Columbia Law School students who've been traumatized by the recent nonindictments of police officers in the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner will be allowed to postpone their final exams, the school's interim dean announced Saturday. Good.
The email from dean Robert E. Scott leaked out through a conservative blog that could hardly believe it wasn't a parody—because who could possibly be upset about unarmed people of color being killed by the police?—and mocked students upset by the grand jury decisions as too "unstable" for law school.
First, the option to petition for a postponement isn't some wild new policy initiated in response to the Brown and Garner cases. It's just a reminder of a policy that was already in place. From Dean Scott's email:
The law school has a policy and set of procedures for students who experience trauma during exam period. In accordance with these procedures and policy, students who feel that their performance on examinations will be sufficiently impaired due to the effects of these recent events may petition Dean Alice Rigas to have an examination rescheduled.
"We haven't made any announcement that's similar to Columbia's. It's always been the case that students can request a postponement on a case-by-case basis, and that's always been true."
Second, the notion that law students who are deeply affected, outraged, or traumatized by these police killings and the grand juries' failures to act are "unstable" or, as one defense attorney told the New York Times, "should not try to become lawyers," is profoundly shitty.
A lot of students enter law school with hopes (naive and otherwise) of working to right systemic wrongs. If law schools weeded out everyone who had strong feelings about justice, we'd end up with a world where lawyers were seen as petty and motivated only by prof—oh, wait.
The dean touches on this point in his email:
"For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process and equality."
Granted, the experience of law school itself tends to undermine all of those things, but is anyone seriously arguing that it should?
Apparently, yes, because law school causing Paper Chase levels of pain and emotional damage is a character-building tradition worth upholding. Otherwise, what would the institution stand for? (Answer: enriching universities at the expense of gullible students, a.k.a. the American dream, but I digress.)
"Law schools also have a tradition of being very tough-minded about these things. If you have an exam, it happens. That's the schedule."
Totally. If there's one lesson America's aspiring lawyers should take away from the killings of Brown and Garner, it's that the system has always been this way, and we'll all just have to deal with it.
Incidentally, the Times reports only a handful of students requested postponements, and they were given a whopping one extra week.