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Saturday, July 18, 2020

Law schools still in denial

I predicted several weeks ago that law schools committed to some jury-rigged hybrid schemes would retreat from that as the summer continued, and as more evidence accumulated both of the folly of pursuing in-residence learning and also as faculty became more adept at remote/online learning modalities.  It appears I was wrong.  Through some combination of hubris and predicament (and maybe the lack of autonomy in bureaucratic university structures), most law schools are plowing ahead with these ventures.  A big virtual conference on "law school logistics in the time of COVID-19" indicated that law schools are determined to try these schemes; it also revealed enormous unease with these choices.

The unease is warranted.  This strategy continues to be folly.  And the ambient denial is both remarkable and dispiriting.  Our students and faculty deserve better.

Scott Galloway has a big picture essay that lays at the dilemma at the university-wide level.

And law professor Tim Duane, an expert in environmental science, inter alia, gives some grim information about this hybrid world in our law schools.


Posted by Dan Rodriguez on July 18, 2020 at 03:26 PM in Daniel Rodriguez | Permalink


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Posted by: [email protected] | Jul 23, 2020 6:18:08 AM

There's another reason law schools are unlikely to revert to remote-only instruction at the beginning of fall--they've already wasted most of the summer that could (should) have been dedicated to improving the online educational experience.

It's one month until many law schools are scheduled to start the Fall semester. Maybe that's enough time for class prep, but it's not close to enough time to implement major pedagogical and format changes. Given that the huge majority of law profs have never taught an online law class, we can presume they know just about nothing about effective online pedagogy. If they'd dedicated the entire summer to working on that, they might now know...something. They didn't, so they will be incapable of creating effective, challenging, asynchronous offerings.

That means any remote instruction will default back to socratic/lecture sessions via Zoom--just like in Spring. Student surveys seem to suggest that students didn't like that format. They recognized the challenges posed by the pandemic and made allowances for them, but they didn't much like the product. So, no law school wants to admit that it plans to do the same thing this Fall. But, they do...

Law school administrators know what's coming. We all know what's coming. We will be back to quarantine practices and full-on social distancing at some point this fall. Many of us expect it will be sooner rather than later. But, if law schools hold off on acknowledging this, they hope they'll get another pass from their consumers. It's disingenuous, but I suspect every law school planning for in-person instruction will be saying the same thing in a matter of months. "We're sorry our product sucks, but it's not our fault! The government is forcing us do Zoom! (Thank God...)."

Posted by: another anon | Jul 20, 2020 1:30:55 PM

However strong the pressures might be for universities to plan on teaching many if not most classes this fall on line - e.g., to provide the full “college experience,” the need for revenue from dorm rentals, etc. - they do not seem to apply with much if any force to law schools.

So law professors at exceptionally high risk of death or disability because of the coronavirus might want to use the following arguments to drive home these differences to administrators so they will permit their law schools to independently make their own decisions as to which if any classes (e.g., law school clinics) must be taught in a classroom.


A one-size-fits-all-with-no-exceptions fall plan for all the different schools at a university is not necessarily required, nor even reasonably desirable.

That's because considerations which might apply regarding undergraduate classes are almost certainly very different from those at the Law School, and perhaps elsewhere at the university as well.

For example, law students (especially those scheduled to return from last term) are highly motivated to return so that they can obtain their degrees and begin to practice, regardless of whether they can have in-classroom or on-line instruction.

In contrast, many experts predict that younger undergrads already at studying will be more hesitant to return if instruction will be on line, as will many incoming freshmen about to begin their studies, and there's increasing talk about both undergraduate groups taking a gap year, etc. until the epidemic has subsided.

Those undergrads who do wish to begin their college educations are said to be more carefully considering going to a school closer to home, just in case a resurgence or "second wave" again forces them to leave their dorms - something not as much of a consideration for law students who tend to more independent, and no longer living at home when not away at school.

Most people would probably agree that the in-person college experience - living away from home for the first time, interacting with peers in a dorm, joining clubs and attending sporting and other events, and going to parties, etc. - is far more important to undergrads than to law students, so the latter would be much more willing to accept a fall term with on-line classes if necessary to have protection from infection and receive their degrees without interruptions.

Moreover, law students are also much less likely to need the discipline, supervision, and in-person interaction with professors in classrooms which are so important for many undergrads, so that in-classroom instruction is more important for undergrads than for law students.

In other words, even if most of the University plans to generally return to in-classroom instruction this fall, the law school might wish to continue with on-line instruction, for some or even most courses.

Indeed, an additional consideration is that the law faculty appears to be substantially older than others, and therefore more likely to be at very high risk of death or disability from the virus.

So law faculty who are over 60 OR who are obese, have high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, a history of cancer, and other conditions might refuse to teach in a classroom this fall, decline to sign a waiver as has been suggested at some universities, demand protection from in-classroom exposure to the very contagious coronavirus under OSHA, the ADA, and/or other statutes, etc.

In short, because of these important well recognized differences, a decision to try to return generally to in-classroom instruction this fall need not necessary apply to and bind the law school.

Posted by: LawProf John Banzhaf | Jul 20, 2020 9:27:38 AM

" (and maybe the lack of autonomy in bureaucratic university structures)".

Duh, you *think*??? I see why law professors get paid the big bucks for their keen analytical minds. The university where I work is planning to open in a hybrid format. The law school, which is attached to it, has no choice but to follow suit. It's as simple as that.

Posted by: Rob T. | Jul 20, 2020 8:31:34 AM

Well that is a straw man argument. You seem to be talking about freshmen and sophomore undergrads who live in dorms. At least at my law school, no one lives in a dorm. They virtually all live in the region, and its basically a commuter school. The grocery worker has far more risk than the prof who comes in for a a few hours a day and practices distancing.

More to the point, it seems utterly irresponsible and unfair for the school to promise an in person experience if the faculty will not provide it.

Posted by: anon | Jul 19, 2020 3:32:08 AM

Harvard U has read the science and is universally testing folks at least weekly, which makes ALL the difference in terms of being able to prevent outbreaks. https://www.pubfacts.com/detail/32676614/COVID-19-screening-strategies-that-permit-the-safe-re-opening-of-college-campuses.

Re grocery stores...Important differences between grocery store workers (many of whom have gotten sick, btw) and members of a campus community. Commentators call college campuses cruise ships on land, but they don't call grocery stores that. Here's why. Grocery store workers don't necessarily live, work and play in dense, contained populations, two to a room, sharing bathrooms and common spaces and partying at frat houses til the wee hours, even when advised about the risks. Grocery store workers aren't spending hours at a time with sixty other workers in a relatively poorly ventilated room, with people speaking loudly enough to be heard. Grocery store workers likely can comply with the one person to a bathroom more easily at home and at work.

Posted by: anonime911 | Jul 18, 2020 9:43:06 PM

If grocery workers can show up in person day in and day out for 10 hours at a time, surely our vaunted legal academy can show up for 3 hours every other day?

Posted by: thegreatdisappointment | Jul 18, 2020 6:40:24 PM

I think Galloway underestimates the cost of having students off campus. Harvard may talk a big game, but it's having students come to campus because the cost of not doing so is immense.

Posted by: going under | Jul 18, 2020 4:16:45 PM

Don't underestimate the freezing force of university bureaucracy, called out in the parenthetical to "predicament." I think it is responsible for a great deal of the problem.

Posted by: Helvidius | Jul 18, 2020 3:37:20 PM

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