feedback to students. As we engage students to provide feedback, it is likely that we will sit across from people who differ greatly from us. Try as we might to avoid judging them based on stereotypes or in-group favoritism, we all have implicit biases that may thwart those efforts (even if we like to think we conduct ourselves in an identity-neutral manner).
Some may read this and think: “No, not me. I believe in justice and equity, and strive to treat everyone fairly. I deal with diverse students daily. I’m good.” In truth, however, a person can simultaneously be committed to those principles and largely avoid conscious expressions of bias, yet still have student interactions that are influenced by their implicit biases. We all have blind spots, despite any attempts to “use introspection to acquit ourselves of accusations of bias, while using realistic notions of human behavior to identify bias in others.” Richard A. Posner, How Judges Think 121 (2008).
Acknowledging this reality is critical if we are to fully leverage opportunities for growth. To that end, the reflection questions below are a helpful starting point for those interested in identifying their orientation/preferences for communication and collaboration.
- How do you like people to communicate with you?
- How do you like to lead?
- How do you like to be led?
- How do you like people to resolve conflict with you?
- How do you like people to collaborate with you?
After reflecting on these points, consider: (1) how your preferences inform the way you provide feedback to students, (2) how your preferences might differ from students’ preferences, (3) how having preferences that differ from students might affect your ability to effectively engage them, and (4) how you can leverage any takeaways in future interactions with students.
Lory Barsdate Easton & Stephen V. Armstrong, How to Minimize Implicit Biases (and Maximize Your Team’s Legal Talent), 58 No. 9 DRI For Def. 80 (2016).
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)
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
Monday, June 29, 2020
As I sat down to put fingers to keyboard for my first blog post, I found myself overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas swirling around in my head. Overwhelmed by my thinking that this post must be perfect, thoughtful, groundbreaking, and transcendent. I was convinced that this post must be rainbows and unicorns rolled into one, it must be as mellifluous and powerful as Aretha Franklin’s voice, it must be everything to everyone, and it must be nothing to no one.
It took me about 20 minutes to ask myself the obvious question (beyond the other obvious question of why I would set the bar anywhere near the otherworldliness of ‘Retha): “why, exactly, must your first blog post be all of these things?” In that moment, I realized the pressures I felt are traceable to a lifelong frenemy that, much like a phoenix, continues to rise from the ashes: imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is characterized by one’s persistent feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt about their abilities or achievements, coupled with a fear of being exposed as a fraud despite those achievements and ongoing success.
Thinking about my old frenemy brought to mind a conversation I once had with a student. For the last couple of years, I have served as a panelist during our 1L orientation diversity and inclusion program. At the end of last year’s program, a student approached me to, among other things, thank me for sharing my 1L experience with imposter syndrome.
I am a Black woman and first-generation college graduate who grew up with few socioeconomic advantages. To say law school was a culture shock would be an understatement. I spent most of my first year convinced the admissions office had erred in admitting me to the law school and much of my second and third years dismissing my achievements as “luck” and “waiting for the other shoe to drop” (i.e. for someone to realize that I was a fraud and did not belong at the law school).
At the end of my conversation with this student, they asked “when did you overcome imposter syndrome?” I do not recall what my answer was in that moment, but the question has triggered several deeply personal moments of introspection. When I think of that conversation, I know the honest answer to that student’s question would have been (and still is): “I’ll let you know.”
If I’m still trying to figure out how to consciously uncouple from vanquish my lifelong frenemy, it is incumbent upon me to be cognizant of similar challenges experienced by students and supportive in helping them work through—or past—those feelings of inadequacy. To this end, today I renew my commitment to: name my frenemy unapologetically, serve as a sounding board and source of support for students battling imposter syndrome, remind those students of their strength and accomplishments, and encourage them to be kind to themselves. I also commit to taking my own advice.
(Victoria McCoy Dunkley)