Monday, June 13, 2022
My Law School course evaluations arrived without warning or fanfare in my inbox Saturday afternoon. The subject line, “spring 2022 course evaluations” popped up on my phone while I was sitting at the optometrist’s office picking out a new pair of glasses that would (ironically) make reading things on my phone easier. I had received my course evals for my undergraduate course a few weeks back and they had come, pre-read by the department chair, with her encouraging words that slowed my heartbeat a bit before diving in. But the law school ones just showed up as an attachment: unannounced, and to be honest, panic inducing. I wasn’t ready. We tell students when the grades will be released, so perhaps a similar warning may be warranted. As it was, I held my breath and clicked.
To be fair, I had thought the semester had gone well (there are always a few students who are unreadable, but they didn’t seem hostile), so I should not have started to sweat when this email appeared. But I was grateful for the air conditioning at the eyeglass shop, nonetheless. Although the literature is a bit all over the place, there seems to be a grudging consensus that, “… student evaluations as currently constructed are strewn with gender and racial biases. Instructor attire and weight has impacts on student evaluations, too. In short, there is a lot of noise in student evaluations that have nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with student biases.” I also think that the anonymous on-line iteration of course evaluations has made students a little more, um, blunt.
I have had evaluations that commented negatively on my snacking (I was pregnant, and it seemed better to eat my baggie of Cheerios rather than puke on students), my sense of humor, and my clothing choices (which honestly felt more like body shaming). It all feels a little middle school-ish to me because this is the documentation of what people might be saying behind your back. I also remember my favorite comment of all time, “Condragulations Professor Stillman, you are a winner.” Using a RuPaul’s Drag race reference made me feel really seen and I treasured it.
Are some evaluations biased or just plain mean? Probably. But discounting them entirely also negates the good ones (luckily far outnumbering the bad, I’m sure). I also need to read them to know if I am connecting with students. I want to be sure that I am respectful of opposing viewpoints (not my strong suit, really). If I don’t care what the students think (about some fundamental things, not my wardrobe per se), then I am not teaching for the right reasons. If the evaluations can legitimately assess my teaching, then this is information I need. If not, they give students power over non-tenured faculty that they do not deserve.
Evaluations are truly a double-edged sword. Make no mistake though, they may still be a weapon.
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Did you know that the collective noun for a group of magicians is an “illusion?” I believe that Academic Support Professionals are the magicians of law school academics, not because we engage in sorcery, but because we do so much hard work behind the scenes that it seems like things just happen.
Last week, I was lucky to be able to share the tricks of the trade (with the best community of colleagues ever!) at the 9th Annual AASE Conference at the lovely St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas and on Zoom! I already knew that ASP folks are the hardest-working, kindest, and most generous people. I was also aware that we are supreme innovators. In short, the brain power in the sessions at our conference could have provided enough energy for the entire state of Texas. And it would have been a clean, renewable source of power!
It was amazing to be in the company of people who truly understand the work—and the flip side of doing so much important work often without having job security or recognition. I know that I am extremely fortunate that my law school is supportive and offers long-term contracts with options for more security, as well as funding for scholarship and conferences. Yet, academic support and bar prep are often seen as—oh wait, actually, we are often not seen at all…
At a faculty meeting last week, after what I consider a big win that added a DEI course graduation requirement, we moved on to an agenda item that tangentially dealt with tenure policy. During this discussion, a tenured, doctrinal faculty member referred to people who had our (ASP and other non-tenure track) faculty status as “faculty with a small f.” As in, essentially, lower case “f” faculty should very clearly not be allowed to vote on tenure policy changes. Yes, I had a big F reaction to that. That was more than just rain on my parade, it was a full-on blizzard: cold and windy. Following my glorious moment in the sun, I was returned to my cubby crumpled and dirty like a kindergartener’s lunchbox after recess.
It is moments like this that make a national conference of all the law school thaumaturges even more imperative for the survival of our profession. We need to work together to collectively ask that the curtain be pulled back so that our doctrinal colleagues can see the work that is often going on out of their sight. There is no magic in what we do, just a lot of hard work that should be transparently visible.
A huge thank you to Afton Cavanaugh and the team at St. Mary’s for solving the huge logistical puzzle that this hybrid conference must have presented!! It was glorious and I am truly enriched by the endless magnificence of this community. I am already looking forward to next year’s 10th annual AASE conference at Santa Clara Law.
And finally, did you know that the collective noun for a group of doctrinal professors is known as a “pomposity?”
 Texas is huge! I knew it was big before, but I really had not understood it until I was there.
 A presumptively renewable contract-but not tenure.
 I was the leader on this effort, and I am crazy excited that it really happened!
 Silently-but I am originally from the Bronx. I’ll just leave it at that.
 Those who don’t already know-there are always going to be allies in every school!!
 May 23-25, 2023-save the dates!
Sunday, May 1, 2022
The AALS Section in Balance in Legal Education's General Programming Committee are excited to invite you to participate in the Section's second-annual six-part Summer Speed Idea-Sharing Presentation Series.
Each session will feature a collection of brief presentations highlighting different successful approaches to the implementation of the new ABA Standards for Legal Education, specifically Standards 303(b) (professional identity formation), 303(c) (cross-cultural competency, bias, and racism), and 508(b) (law student well-being resources). The speed presentations will be by Q&A and conversation.
The first session in the series will be Tuesday, May 3 @ 4 pm ET.
Natalie Netzel, Assistant Professor of Law and Co-Director of Clinics, Mitchell Hamline School of Law
Speakers & Presentations:
- Janice Craft, Director of Professional Identity Formation and Assistant Professor of Legal Practice
- Faculty Advising and Professional Identity Formation
- Larry Krieger, Clinical Professor and Co-Director of Clinical Externship Programs, Florida State University College of Law
- Creating a Vision of Possibilities for Joy in the Law
- Lynn Lemoine, Dean of Students, Mitchell Hamline School of Law
- Creating a Community of “Mutual Care”
- Jerry Organ, Bakken Professor of Law and Co-director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions, University of St. Thomas School of Law
- Client Counseling Scenario with Reflection
- Katrina Robinson, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Oregon School of Law
- Cross-Cultural Competency Exercise
The links for registration are in the google group.
Sunday, April 17, 2022
New York Law School will be hosting a virtual NY Area Academic Support Workshop on Friday, May 13, from 1:30 to 4:30 PM ET. You can RSVP by clicking HERE.
In the tradition of this workshop, you should expect the virtual gathering to be interactive and to provide opportunities for attendees to share ideas and questions for collective exploration.
This year’s workshop will revolve around a discussion of the following four articles:
- Ruggero J. Aldisert et al., Logic for Law Students: How to Think Like a Lawyer, 69 U. Pitt. L. Rev. 100 (2007).
- Russell A. McClain, Bottled at the Source: Recapturing the Essence of Academic Support as a Primary Tool of Education Equity for Minority Law Students, 18 U. Md. L.J. Race, Religion, Gender & Class 139 (2018).
- Victor D. Quintanilla & Sam Erman, Mindsets in Legal Education, 69 J. Legal Educ. 412 (2020).
- Christopher J. Ryan, Jr. & Derek T. Muller, The Secret Sauce: Examining Law Schools that Overperform on the Bar Exam, __ Fla. L. Rev. __ (forthcoming), available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=4021458.
If you’re interested in leading the discussion of one of these articles, please indicate as much in your RSVP form responses. No later than Thursday, April 21, the workshop’s organizers will notify those individuals who will be leading each discussion—the organizers expect to designate teams of three to five individuals for each article.
The workshop’s organizers suggest that each team work collaboratively to prepare the following in advance of the workshop:
- A brief description of the article under discussion, and what’s useful or novel about it;
- An explanation of how workshop attendees might use one or more points from the article in their own work, whether that’s teaching, meeting with students, collaborating with faculty, etc.
- An exercise, through which the team will lead the other workshop attendees, that helps everyone better understand one or more points from the article, whether or not they’ve also read it.
The goal is to not just talk about these articles, but to explore how the ideas affect us and the work we’re doing to promote our students’ academic and bar success.
Zoom meeting link to follow (by email) for those who RSVP by Monday, May 9.
Sunday, April 3, 2022
Remember Thanksgiving when you were a kid? The adults sat at one table with endless access to the stuffing and gravy while you sat with your cousins wondering why the potatoes never got to you. The kids’ table was a fixture, but when I was middle school age, I was certain I should be allowed to join the adults and enjoy the power of the serving spoon. Perhaps Academic Support has entered that part of our growth as well.
The 2023 Best Law Schools list was recently published by U.S. News & World Report. In determining these rankings, U.S. News looks at numerous factors in determining how and where schools are listed. According to U.S. News, they, “evaluate institutions on their successful placement of graduates, faculty resources, academic achievements of entering students, and opinions by law schools, lawyers and judges on overall program quality.” From time to time the importance and proportional value of the various criteria are tweaked. This year, for example, the value of Bar Passage was increased, with U.S. News noting that, “[a] key change for the 2023 edition involved U.S. News more comprehensively assessing the bar passage rates of first-time test takers. “ The actual overall value this year was 0.03 as opposed to previous years when it was 0.0225. This doesn’t seem like a big change in the scheme of math but consider that bar passage is valued more than the acceptance rate, student-faculty ratio, and debt at graduation.
The U.S. News rankings also include programs within law schools in the areas of (among others): Business/Corporate Law, Clinical training, Constitutional Law, Contracts/Commercial law, Dispute Resolution, Legal Writing, and Trial Advocacy. Academic support is neither considered in the overall rankings nor ranked independently as a program.
Just to be clear, I don’t like rankings: I even volunteered to be on a subcommittee that is examining our internal student ranking system. Yet, I understand that without a very complicated mathematical algorithm based on a long list of both objective and subjective criteria, law schools cannot brag, fundraise, um, see how we are doing overall. I get it: law schools need a way to be assessed.
But here’s the rub: I am a parent of a child with learning issues who had an IEP all the way from kindergarten through to college. They were “othered” by going to the learning center, they were sometimes bullied, and they came home feeling that they were intellectually inadequate often especially in the middle school years. I spent a lot of time explaining to her how school only measured certain types of intelligence while overlooking many others. Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences was something we could both cite over the years to remind ourselves that school assessment isn’t the sum of who we are.
In the same way that schools tend to only assess a very limited number of student intelligences, I would argue that ignoring Academic Support Programs in ranking law schools similarly overlooks something important. Even worse, by assessing the consequential outcomes of good Academic Support programs--like employment rates and most obviously first-time bar passage rates--without looking at ASP itself means that ASP professionals are truly the unseen factotum in law schools. We are taxed without being represented because all the things ASP touches are considered or ranked, but ASP programs are not considered in any part of the formula.
There are, of course, some major downsides to having ASP ranked or considered in ranking without more job security (like tenure!). I wouldn’t want to outsource my yearly work evaluations to U.S. News especially if I had a contract that was up for renewal frequently (or worse yet, not have one at all). Nor would I want to be assessed based on criteria that I cannot control, like admissions decisions. Like all coins, this one has two sides.
And yet, wouldn’t it be nice to sit at the adult table sometimes?
 Where she is a junior who is regularly on the Dean’s List (my bragging).
 This is a real word. And so much fun! https://www.dictionary.com/browse/factotum
 Since my law school is located in Boston, this is a required complaint.
Sunday, March 13, 2022
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.
Friday, February 4, 2022
The 9th AASE National Conference will be held both in person and virtually May 24-26, 2022. The 9th Annual Conference is hosted by St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas.
The theme for the May 2022 Conference is "Making Waves, Breaking Barriers: Building Better Lawyers." We welcome proposals on the usual topics – Diversity, Mental Health, Bar Prep, Academic Success, Online Learning (*usual topic as of last year*), etc. – in alignment with the theme.
We will be accepting proposals until February 14th. Submit your conference proposals HERE.
Monday, January 24, 2022
Yesterday, I came across a tweet from someone who must be either law school legal writing or clinical faculty where they pointed out that a school’s faculty might very well have an atmosphere of “cordial hypocrisy” depending on how doctrinal (and I assume tenured) faculty treat their legal writing or clinical colleagues. Various sources define “cordial hypocrisy” as having a pleasant demeanor towards each other in a way that seems like trust, but actually having an underlying distrust. It is a no-no in the world of leadership and team building.
As someone in ASP, I see this cordial hypocrisy every day. We can be trusted to get a lot of work done, ensure our students’ success, and create curriculum for numerous classes, but we are not always (institutions obviously vary) able to, for example, teach some doctrinal courses, enjoy tenure, or even be considered faculty in some cases. I find that doctrinal professors are (usually pleasantly) surprised about what we do (or can do) despite the billboards and parades we organize to tell them.
Last week, I was in a committee meeting where I advocated strongly for the inclusion of ASP (and career development) in a new, potentially required, course devoted to student wellness. I really believe that these topics go hand in hand. After I made my point (concisely, I promise) that ASP assistance is never required until things have gone terribly awry (which is why embedding ASP into a required class would be a great thing), the facilitator of the meeting asked if anyone else had anything to add who hadn’t yet spoken. I was dismissed. My point was deemed not even worthy of comment or response-I mean even Ariana Grande said, “thank u” before she went right on to “next.” Was this brush-off permitted because I was merely ASP faculty and had no leverage in that moment to rectify it? I should note that this is not a common occurrence at my school, I was honestly surprised. You could see me mouthing, “wow, really?” because I had politely muted myself after I spoke. I guess any “cordial hypocrisy” I had enjoyed up until then ended when I didn’t agree completely with the facilitator. It was a blatant and public kiss-off and it stung. A lot.
I deserved better. We in ASP deserve better. We deserve respect, job security, and recognition for all we do. We deserve the time it takes for other members of the faculty to learn about what we do. We deserve to be as genuinely trusted by our colleagues as we are by our students.
And ASP surely deserved to be listed in that tweet.
 Term attributed to Charles Feltman from: https://insightcoaching.com/trust_book/
 I did tweet a reply that said we should not overlook ASP faculty, and the poster agreed.
Monday, January 17, 2022
On this (very rainy in Massachusetts) Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we as law educators need to remember that every fight for civil rights was only a fight because there were lawyers on the side of denying civil rights. The people advocating for denying rights were trained lawyers who had been to law school (or the equivalent in some states) and were admitted to the bar to practice law. They had been taught basically the same subjects we teach students today. As we educate this new generation of lawyers, we need to be sure to remind them that lawyers, above all, should seek justice (which is not the same as law) and truth (again, not the same as law). Law is just a tool we can use to walk these paths.
Martin Luther King noted that, “[t]he function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Nelson Mandela added that, “[e]ducation is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The same way a construction worker, a surgeon, or a Jedi knight would be carefully trained to use equipment safely, we need to make sure our students know the consequences of unsafely operating the tools we are giving them -- as much as they know how to use the power.
As we start our new semester tomorrow, and while I am still reeling about the events in a Texas Synagogue this weekend, I renew my vow to engage in true education. Lawyers have an almost sacred relationship with truth and justice that should not be dismissed or forsaken. We need to teach our children well that, “[i]njustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." (Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963).
Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Boston Common in 1965-also in the rain.
Friday, December 17, 2021
The Second Annual South Florida Regional ASP Conference is scheduled for Friday, January 28, 2022, at Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad College of Law, it will be held virtually. Please save the date. Conference registration will be sent out in early January.
They are calling for proposals for the program, which will have two tracks.
Track One: The focus is on “Innovative Academic Support Programs for 1L Students.” What unique programs have you created to help 1L students begin their law school career? Your program could involve a pre-Orientation course, the fall semester, the winter/spring semester, a collaborative program you developed with faculty colleagues, or a special program that you have created to focus on developing specific skills for 1Ls. The idea is to showcase your innovations that help 1L students!
Track Two: “Effective Use of Technology Tools for Academic Support.” This can include technology aimed at all law students (1L, 2L, 3L and part-time) and/or bar takers, and could include, for instance, the following categories:
- Show and Tell: “How to” use technology such as apps, learning management systems, or other tech tools.
- Content: Course assignments, assessments, videos, and similar tools that use technology to deliver content to your students.
- Bar Exam Prep: Technological Apps or Programs you provide to supplement the commercial bar courses.
- Brainstorming Session: If you want to host a brainstorming session that is technology-focused and interactive, you can put that program together for the conference.
Proposals: Please send your proposals to: Elena Rose Minicucci at: firstname.lastname@example.org on or before Friday, January 7, 2022.
If you have any questions, feel free to contact me, or Assistant Dean Susan Landrum at email@example.com
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!
Saturday, October 30, 2021
Request for Proposals: Presentations and Scholarly “Works in Progress”
New England Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (NECASP) Conference December 10, 2021, 10am-3pm ET via Zoom
Hosted by the University of Massachusetts School of Law – Dartmouth (Zoom link to follow)
NECASP will be holding its annual one-day conference online this December. Our topic this year
is “Fostering and Maintaining Inclusive Communities.” We will gather online to share and explore ideas with ASP colleagues on issues surrounding the expansive role of ASP in promoting diversity and inclusion that includes, inter alia, retention efforts, designing embedded programming that creates inclusive communities, programming for various socio-economic backgrounds, bar support for diverse student bodies, and fostering diversity in different regional locations. 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 November 1, 2021, via email to Amy Vaughan-Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Proposals may be submitted as a Word document or as a PDF
Proposals must include the following:
Name and title of presenter
Address, email address, and telephone number for presenter
If a scholarly work in progress, an abstract no more than 500 words
Media or computer presentation needs
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!
Monday, October 25, 2021
I was a social psychology major as an undergraduate and I remember studying the psychological theory of gestalt, which is defined as “something that is made of many parts and yet is somehow more than or different from the combination of its parts.” Basically, if I had known about outlining back in those days, I would have written the rule as: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As bar exam results trickle in from parts near and far, I think it worth revisiting this idea with both students and colleagues.
To students who have passed the bar, I would say, “Wonderful! Remember, there is more to you than this one credential. As an attorney, you will bring your whole self to the table and that will always be more than the sum of your parts.” To the students who have not passed the bar this time, I might say the same thing. I do not want to be dismissive of how meaningful this one credential is for them after a three (or four) year journey that has already been fraught with confidence crushing moments. I don’t want to toss out, “oh well, maybe next time” either because right now, I think these students may see “next time” as a craggy mountain to climb without any safety gear in truly inclement weather. I also know that social media means that students will know about their classmates’ successes almost immediately and silence will be interpreted as failure. Literally. There really is no good answer other than “I’m sorry. How are you doing?”
I also worry about my colleagues who have poured every ounce of what they have into students to help them pass the bar (regardless of whether the students were willing vessels or not) and now have someone else’s success or failure be determinative of their worth. Is this how we value professionals?
When a football team loses a game, media outlets tend to blame everyone on the team-not just the quarterback or coaches, but the team as a whole: offense, defense, big guys, little guys. Even when one player makes an egregious error, the sportscasters tend to find additional reasons for the loss-even the weather or altitude can be roped in. When the team wins, the press is similarly wide in praise, as seen here by today’s Boston Globe after the Patriots won a home game yesterday, “[e]veryone went home happy Sunday. Mac Jones got his first 300-yard game and hit a 46-yard deep ball. Damien Harris rushed for 100 yards. Eleven players made a catch, and five different players got in the end zone. The defense created two interceptions…Smiles all around.” And remember, these guys probably each get paid more than all the ASP folks at a regional conference combined.
So, when bar results are good, ASP folks are part of the overall winning team with smiles all around. But when bar results are not what we are hoping for, why do our ASP colleagues not get the same level of camaraderie? Why aren’t we always a team at that moment also? ASP folks, and particularly those who do bar exclusively, need to be given the grace of gestalt. So I say to you, regardless of the bar results at your school, you are more than the sum of your parts. As an ASP professional, you bring your whole self to the table and you are mighty.
Judging someone’s competency or job security based on the performance of other people at a task that is not entirely knowable is something that is far above our pay grade.
Saturday, October 23, 2021
Southwestern Law School is pleased to host the 2021 West Coast Consortium of Academic Support Professionals (WCCASP) Conference on Friday, Nov. 5th, 2021 from 10:00am-5:00pm PST. The conference will be held virtually, via Zoom. Conference registration is NOW OPEN! You can register for this free conference here. WCCASP 2021 Registration
Now in its 10th year, the WCCASP Conference provides a thought-provoking and stimulating forum for academic and bar support educators of all experience levels to share practical ideas and best practices that advance teaching and learning. This year’s theme is “Success in the New Norm: Academic and Bar Support Edition,” and we have assembled thoughtful and targeted presentations from educators throughout the country to share their expertise in bar prep and academic support in our new environment.
Sunday, September 26, 2021
A few years ago, our new Dean brought the leaders of each department together for a retreat to prepare for the upcoming year. The Dean planned the retreat with activities to both get to know each other and create goals for the upcoming year. The retreat was a resounding success. One of the biggest successes from the event was the connections we made with each other. Every business deals with interpersonal dynamics and requests for the limited resources. I feel like coming together for a couple days helped the leaders of our school understand each other more and helped us work with each other for common goals even though resources are limited.
I believe the same type of connections could help ASPers in 2 ways. We could use similar activities to connect with faculty. The divide between tenure-track and contract faculty/staff seems pervasive throughout law school discourse. ASPers complain at every turn that doctrinal faculty aren't using the most up-to-date teaching methods. Doctrinal faculty think ASPers just hand-hold a new generation of entitled students. ASPers respond that some hand-holding is necessary when jobs are tied to bar results. The non-stop complaining creates a layer of animosity throughout law schools.
The animosity isn't inevitable. We can break the cycle. Other than a few outliers, I believe most faculty (doctrinal and ASP) and staff want students to succeed. Schools probably can't hold large gatherings safely, but we can all have a small meal or zoom meeting with another member of the law school. The meal or meeting doesn't need to be about work. Connections related to interests and family can begin a conversation that leads to discussing helping students inside and outside the classroom. The discussions can lay the interpersonal foundation to then create dialogue on how to help students.
We can use the same strategy with students. In smaller classes, I begin every semester with an introduction and one unique thing about myself. Students introduce themselves and give their unique thing. I try to include anecdotes and stories in all my lectures that relate to my interests. Someone after each of my classes will ask about my kids sports or the recent football games. I use the information to ask students questions when in the hallway. When students know we care about them as people, they are more likely to follow our studying advice. We can go to student organization meetings, take class time, or attend campus events to make connections. The connections may be as valuable as one of the lessons in class.
Working with faculty and students requires navigating many interpersonal and campus dynamic issues. We can't solve all of them with a meal, but genuine conversation can go a long way to helping everyone achieve success.
Saturday, September 25, 2021
Sunday, September 5, 2021
Drawing on the spirit of the late Congressman John Lewis and the origins of academic support, the 2021 Association of Academic Support Educators Bi-Annual Diversity Conference will bring together colleagues committed to the intersection of diversity, equity, inclusion, status, legal education, and academic support. In this collegial and collaborative environment, colleagues will have an opportunity to meet, reconnect, and share ideas surrounding pedagogy, scholarship, and professional growth.
The mission of the AASE Diversity Committee is to work collaboratively to advocate for and support diversity in law schools, to encourage academic support programs to engage in practices that promote and support diversity, to promote the recruitment and retention of diverse academic support professionals, and to provide resources that enhance knowledge and encourage understanding of diversity. The Committee honors ASP's traditional role in supporting racial diversity in law schools and endorses a broad definition of diversity, that includes but is not limited to race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, religion, national origin, ethnicity, physical or mental disability, and socio-economic status.
The diversity committee welcomes proposals on diversity and inclusion related topics that are relevant to legal education and academic support. The committee seeks proposals that describe the presentation and its goals in detail. Our assumption is that a clear and detailed proposal today will lead to a stronger presentation at the conference.
Proposals should be submitted via e-mail to Haley Meade, host chair, at email@example.com. The diversity committee will only evaluate proposals submitted through this method.
Sunday, August 29, 2021
Sunday, August 22, 2021
It was fall 1980-something and I had just purchased an album that I was certain was going to change my world (spoiler: it did a little): Zenyatta Mondatta by The Police. I felt very hip catching the reference to Lolita in Don’t Stand So Close to Me and hummed Do do do do all around J.H.S. 141 where, sadly, none of my teachers reminded me of Sting. But there was another catchy little song on that album that was an earworm for us: Canary in a Coal Mine. In the song, someone is accused of being so overly cautious that they are not really living their life in a meaningful way. It was a song in favor of YOLO before YOLO was a thing. But if you were a canary living in a coal mine, you were being the opposite of cautious-you were essentially putting yourself on the line to be a warning to others coming after you.
In reality, until 1986, canaries were used to detect the presence of carbon monoxide (or other toxic gasses) in coal mines. The idea was that because canaries were sensitive to airborne toxins, if the canary got sick or died then the miners knew to vacate immediately. While the carbon monoxide detector in my house isn’t nearly as cute, it also doesn’t need to die to let me know if trouble is brewing.
I think I know how the (real, not song) canary felt. Last week, I taught in-person (everyone masked) in a room with about 100 people for hours of orientation. I also oriented a smaller group of students in an equally full and smaller room for a bunch more hours between those sessions. Each room was at its intended pre-pandemic capacity. The second room had been the COVID testing site in our building last year. Everyone in both rooms had been cleared as vaccinated or having a good reason why they were not. And yet, I was, and am, frightened that I may have been the canary in the coal mine.
As Academic Support professionals, at least at my school, we are the first line of academic related teaching most students encounter. We teach the court system, case briefing, reading, IRAC and a host of other things before classes begin and even do an early assessment to see students’ baselines when they come to law school. Doctrinal professors and legal writing faculty do not usually teach during orientation. So, if anything was going to go wrong in the midst of this new surge in COVID, ASP faculty would be the harbingers of that bad news.
Here’s the rub though, ASP faculty tend to be non-tenured, non-tenure track and at best, may have presumptively renewable contracts. We are more often women. We have no power to turn down this orientation assignment-we do not volunteer as tribute, we are scheduled to be there. Don’t get me wrong: I do not, for even a minute, think that my institution was intentionally using us as canaries and perhaps the power dynamic is more nuanced than I see it, but I just felt we had no real power to refuse without some consequences to our job security. Everyone else standing in front of the crowd had a different status than we did. They were not asking academic support faculty to do anything they weren’t willing to do themselves. They are compensated accordingly.
In all honestly, I’m not even sure I would have refused given the option, because it was exhilarating teaching in person to a big crowd again. Even masked, the energy of live teaching is irrefutable. It was liberating to use my whole body to teach. Truly. Yet, today, six days later, I am wishing that the testing room was still open, not because I don’t feel well, but because I would like to be officially told that I am well. I wish (gratuitous Police reference) people had not stood so close to me.
The fact that canaries were used in coal mines until 1986 was surprising to me-I was almost certain that the practice had died out at least a hundred years before that, but I am pretty sure that if mining companies had caged miners and used them as a warning system for toxic gasses back in the day, mine safety would have been far better, far sooner.
 New York City elementary and middle schools have numbers, not names. Yes, my kids think that is hilarious.
 And our amazing Deans and Associate Deans.