Two former students of Thurgood Marshall School of Law are suing
the school for giving them poor marks.
Walter Olson of overlawyered.com
offered this comment: “Doesn’t it sort of prove you deserve the bad law-school
grade when you bring a frivolous lawsuit over it?”
I started UCLA in 1977, having won admission with only a 3.1 GPA (but with decent SAT scores). When I got there my brother and I moved into Sproul Hall dormitory just above the track stadium. I came to campus thinking, “Yeah! Party time.”
There was certainly a fair number of loud ones every Friday and Saturday throughout De Neve Drive and along Fraternity Row, plus a few mid-week open doors with beer flowing inside. But something else, too. About half the guys I met spent three or four hours a night in University Research Library (URL—we called it “Urinal”). They rose around 8 or 9am, grabbed a quick breakfast in the dorm cafeteria, speeded down the hill to classes before and after lunch (it was the quarter system, with classes meeting four hours a week), then spent the late afternoon shooting hoops or throwing a football, then dinner at 6, then a trip to the library by 7. If you arrived after 8, you couldn’t find a seat. Each night, sitting in a carrel, I heard the tardy ones sidle by searching for spots and wandering floor to floor.
The other half of the guys I met had other plans. They weren’t much interested in college, or they dealt drugs, or they played sports all day, or they were just plain screw-ups. The diligent ones recognized them as such, and even though we enjoyed them there was no cachet of “cool” given to them. (Freshman and sophomore year I drifted perilously toward the latter group now and then.) Those who studied hard didn’t consider themselves superior, nor did they fit the nerd mold. They played high school football and drank Henry Weinhard. But they studied hard without groaning or crowing, taking their 20 or so hours a week as customary.
Continue reading “Back-When-I-Was-in-School” Remembrance.
In May the Illinois State’s Attorney’s office issued a stunningly unusual subpoena. It asked for the student grades, grading criteria, class syllabi, expense reports, and even e-mail messages of undergraduates taking an investigative reporting class at Northwestern University. The class tied into the Medill Innocence Project, a program administered by Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism that gathers evidence aimed at overturning wrongful criminal convictions. Over the following months the journalistic world has seethed with outrage at what seemed to be a best a fishing expedition and at worst an act of retaliation against the students for coming up with evidence that could free 49-year-old Anthony McKinney, convicted by a jury of first-degree murder and serving a life sentence without parole for shooting a security guard named Donald Lundahl in the face during the course of a 1978 armed robbery in Harvey, Ill., a Chicago suburb. An Oct. 31 editorial in the Washington Post stated: “These subpoenas — and the stunning overreach they represent — should be quashed.”
Perhaps they should—although on Nov. 10 the state’s attorney’s office filed a 54-page document, complete with signed investigative reports, in which the office alleged that the Northwestern students gave money to two of the witnesses they interviewed (for a reporter to pay sources is regarded as highly unprofessional), including $40 to buy crack cocaine to a man named Tony Drakes in exchange for a videotaped confession to the murder in 2004. The reports also stated that students had flirted with several male witnesses (including Drakes) who then gladly told them what they wanted to hear; and that the Medill school refused to give prosecutors access to much of the students’ notes and tapes, including all records pertaining to student interviews with a second man, Robert Magruder. According to Drakes’s videotape, Magruder was supposed to have fired the fatal shot at Lundahl. (Both Drakes and Magruder denied involvement with the murder in more recent interviews with state’s attorney’s investigators.) The state’s attorneys argue that the students enrolled in the course weren’t functioning as reporters gathering news but as investigators for their professor, David Protess, who also happens to run the Medill Innocence Project. The tapes and notes they produced didn’t result in the students’ writing any news stories, even for Northwestern’s student paper, the state’s attorneys say, but rather, went straight to lawyers affiliated with Northwestern’s law school who are representing McKinney in his quest for a reopening of his conviction.
Furthermore, accompanying the students during the 2004 interview with Drakes (and apparently in charge of the interview, according to the state’s attorney’s office) was a private detective, Sergio Serritella, whose LinkedIn page describes him as the CEO of Tactical Solutions Group, a private-investigations firm in Chicago specializing in criminal cases. (The Medill school says that Serritella, who works on and off for the institution, was along only to provide security, as Drakes had served time for a different murder.) In short, says the state’s attorney’s office, the students, even though they were enrolled in a journalism class, weren’t entitled to invoke the protection of Illinois’s shield law, which allows reporters to keep their notes and sources confidential.
Continue reading Should J-Students Work For The Defense?
If you think that student life at an ultra-elite law school is a page ripped out of The Paper Chase—one long, frighteningly competitive grade grub under the icy eye of a clone of the movie’s fictional Prof. Charles W. Kingsford Jr.—think again. At Yale Law School, grades have been strictly optional since the 1960s (students can opt to take classes for credit/no credit), and if you do choose to have your professor award you a symbol of your academic achievement or lack thereof, it’s neither a letter grade (A, A-, B+, etc.) nor a number based on a scale of 1-1-100 that can be easily translated into a letter. Instead, thanks to a student rebellion during the Age of Aquarius, there are only four grades at Yale: H for honors (for the top 30 percent or so of the class), P for pass (for almost everyone else), LP for low pass (for those who spent more time sampling the beer selection at Rudy’s than the readings in their casebook), and F for failure (for those who never made it out of Rudy’s to class).
And now, both Stanford Law School, in an announcement in May, and Harvard Law School, in an announcement on Sept. 28, have decided to follow Yale’s lead—with a few minor modifications–in vague and minimalist grading. Never again at Harvard will a Kingsford fix his withering gaze upon a hapless student who gave a less-than-brilliant performance and intone, “Here is a dime. Take it, call your mother, and tell her there is serious doubt about you ever becoming a lawyer.”
The idea at Yale Law School seems to be of the same general justification that has underlain rampant grade inflation over the past few decades for undergraduates at the Ivies and other elite colleges. If you’re smart enough—or maybe even just interesting enough—to get into our top school, why should you have to worry about grades? You’re already brilliant! Fine-tuned, competition-focused law school grades, the thinking goes, are for second-echelon institutions whose students have to demonstrate on paper that they’re as qualified as Yalies to compete for high-paying jobs at prestigious law firms or coveted clerkships on the U.S. Supreme Court and elsewhere. As the Yale Law School admissions office states on its website: “People do not get into Yale solely because of their GPA and LSAT combination. People get into Yale because of who they are and what they have done. The students bring such diverse backgrounds to the law school that one learns from them and benefits from their existence just as much as one does from the faculty.” Yale proudly declares that not only are grades optional, but it has eliminated class rankings.
Continue reading Accepted To Harvard Law? You Don’t Need Grades.
The Harvard Crimson today reports that, beginning in 2009, Harvard Law School students will no longer receive letter grades, and will instead be evaluated simply on a modified pass-fail system, consisting of “Honors” “Pass” “Low Pass” and “Fail”. Yale and Stanford have similar grading systems.
An obvious point of objection was raised:
According to Richard H. Fallon, a professor at the Law School, the faculty raised concerns over the extent to which the new system will blur academic distinctions among students. Since Harvard is more than twice the size of both Stanford and Yale, many more students will graduate with similar-looking academic records.
More interestingly, objection to the change has come from surprising grounds – those of women and minorities:
But first-year law student Elizabeth P. Benton said that some students felt the simplified grading system could disadvantage women or minorities in the job hunt—both those applying for jobs at law firms and those who are seeking clerkships for judges—since objective comparisons of job candidates will become more difficult.
Well of course. It’s always seemed that the most strident defenders of strict metrics of evaluation, from the SAT to letter grades at Harvard Law School, should be talented women, minorities, the poor, or any others who, rightly or wrongly, feel themselves disadvantaged by “systems of privilege” at schools. If you enter Harvard Law School with the assumption that it’s designed to reward affluent white males, wouldn’t the worst possible outcome be the dismantling of means by which you could demonstrably prove your academic abilities?
If you like “whodunit” books and “perfect crime” plots, I heartily recommend the Tim Groseclose experience of trying to obtain the data to evaluate the “holistic” admissions process of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Groseclose is the political science professor who blew the whistle on what he considers to be UCLA’s violation of the California Constitution with regard to the use of race preferences in admissions to his campus.
As a regent of the University of California (UC), I supported the use of what we called “comprehensive review” as an alternative to over-reliance on standardized test scores. Yet, at the time of approval, I and others expressed concern that allowing UC campuses the discretion to view applicants for admission “comprehensively” opened the door to the use of subjective factors that could not be detected or proven; however, it was my belief then that UC administrators would resist the temptation to cheat and violate the California Constitution and that they would administer this new process with integrity. In the case of UCLA, I am now strongly convinced that my faith in the institution’s honor has been misplaced.
Why the perfect crime?
Originally, UCLA reviewed applications for admission by determining the academic competitiveness of those in the applicant pool solely on the basis of academic performance. Nonacademic factors were reviewed separately. This approach was a fail-safe method of ensuring that the constitutionally prohibited factors of race, color, ethnicity, sex and national origin would not be factors in admissions decisions.
Continue reading Fuzzy Admissions At UCLA