Columbia law school and the apotheosis of “newspeak”

In his email to the Columbia Law School community, interim dean Robert Scott said “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.” It was obvious that the “petition” is a formality. In grand jury parlance, dean Rigas would approve a ham sandwich.

But just to be sure, and to avoid taxing the minds of traumatized students, the law school has sent out the following email:

We are writing with information about how to go about postponing your exams, in the event that you choose to do so, due to trauma in the wake of recent national events. Exam postponement will be granted on an individual, “opt-out” basis. In order to postpone your exam(s), please email Dean Alice Rigas ([email protected]) in the Registrar’s Office. The email need not be extensive and each person’s language may be the same. We are providing sample language for your email request below.

Subject: Emergency Action: Request for Exam Extension
Dear Dean Rigas,

In light of recent traumatic events, I would like to request a(n) exam extension for the following exam(s).

Even in a one paragraph email, the administration can’t resist this bit of legalize: “Exam postponement will be granted on an individual, ‘opt-out’ basis.” Is the law school trying to preserve the illusion that dean Rigas will provide individualized analysis of petitions for postponement?

Apparently so. According to The Wall Street Journal, law school curriculum dean Avery Katz says an extension request must include an “individual explanation” for why it’s necessary. And spokesperson Nancy Goldfarb says the school reviews and evaluates “each request individually” and makes decisions “based on a student’s specific situation.”

As the law school’s latest email makes clear, the “specific situation” to be evaluated is the student’s use of canned language provided by the law school, or any words remotely approximating it. Students who write the “individual explanation” handed them by the administration are guaranteed approval. On an “student specific” basis, of course.

Goldfarb told the Journal that, so far, all postponement requests have been granted. The ham sandwich was unavailable for comment.

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