Thursday, February 2, 2023
I recently had the opportunity to respond to a jury summons. After driving to an unfamiliar part of town, and parking and walking in, waiting in line to walk through the metal detector (that required me to take off all jewelry including my earrings!), and then waiting in line to check in for jury service, and then sitting with strangers on a hard bench for 30 minutes waiting for things to get started, all during a very busy time in the semester when I had other things I needed to be doing, I was primed to be grumpy.
The county clerk, and then a sheriff's deputy, and then the judge on the single case that needed a jury, each spoke to us, saying the same things about the importance of jury service. (OK.) The county clerk even requested that we all stand up and applaud ourselves for reporting. (Ugh.)
But then we were reduced from about 200 people to 65 people, and we 65 were led to the courtroom for voir dire, where we learned it was a criminal matter with an accusation of driving under the influence with a minor passenger. I was impressed by the professionalism of the attorneys, the way they made this process of finding out who we were seem so natural and personable. I was shocked and impressed by the frankness of individuals who shared their personal stories of being arrested for DUI, or their escape from an abusive, alcoholic ex-spouse, and how it might impact their participation in this matter. The defendant was in the courtroom through it all, knowing this system and the people participating, would decide his future in just a few days' time.
I was not at all surprised when I was one of the 51 who were dismissed at 2 PM, leaving 14 to sit in the jury box. Not only did the odds favor it, the defense attorney was an alumna of my law school. But I am thankful for being the experience, in a way I could not have foreseen before I went. It has been a long time since I have been in a courtroom. It was an excellent reminder of why I love this work, and what an awesome responsibility it is to be a member of the legal profession, and to be a part of educating and training future lawyers.
Monday, January 9, 2023
Happy New Year ASP Blog Readers! We are back!
Earlier today I was in a meeting with colleagues who told me that several publishers had not brought ASP/Bar Prep publications to the AALS meetings because, (and keep in mind that this probably hearsay squared), “AALS is for doctrinal faculty.” AALS abolished the distinction years ago, but perhaps that message has not reached all sectors. And while I could easily lament another occasion where academic support is overlooked and excluded, today I have another proposition.
I have written in the past about how U.S. News Rankings count the work of academic support and bar prep professionals (bar pass rate!!!), but they do not evaluate the programs themselves. This is, I have argued, essentially taxation without representation.
Recently a few schools that probably do not sweat the bar pass rate (let’s be honest here, it is always going to be in the over 90% area for them), have decided not to engage in rankings. These schools just don’t need the credential to boost their marketability or community standing. They already have all the name and prestige recognition they need. They just shuffle among the top tier like a tableau of rich invitees at a Gatsby event. But, as I tell students fairly often, 90% of the class in not in the top 10%. So too for law schools -- as a vast majority of schools are not invited to the West Egg shindigs.
After attending an amazing conference organized by the New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals where we discussed job security, equity, and even reached for the brass ring of tenure, I am convinced that having academic support programs ranked by U.S. News might be a step in the right direction.
Here are my top three reasons:
- This would be another metric for schools looking to gain status, meaning that schools that really do need a boost can get one, and
- It might shift a power dynamic to a successful (and therefore ranked) academic support program’s professionals to seek better job security (contracts where they are at-will employees, presumptively renewable contracts for those on a year-to-year contract, and tenure down the road.) A school that gains prestige because of a ranked ASP program would want to protect that asset.
- ASP professionals work extremely hard-we teach more, we meet more, we write as much (if not more), and we are often asked to take on responsibilities that are similar to doctrinal, legal writing, and clinical faculty. We deserve the recognition-beyond the amazing way we honor each other in our community.
But there are some downsides:
- More scrutiny doesn’t always reveal only good things. We might put folks with very little job security in a more precarious position and introduce metrics that are not necessarily indicative of quality academic support. This might turn out to be another area where BIPOC professionals are not fairly evaluated.
- ASP will now be tethered to raising or maintaining a ranking--which is not the point of ASP. This might distract us from our students, who are the reason we do what we do.
- Being tied to the bar pass rate more directly may not be fair since some of the variables that control bar pass rate are not within the control of ASP. We cannot overcome a poorly admitted class, or a pandemic, for example.
I invite debate on this idea. I would also happily invite the beginning of a national movement of ASP professionals to work together toward more equity and job security. If we take any page from legal writing, the one I believe is foundational would be that we gather our data and work together.
Monday, November 21, 2022
Isn’t it the way of the fall semester that September seems like it lasted for 8 weeks, October was about 2.5 weeks, and November 1st is when are standing at the top of a giant slide that ends in finals? I wandered into this playground in mid-August, and while it seemed to come both too fast and too slow, I am happy to see the ground come into view.
This semester has been wild.
I am grateful for the chance to hit stop for a few days later this week. I need the time to gather whatever resources I have left (or can conjure) before the building smells like stress in the upcoming weeks. I am thankful that I get to see more family than usual this year. I remain in awe of the ASP community and its generosity, kindness, and warmth.
I wish you all the best of times. May the ground beneath the end of your slide be soft when you land.
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
NECASP IS HAVING THEIR ANNUAL ONE DAY CONFERENCE (VIA ZOOM) ON DECEMBER 9TH, 2022. Below is their request for proposals:
RFP Deadline Extended to November 8
Request for Proposals: Presentations and Scholarly “Works in Progress” New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (NECASP) Conference Friday, December 9, 2022, 10am-3pm ET via Zoom Hosted by the Suffolk University Law School (Zoom link to follow)
NECASP will be holding its annual one-day conference online this December. Our topic this year is “Strengthening Our Core: Attaining Equity for Academic Support and Bar Professionals.” We will gather online to share and explore ideas with ASP colleagues on issues surrounding the attempts towards attaining parity in status in academia for ASP and Bar Professionals.
We welcome a broad range of proposals –from presenters in the New England Region and beyond –and at various stages of completion –from idea to fruition. Please note that we may ask you to co-present with other ASP colleagues depending on the number of proposals selected.
If you wish to present, the proposal process is as follows:
- Submit your proposal by 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, via email to Philip Kaplan at email@example.com
- Proposals may be submitted as a Word document or as a PDF 3. Proposals must include the following:
a. Name and title of presenter
b. Law School
c. Address, email address, and telephone number for presenter
e. If a scholarly work in progress, an abstract no more than 500 words
f. Media or computer presentation needs
4. As noted above, proposals are due on November 8, 2022. The NECASP Board will review the proposals and reply to each by November 17, 2022.
If you have any questions about your proposal, please do not hesitate to contact one of us, and we look forward to seeing you at our conference!
2022-23 NECASP Board Members:
Chair: Phil Kaplan, Associate Professor of Academic Support Suffolk University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice-Chair: Brittany Raposa, Associate Director & Professor of Bar Support Roger Williams School of Law, email@example.com
Treasurer: Danielle Kocal, Director of Academic Success The Elizabeth Haub School of Law / Pace University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Secretary: Erica Sylvia, Assistant Director of Bar Success & Adjunct Professor of Law University of Massachusetts School of Law, email@example.com
Monday, September 12, 2022
The attacks of 9/11/2001 were twenty-one years ago.
I probably have students who were born in 2001. I probably also have students (my undergraduates) who were not yet born when the events of 9/11 unfolded. I can tell you that I was standing in the hallway of my law school building looking up at multiple TV screens, watching planes crash into buildings over and over on a seemingly endless and tragic loop, some slightly out of sync-all against the backdrop of the bluest September sky. Thousands died that day, and what was most terrifying about it was that we didn’t think it could ever happen. It never dawned on us that we would be targeted this way. Were we blindsided because of optimism, privilege, pride? Possibly all, or none, of these things. Nonetheless, we were stunned.
Twenty-one years later, where are we? Sure, there are new buildings where the World Trade Center stood, but we have never been the same: we do not fly on airplanes or trust people as we did on 9/10/2001. But 9/11 also sent the fight against racial profiling back at least 30 years. We might be almost back to our 9/10 senses at this point, but that wasn’t a great place either. The Patriot Act seemed to allow law enforcement to do things that had been, at least on 9/10, held illegal. The immigration implications of 9/11 are still clearly visible in calls for bans and walls. Fear and anger are never good starting points for sweeping legislation. The desire to return to when things seemed “better” isn’t actually a plan for governance.
I look at the recent decision in Dobbs, and I wonder, is this also a sentimental journey back to when we, as Americans, thought we had more control? In 21 years, will we be getting close to recapturing the rights we held in 1973?
Or will we have another moment where we realize that the grief is now old enough to drink?
Monday, April 25, 2022
This semester I changed up my assessments for my undergraduate law class. In the past, I had done oral arguments as a final assessment, but after witnessing paralyzing anxiety from more than a couple of students last semester, I decided that I was assessing mental health rather than legal argumentation skills. No one should be graded that way. So, this semester, students are writing a judicial opinion (pretending to be a U.S. Supreme Court justice) in the case of Carson v. Makin. This is a fun case for my undergraduates because it took place here in the First Circuit (nearby in Maine) and it is about high school (also temporally nearby for undergrads). The case is about Maine’s program for students in very rural areas that do not have a local public high school. Maine’s law allows parents to choose another public school in a different district, or a private school so long as the private school meets certain criteria in terms of state required curriculum, attendance, and our sticking point: that the school is “non-sectarian”. The case is a great example of free exercise clause litigation and students are really getting into it, but the very complicated issue of standing is one I have had to take off their plate because it is a bit too much for students who have not taken a course in Federal Courts. Essentially, the plaintiffs are parents who would like to send their kids to sectarian schools but because of the Maine law, they haven’t even tried to use the tuition assistance program. The schools that the parents want to send their children to have not agreed to follow Maine's other requirements either. So, you may be asking, how have they been injured? The attorneys for Maine asked this as well, in more than one case, and each time the District Court and First Circuit found that there was standing because, “[T]he plaintiffs’ injury in fact inheres in their having lost the “opportunity.”" It seems a little like tap dancing in the rain to find standing here, but there it is: a lost opportunity is sufficient injury to get the case before a court.
This decision made me think that we may be injuring our students who are on Academic Warning, Probation, guided curriculum, or whatever your school might call it. We do, of course, intend to help these students in terms of bar readiness and supervision to prevent further academic mishaps. We have a compelling academic interest in having students take this path. Our studies and experience show that it works. I really have no doubt that our process does improve our students’ chances overall. To that end, we have students take bar tested courses like Evidence, Commercial Law, Family Law, and Trusts and Estates once they have a GPA below a certain threshold.
But…these students are required to take another set of large, grade-curved classes that tend to have one high-stakes summative assessment at the end. This might be where things initially went wrong for them, so more of it may just dig the hole deeper for some. We also occupy their schedules with required courses that monopolize their time and credits each semester. Students in academic difficulty do not often get the green light to take a credit overload. There is less space, after satisfying the requirements, for courses that are not bar tested and may have alternate assessment schemes. Students who do well in their first year can then go on to choose courses that allow them to keep up or substantially improve their already good GPAs. Students flagged for warning or probation after the first year have a much harder time moving up in class rankings in subsequent years. Students in academic difficulty know that on-campus recruiting is not going to even consider them. Clinical opportunities may also be lost because of scheduling or because of academic status or both. Some students really need to take the engine apart and put it back together to understand how it works-and some students need to see what lawyering really is to reignite their underlying enthusiasm for continuing in law school. There is a hopelessness we are creating because these opportunities are lost.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we abandon this process altogether. We do students a grave disservice if they are misled throughout law school to believe that they are on track for bar passage only to fail. We similarly do students no favors by continuing to take their tuition money when law school is clearly not for them. Perhaps, though, we can re-evaluate our methods. There are no easy answers here-just a request to be mindful of students who feel that they are drifting further away even as we are throwing them a lifesaver. They don’t want to just survive; they want the opportunity to get back on the ship.
 Carson v. Makin, 979 F.3d 21 (1st. Cir. 2020)
 Me. Stat. tit. 20–A, § 2(1) (2022).
 Carson, 979 F.3d at 26.
 Id. at 30 (citing Eulitt v. Me. Dept. of Educ., 386 F.3d 344 (1st. Cir. 2004)).
How’s my citation? Call 1-800-Bluebook to report it.
 Is this ideal for bar passage? Perhaps not.
Monday, March 21, 2022
And we are back. Spring break is over just like that. The thing about the time after spring break is that it goes by so quickly. You look up and there are 4 weeks of class left and 8 weeks of things you wanted to get to. It is like the facebook posts I put up around my kids' birthdays, "I must have blinked." When the end of semester is looming, I always wonder if I have squandered the time with my students, but I know that I didn’t because I spent at least some of our time together doing the following:
- Making sure they are okay. I have asked my class for their “triumphs and tribulations“ each week. Did this take us off-topic? Yes. Did we need to go there? Also, yes.
- Asking about the loads they are carrying in other classes. We a took a detour into exam prep (ahead of schedule) to make sure everyone felt ready for all the types of exams they might encounter. I’ll also go back and review it on the day it was originally listed on the syllabus.
- Meeting one-on-one outside of class. Some triumphs and tribulations are not for public consumption.
- Talking about the law in current events. It is always good to bring reality into the picture and ground the concepts in something present and concrete. I am very excited about Congress and the CROWN Act today. In a shameless plug for my newly released piece in the CUNY Law Review Blog about teaching using the CROWN Act, you can read about that here: http://www.cunylawreview.org/category/blog/
- Reinforcing already learned skills. I preface a lot of what I am saying with, “I know you already know this, but bear with me…” It isn’t always a review, but there is no need to out students who are first learning anything.
- Talking about their interests outside of school. Sometimes we all need a reminder that we don’t live in this building and this is not our only context.
- Becoming a community. Laughing. Complaining about the elevator that has been broken since December (although the changing signage about that fact is really kind of funny). Sharing some brownies.
I hope your short, fast ride to the end of the semester has more triumphs than tribulations.
Monday, March 14, 2022
I was so excited to get to this Spring Break. I need this break. I feel like I have not taken a deep breath since mid-January. This semester has been cold and snowy and relentless. My shoulders are currently hovering at ear level. And, I have a million little aspirations for this break: baking, learning to crochet, enjoying daylight, not teaching at night, etc. But here I am at noon on day one thinking about catching up on grading and reading the rough draft an independent-study student sent me this past Saturday night. Sigh. I am also contemplating laundry, grocery shopping, and cleaning out closets. When did I forget how to relax and do nothing?
Ironically, I offered my high school junior the chance to take a mental health day this week. I used to let his sisters do this once every quarter in high school-they didn’t always use it the chance, but it was there if they wanted it. With advance warning, they could just take a day off-I’d call school to excuse the absence and we would have a day of yes. You want to go to IHOP? Yes. You want to see the ocean? Yes. You want to learn the choreography to “We’re All in This together” from High School Musical? Yes, just let me close the shutters if you want me to join you. This week, my son has two big tests on Tuesday and an orthodontist appointment on Wednesday at a time that makes it awkward to go to school before and strange to go after, so I offered him the rest of the day. Everyone needs to unload their burdens every now and then.
In academic support, we tend to worry about everyone but ourselves. I see you nodding. If you are on spring break this week, please let the sun warm your face every day and only do those things that give you joy (and keep your family alive). Relish the time that is normally spoken for by other responsibilities. And then email me with exactly how you did it. I’m going to need some major help developing a spring break plan…
 I can’t even with the timing on this one.
 You can do this too! https://youtu.be/H_LQeYUHm4M
Monday, March 7, 2022
Tenure. For the most part, tenure is not even a consideration for Academic Support folks. A vast majority of us are not eligible for tenure-or as one person in a committee meeting once said, we are “untenurable.” Ouch. Taking this in the light most favorable to the colleague, perhaps they meant that under current University rules, there was a not a track for ASP folks to get there-which is true. Where I work, this leaves ASP faculty in a strange place: we could apply for presumptively renewable contracts, but we would essentially have to fulfill the requirements of tenure to get them. So, we can aspire to a form of “tenure light” which is about one-third as filling as real tenure. We were left (almost) alone in this place when legal writing and clinical faculty joined the tenure track. Other than the head of our library, we are the only faculty members who have contracts voted on periodically by the entire faculty. We are the exception now-not the rule. We are invited but also basically encouraged not to attend meetings about appointments (we cannot vote on those). We are (happily) placed on committees and even have positions of leadership on them (quite happily), but we are also always aware that everyone we encounter will be voting on our contract the next time it comes before the faculty. That can be scary sometimes. I am lucky that I feel supported by the administration at my school and that my roles are valued-but sometimes I have to wonder, why not? Why not have tenure for ASP?
What would ASP tenure take away from any other person on the faculty? If we can fulfill the requirements, it honestly does not dilute the importance or status of tenure. Certainly, the folks who have tenure should not be arguing that it would reduce our work ethic or load, because after all, they would not want anyone to think tenure has done that for them. It would not reduce our commitment to the Institution because, again, tenure didn’t do that to them, right? So where is the harm? Is the hierarchy--and it is a thin one since we are basically alone in this tier--that important?
What would ASP tenure give a law school? Having ASP faculty who feel valued, appreciated, and secure could bring a myriad of benefits to any law school. First, it tells students that their success is a priority for the school from admission to the school through admission to the bar. Second, our availability to form tighter relationships with students is also instrumental to their success. Students are more engaged when they are seen and heard by faculty members. Finally, tenure would recognize that ASP faculty are scholars and writers. Sure, we have tissues, coloring pages, and candy in our offices, but we write and engage in the same level of scholarly pursuits as anyone with or hoping to get tenure (for example, I am actually writing as we speak). There are many more advantages to tenured ASP faculty--too many to list.
Legal writing and clinical faculty got access to tenure because a wave of schools across the country agreed. It is time to get the national ASP tenure wave started-with a capital T that rhymes with P and that stands for Progress.
Monday, February 14, 2022
Dear ASP and Bar Prep colleagues:
I am writing this very quick post to send all the love to you today. I know that you are putting your own life on the back burner to help students prepare for the February bar. It is truly a labor of love to help students tackle an exam that does not always measure what it purports to assess.
If your students are not showing you the love today, then please hear it from me: You are seen, valued, appreciated, and instrumental-so thank you. And I know that in 3 short months, you will gear up to start this all over again with new students who will hopefully know how amazing you are.
Monday, November 22, 2021
I. This is a tradition-based argument, so be sure to analyze questions in that context. Note: historical reasons for celebration are morally and legally troubling and clean hands analysis should be undertaken. More current traditional rationales are easier to support but not corrective.
II. Elements of T-day dinner (may vary by jurisdiction, this is the model T-Day Dinner rule in the Restatement and on the Bar):
A. Turkey, note that in some jurisdictions, Tofurkey or other non-meat alternatives can substitute here (Restatement on Thanksgiving, §143(a)(3))
B. Stuffing (any variety)
i. Can be candied, or
ii. Mashed, or
iii. Baked, or
iv. All of the above
v. (Marshmallows on a case-by-case basis),
E. Something green, (must be edible-ex. green napkins are insufficient)
F. Beverages (be sure to look at (I) below in selecting),
G. Pies, (plural intended)
H. Other food items are allowed but not required, and
i. Actually related, or
ii. Chosen, or
III. To have a complete answer, be sure to engage in the “what goes in the oven when” analysis: THIS MAY INVOLVE MATH-bring a calculator to exam if allowed.
A. NOTE: The turkey, like federal law, may occupy the field
B. If this is the case, be sure to do the temporal analysis and seek additional heat sources (Restatement §350).
IV. To finish the exam question:
A. Invite family,
B. Gather foodstuffs,
C. Set the table,
E. Enjoy everyone’s company while eating, and
F. Do not forget remedies:
i. Take a walk,
ii. Take a nap,
iii. Watch football (or be football adjacent)
V. Have a great holiday.
Monday, November 8, 2021
Today is International Tongue Twister Day (I am not making this up just for blog content, I promise). A tongue twister is defined as, “a word, phrase, or sentence difficult to articulate because of a succession of similar consonantal sounds.”  I would submit that all the different roles we play in academic support are difficult to articulate as well.
Like many codified rules in the United States, the term “Academic Support” is vague. How can we define what we do? We help students access the curriculum in law school but that is still vague. We conduct orientation classes. We teach students how to prepare and study in their doctrinal classes. We help students prepare for midterm and final exams-and then the Bar exam. We help students with legal writing projects. We offer counseling that borders on therapy. We listen, we plan, we give feedback, we lend books and shoulders and pens. We offer candy and tissues and respite. We also learn from and help one another as professionals. I once helped a student pick out bridesmaid dresses. We are something different to every student we work with (a friend, a mentor, a nag, a chocolate supplier….).
Our support is seamless mainly because there is no clear beginning or end to what we do that can be stitched together. And, sometimes, what we do is both important and invisible. We are not quite the same as other faculty members in ways that are obvious and some that slip below the radar.
So, on this Monday of the week that Bar results will be released here in Massachusetts and other states nearby, I offer this tongue twister to remember what the folks in Academic Support do:
Academic Support professors profess to assist pre-professionals become professionals using practices that produce prosperity.
Say it 5 times fast and have a particularly pleasant day!
Monday, October 11, 2021
Have I mentioned that I live in walking distance of Boston's Fenway Park? I live in the town just slightly west of Boston. Last night there was a baseball game at Fenway. It was an important one to Red Sox fans. Have I mentioned that I am not, proximity aside, a member of Red Sox nation? However, the Red Sox beat my team to get to this game, so since I am an adult, I decided that I am now a fan…of the team the Red Sox are playing (there are no adults in baseball, or was that crying? Either way). Yet, I live with Red Sox fans, so we were watching the game. For a very, very long time. Because it ended in the 13th inning. I guess folks with tickets got their money worth, but they do close the beer stands after the 7th inning which means that when this game finally became interesting to me most people down the street were either happily sober or wishing they weren’t.
You are wondering, what is the legal teaching connection? Glad you asked. Here is our fact pattern: it was the top of the 13th inning and the Tampa Bay (not devil anymore) Rays were batting. There was a player on first base and one out, when Kevin Kiermayer came to bat and Kiermayer hit a “rocket” to the wall. Then, “[t]he ball hit the wall, struck Red Sox outfielder Hunter Renfroe in the right thigh and hopped into the Boston bullpen.”The runner on first ran; Kiermayer ran. The runner on first crossed homeplate and the Red Sox fans in attendance, now long cut off from beer, were despondent. For a moment. The umpires conferred and ruled it was a double, so the runner on first could only get to third base and the run the Rays had “scored” was erased. This is the run that would have broken the 4-4 tie in the 13th inning. Red Sox nation rejoiced. I glowered a bit.
This is where the rules of baseball come in-as they do in every game-but since there are fewer playoff games occurring than on usual nights -we were paying attention. The rule and its application were explained by Major League Baseball umpires this way: “It's item 20 in the manual, which is, balls deflected out of play, which is in reference to official baseball Rule 5.06(b)(4)(H) [which] says, ‘If a fair ball not in flight is deflected by a fielder and goes out of play, the award is two bases from the time of the pitch. Once that ball hit the wall, it was no longer in flight. Now the ball bounces off the wall and is deflected out of play off of a fielder. That’s just a ground-rule double.”
The legal education angle here is that this seems to be a strict liability rule-it doesn’t matter if the ball accidentally or intentionally got put out of play. The way I plan to use this in class this week is to ask students to go through all the possible intents: willful, reckless, negligent, etc. and ask how each could have been proven in that moment. I'll poke at the idea of whether Renfroe had intentionally pushed the ball out of play to save the game knowing that his intent didn’t actually matter and wouldn’t be examined. Would he be a hero or a scofflaw for engaging the rules that way? I’ll tap the professional responsibility issue of whether the rules act as a shield or a weapon when you are player. I’ll ask why Major League Baseball tends to use strict liability rules. You can’t stop the game to have a trial, but they do have so many camera angles at every position on the field that they send off multiple videos to a third party for confirmation. I’ll also show the video of the 2013 World Series where a call by an umpire awarded the St. Louis Cardinals a run, and therefore the game, and ultimately the series, against the Red Sox for contrast…and laugh.
Monday, September 27, 2021
Our law school building was shut down as of 2:00 p.m. Wednesday. An email went out at 1:47 p.m. letting us know that we were going to be taking all classes online until, they then said, Monday at 7:00 a.m. Now, if I were reading this as someone who didn’t know more, I’d be reaching for the hand sanitizer (despite the fact we know that the internet transmits all kinds of virulent things, but not actually human viruses). I’ll wait a moment for your hands to dry before I go on.
Here’s the thing: it wasn’t COVID-19 that shut us down (but your hands are now clean and that’s never a bad thing). Our building had been having air conditioning problems for weeks. The classrooms I taught in last Monday afternoon and evening felt like, to add to your Yiddish vocabulary, a schvitz. The classroom I taught in that Wednesday morning felt like a rainforest. It was easily close to, if not above, 90 degrees in the classrooms and getting up there in my office as well. When I finally was able to get out of the building much later that afternoon, the subway station was refreshing (it was Park Street for you Boston familiar folks and you know if it was refreshing there, the building was bad). The air-conditioned train was my night in shiny greenish armor. Not many people say “aaah” when getting on a green line trolley, but there I was perking up as we meandered through the Back Bay. It turns out that the building will actually be closed until this Wednesday (we think) because the “chillers” have failed (and yes, I am imagining “chillers” as those folks in high school wearing a lot of flannel and playing hacky-sack).
But this blog entry is not about my escape from schvitz mountain-it is more about the fact that I realized that I wasn’t concerned about moving to remote teaching for a week. 2019 me would have been trying to remember how to record a Panopto video and reconfiguring all my slides for the small screen. 2019 me would probably have taught the classes wearing work pants and shoes. 2019 me would have tried to position myself somewhere the dog barking wouldn’t be audible (which, by the way, it turns out is nowhere in my house). In short, 2019 me would have panicked.
But 2021 me immediately created a Zoom link on the class BlackBoard site and emailed everyone to find it there. 2021 me already had the slides on my laptop (which 2019 me would have said was a crazy expensive investment-but 2019 me was wrong about that). 2021 me really enjoyed seeing my student’s faces for the first time this semester, and hoped they enjoyed seeing mine. And so, 2021 me started the class, shared the screen, and carried on. The only thing that made me sweat about the whole thing was that I was still stuck in my office because 13 minutes wasn’t enough time to get to a cooler place. 2021 me would have chuckled at the state of 2019 me (and, in all fairness, 2019 me would have been horrified to see my frizzing hair take up almost all of my 2021 Zoom rectangle).
COVID was certainly not the ideal way to learn how to quickly pivot and conduct classes even when we do not have access to a school building, but those skills are now honed.
We’ve come a long way.
Sunday, September 12, 2021
A supermarket I go to occasionally has a little maze of seasonal items right at the entrance. This is a tricky way to entice you to purchase these colorful things at the beginning of your shopping trip when your cart is empty and/or perhaps a way to mollify any small child you have brought with you with something small to play with on the journey. Yesterday, when I arrived, I saw a sea of orange and black: candy as far as the eye could see. There were also some decorative scarecrows and rust colored “hardy mums,” (which I consider a challenge, but more on my lack of gardening skills in another post). In the middle of the maze, I saw a single display of popsicle shaped window clings, Whiffle bats, sunscreen, some mismatched kickboards, and s’mores skewers-all 50-75% off. Summer was on sale-despite the fact that there is at least another week of it on the calendar. I sighed and realized that we had actually already been in school for almost four weeks and the time had come for the seasonal shift from merely briefing cases to…(please read each of those periods as dun, dun, dunnn respectively): OUTLINING.
Now that students have covered at least one full topic in each class, the time has come for them to take those case briefs and carefully written class notes and knit them into a nice cozy outline for December exams or, more urgently, upcoming midterms. This is also a good time to start because it intersects with students learning how we use and talk about cases in their legal writing courses. The magic formula of how we use cases in memos and briefs: FHR (facts, holding, reasoning) is how they can incorporate the components of their case briefs into their outlines. This is really a win-win because they are practicing using the FHR formula for outlining in legal writing and vice versa.
Now, I know you have probably discussed outlining at least twice already with students. We do it in a pre-orientation module, during orientation itself and have a class on it planned for the coming week. The number of times I say, “your outline should be rules based rather than case based” could be a drinking game at this point (not that I condone drinking while outlining as either effective or efficient).
How can we best communicate the message that it is currently prime outlining season to our students? I thought of the buzzer at the beginning of a swim meet heat, a ribbon cutting or even a giant banner, “START OUTLINING NOW!!!!” Maybe I should stand in front of the law school with a sandwich board that says, “Ask me about outlining-I’m not just an ASP professional, I’m a client!” Maybe we should perform, “Outlining the Musical,” with such tunes as:
525,000 pages more,
How do you make sense of a course in the law?”
“Oh, it is time to start ‘lining,
Time to take a little of the briefs we’re writing,
Time to take time,
Because it’s already fall--exams are in just no time at all….”
(sincere apologies to Rent and Pippin).
Yet, we all know that no matter how or how often we sound the alarm at this point in the semester, we will still be talking with students who are just getting started in November. And while we will silently groan and do an internal face palm, we will advise those students to move as quickly as they can to ideally finish their hastily organized (but nonetheless helpful) outlines when classes end.
I expect that the next time I will need to think about getting students to begin outlining, the supermarket entrance will be aglow in red, pink and white: candy as far as the eye can see -- except for the candy canes in the center on sale.
Monday, September 6, 2021
Labor Day is a holiday where we celebrate workers, an off-shoot of the industrial revolution and the labor unions that formed to help workers get fair treatment and to prevent child labor in the 19th Century. It started as a bit of a grassroots idea that caught on in some industrial centers, but it only became a Federal holiday in June, 1894 when Grover Cleveland signed it into law after hugely bungling his response to the Pullman Strike earlier that year. Before that, only Oregon, Colorado, New York and Massachusetts had their own versions of the holiday. We owe those labor unions a lot: weekends, paid holidays etc.
But what about the labor of academic support and bar prep folks? Sometimes it seems that our status is unclear. Are we labor or management? We tend to operate at the junction of faculty and staff. Sometimes we are faculty adjacent (as the Gen Z folks would put it). Sometimes, the people we work with have absolutely no idea what we do and seem pleasantly surprised that the school has people who “do that.” Bar prep folks work all summer and finish up just in time for a few scant days of rest before orientation kicks in. By this time, academic support folks have already planned and possibly conducted orientation classes. For people who do both, there is no break. Except, perhaps, for today.
So, in that spirit, I am calling for a celebration of Academic Support and Bar Prep folks, so:
Whereas, Academic Support/Bar Prep (“AS/BP”) folks are the first and last people students will know in law school, and;
AS/BP folks teach students to be successful by teaching (among other things) case briefing, outlining, study skills, exam skills, exam IRAC, legal writing templates like IRAC and CREAC, the MBE, MPTs, and MEEs, and;
AS/BP folks will track students down or be tracked down for all of the above and many other questions, issues, crises and panics, and;
AS/BP folks relish student success and suffer student failure at a deep, deep level, and;
AS/BP folks may not be faculty or tenured faculty, and may not have job security for more than a year at a time, and;
AS/BP folks are the people that will meet a student at a rest stop on the Mass. Pike (or insert your favorite Interstate here) at 2:45 a.m. to turn over a form that needed a non-electronic signature;
It is therefore ordered that on this and every following Labor Day we shall celebrate the labor of these individuals.
To my colleagues in this venture: I hope this is indeed a day of rest, and for those who will be celebrating later today and tomorrow: Shana Tovah.
Now we just need to fill up the tank, head out to the rest stop, and get this baby signed.
Monday, February 22, 2021
Building on the overwhelming success of the 2019 conference, the biannual Online & Hybrid Learning Conference returns in 2021. The COVID-19 crisis proved a powerful accelerant of the trends that were identified at the 2019 conference, and much has been learned in the process. This conference seeks to bring together research derived from the Emergency Remote Teaching phase (Mid-March to June, 2020) and the more measured and planned Academic Year 2020-21, and use the data to identify emerging best practices.
Distance education and other modern learning tools are at work in legal education and have now been applied across a broad sampling of schools. Outcomes-oriented design, integrated formative and summative assessment, online simulations, asynchronous learning, and other hallmarks of distance education have demonstrated efficacy in law teaching for 20 years (though a robust empirical research agenda has yet to develop). The interesting questions continue to center around how and where these modern learning tools and disciplines can be used to best advantage in the law school curriculum. Expertise now abounds among the academy, and this conference aims to collect and share it.
Suggested topics include (but are not limited to):
- Evidence-Based Pedagogy in Online or Hybrid Teaching Environments
- Pedagogy in Practice
- Instructional Design – What We’ve Learned by Working with ID
- Achieving Professional Identity Formation Outcomes via Online and Hybrid Teaching
- Using Assessment Data in Evolving Online and Hybrid Teaching Environments
- Making our Hybrid and Online learning Environments Inclusive and Supportive of all Students
- Which Parts Go Where: Design Thinking Applied to Hybrid Legal Education
- Micro-credentials and Stacking of Credentials - Developing Program Outcomes
- Permeability of the Bricks and Mortar Building; Beyond Traditional Thinking
- What Student Can Tell Us -- Now
If you’re interested in presenting, please send a one-to-two-page proposal to David Thomson, John C. Dwan Professor for Online Learning, University of Denver, 2255 E. Evans Avenue, Denver, Colorado 80208 (David.Thomson@du.edu) in Microsoft Word (or the equivalent). The deadline for proposals is Monday, March 22, 2021.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
A quick etymology lesson to take us all into the holiday:
The words "thank" and "think" are both ultimately derived from the same Latin root word, "tongere", which means "to know". It appears that when our ancient forebears wanted to express appreciation for another person's action or contribution, they did not originally convey gratitude overtly. Instead, they conveyed understanding -- "I know what you did." "I am thinking about what you have given me." -- and that expression of awareness was meaningful. A mindful comprehension of a deed or a relationship or even an object implied that you recognized its worth. Over time, "think" and "thank" developed separate spellings, pronunciations, and nuances. "Think" focuses on the mental processes that enable us to better "know" something. "Thank" focuses on the recognition of something's value to you.
The link is the ancestral human insight that when you know something well, you naturally develop an appreciation for it. So when you take time this Thanksgiving to acknowledge your family and your friends, your comforts and luxuries, the good fortune you've enjoyed and the bad fortune you've avoided, spare a few moments to consider your legal education. It might seem odd to suggest you should be grateful for knowing the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or how to write a legal brief or the different classifications of collateral in secured transactions, but if you stop to think about the value of these tools to you -- tools that most people cannot grasp, let alone wield -- don't you feel richer? And grateful, not just to the people who helped you acquire these tools (including, I hope, yourself), but also for the existence and quality and usefulness of them?
Cicero wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” He knew that gratitude is not just a soppy sense of obligation for having received a boon. It is a deep and honest perception of meaning and value -- the starting point from which wonder, possibility, humility, generosity, and creativity can spring. This week, once you've recovered a bit from the sometimes exhausting, sometimes tedious, sometimes terrifying grind that this semester has been, give yourself the gift of earnestly contemplating all that you have learned and all the good that will come of it.
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)
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.