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February 11, 2008

The challenges and revelations of intense debate concerning something that really matters

With their permission, I am posting parts of two e-mails I received from two students this weekend about the intense debate raging over our final in this class.  Though both students indicated a willingness for me to identify them by name on this blog, I am eager to validate/share their comments while keeping them anonymous in this posting of their comment:

From an e-mail received from one student early Sunday afternoon:

I am writing you today because I just wanted to express my views on what is currently transpiring on the Legislation blog and in our class sessions. I am always supportive of innovation and interesting ideas in the classroom and I appreciate the approach you have taken on teaching Legislation.  For once, the notoriously "boring" class at law school is definitely not boring.  I believe of the classes we are taking this semester, yours has given us the most real world application of the material and I really have enjoyed the provocative ideas that we have presented on the blog and in class.  That being said, I feel that while controversial ideas and the juxtaposition of competition and debate are at the center of the legislative process, certain elements of the academic process are being severely abused within our class....

With respect to the final exam, the tone that has been taken on the blog in response to the propositions for evaluation is a choose-your-side tug-of-war where the people with the most biting comments and harshest tenacity are seemingly victorious.  The worst parts of law school are being exploited and taking control of the discussion: cliques, gunners, and arrogance. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I don't want to offer my comment on the blog because I don't want to get on some group's wrong side. I don't want to be cut down with maliciousness because honestly, I didn't pay for this.  I realize the dark side of politics, law and the world in general are being well exemplified by this discussion, but I feel it is just taking away from my educational experience. I read the posts and comments and I dread entering the classroom, I truly question what I have signed up for.

I wanted to write you because I believe things can improve if you take a more active role in moderating these discussions and perhaps my experience can improve.  I hope you can help me to regain my confidence in law school.

From another e-mail received from a different student Sunday night:

I am sure you foresaw a lot of what's happening on the blog in terms of the final exam debate.  I think it's fascinating.  And as I was just discussing the exam debate with someone (not in law school), it made me think of a Dispatch article that appeared in today's Insight action (it originally appeared in the Washington Post.)  The article describes a Yale law prof whose research shows that people often reduce complex policy matters to simple questions of personal value....

[It is interesting] to see how some people are thinking about the exam in terms of what they'd do best on; how some are reluctant to have something different or unexpected; how some are looking at the proposals as a way to take the power back, in a sense, etc.  Anyway! Oh, ...some of this is coming down along Section party lines.

I certainly did not foresee that the debate over the final would become so intense so quickly, and I am saddened that it has led one student (and many more?) to "dread entering the classroom."  That said, I now view the final debate to have quickly become an extraordinary learning experience concerning not only the political and legislative process, but also concerning how 1L students process law school during the Spring semester.  I have been intrigued to discover, for example, that posts about the exam format have received so many more thoughtful comments than any posts promising Berman bonus points for thoughtful comments.  Hmmmm....

in any event, as I have noted in a prior post, I plan to provide leadership on the final debate very soon, and I am hopeful to do my little part to "regain [everyone's] confidence in law school."  That Said, as perhaps some of you may realize, I am not sure I want law students to have undue confidence in some of the long-standing but questionable traditions of law school.  Hmmmm....

February 11, 2008 in Debating the final | Permalink


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I think that there's a difference in the idea of maybe getting some undefined amount of bonus points that might count for some small portion of up to 25% of our grade is versus determining the entire grading process of the class. Things that make us go hmmm are interesting when we have more time to think about them, but it's hard to do that when there are decisions that could so significantly impact our final grade being up for grabs so to speak. If we're really supposed to meet in person on Friday to fight this battle the lines are drawn, and I don't see this being positive for anyone. Senators are free to hold grudges and rivalries, but 1L's really don't need to be put in a position to do this.

Posted by: Amanda McNeil | Feb 12, 2008 5:39:40 PM

I wasn't aware that the debate was so contentious. If it truly is, it is probably a good idea to meet at a bar for Friday's class session and include copious amounts of alcohol to the situation.

Posted by: Nathan | Feb 12, 2008 6:30:52 PM

I think the e-mails show this pretty clearly, but hopefully I'm wrong about that and everyone is just taking this as an experiment that we're part of. Just curious though, what bar is going to have the facilities for 70 of us to sit around and have a nice, unheated chat about the future of legislation class?

Posted by: Amanda McNeil | Feb 12, 2008 6:54:14 PM

At two in the afternoon? Virtually any bar. Well, actually that's a bit of a lie. Most bars aren't going to open until 4pm at the earliest. But they'll still be dead, Friday or not.

Posted by: Don | Feb 13, 2008 10:59:45 AM

So are there suggestions for this meeting on Friday, I don't know the bars around campus at all, but I assume it would be easiest for everyone if we met someplace very close to school.

Posted by: Amanda McNeil | Feb 13, 2008 4:33:12 PM

Anychance we could just meet in 344 during lunch and try to finish it during lunch?

Posted by: Tim Nittle | Feb 13, 2008 10:02:29 PM

Anychance we could just meet in 344 during lunch and try to finish it during lunch?

Posted by: red bottom shoes | Jul 25, 2011 10:41:25 PM

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