Columbia Law School is permitting students claiming to be impaired due to the emotional impact of recent non-indictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner matters to postpone taking their final exams. Here is the text of a message from interim dean Robert Scott to the law school community:
The grand juries’ determinations to return non-indictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally. 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.
For these reasons, after consultation with students in the law school and with colleagues on the law faculty and in the administration, I am taking the following steps to assure our responsiveness and involvement in this particular moment:
– In recognition of the traumatic effects these events have had on some of the members of our community, Dean Greenberg-Kobrin and Yadira Ramos-Herbert, Director, Academic Counseling, have arranged to have Dr. Shirley Matthews, a trauma specialist, hold sessions next Monday and Wednesday for anyone interested in participating to discuss the trauma that recent events may have caused .
– Several members of the faculty have agreed to schedule special office hours next week to be available for students who would like support and/or would like to talk about the implications of the Brown and Garner non-indictments. These office hours will include:
Conrad Johnson – Monday, 12:00 – 2:00, Room 833
Olati Johnson – Monday, 12:00 – 4:00, Room 630
Susan Sturm – Wednesday, 2:15 – 3:15, Room 617
Katherine Franke – Monday, 1:00 – 3:00, Thursday, 9:00 – 11:00, Room 637
– I support the idea of an open community dialogue to discuss the concerns of students in the wake of recent events, and to share diverse and collective notions of injustice that these cases raise. I will encourage all members of our community to attend.
– 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.
– Several members of the faculty have agreed to work with students to develop a reading group, speaker series, and/or longitudinal teach-in next semester in which the group would explore a series of sessions where we educate ourselves and formulate a response to the implications, including racial meanings, of these non-indictments. In an effort to include the larger community in which we live and study, this work may include a collaboration with Columbia’s Center for Justice and with the Schomberg Center.
In closing let me just add my hope that through these and other efforts all members of the Columbia Law School community can can come to have a greater sense of mutual support and trust.
The key passage, bolded in the original, is the rescheduling of exams for the “sufficiently impaired.” This, I’m told, is the essence of what the black students association asked for. The stuff about counseling, dialogue, re-education, etc. looks like window dressing.
The video of Garner is certainly disturbing. But anyone so unstable as to be incapable of preparing for and taking exams due to grand jury proceedings not involving themselves or their families should be given an indefinite leave of absence in which to get better.
What is really behind the request for postponement of exams? I suspect it’s the fact that the students in question would rather protest with their friends and perhaps disrupt New York City than read cases, review lecture notes, or whatever it is that students do these days to prepare for exams. In addition, the students in question presumably want the law school to take their side on what they take to be a political question. In other words, this is, in part, a power play.
In 1970, many colleges closed up shop early following the shooting of students by the National Guard at Kent State University. The shootings disturbed many students, but we weren’t too distressed to attend class and study for exams. We just didn’t feel like it.
Instead, we were intent on causing trouble. College administrators figured that, under the circumstances, it would be better to send everyone home.
College administrators come and go, but for the past 45 years they can usually be counted on to take the path of least resistance when the left agitates. Even when doing so results in behavior and conduct that seem like self-parody.