Paul L. Caron

Monday, March 30, 2020

University Of Chicago Law School Sticks To ‘Status Quo’ Grading, Bucking Peers’ Move To Mandatory Pass-Fail

Following up on my previous posts on law school grading policies for the Spring 2020 semester in the wake of the coronavirus (links below):

Chicago Maroon, Law School Plans to Stick To ‘Status Quo’ Grading, Bucking Peers’ Move to Mandatory Pass-Fail:

Chicago (2016)The University of Chicago Law School plans to keep its “status quo” grading system for spring quarter, Dean Tom Miles told students in an email on Tuesday, despite a push by some students to move to a pass/fail system.

The choice contrasts with those of a number of other top law programs—including Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Cornell—that have switched to blanket pass/fail or equivalent grading for the spring term, after the response to the coronavirus pandemic disrupted many students’ plans.

“Student opinion here, as at other schools, is sharply divided, and any path is sure to disappoint many students,” Miles wrote in Tuesday’s email:

Dear Students,
I hope you are doing well during this unusual time and that you are taking steps to remain healthy.

You may be aware that some law schools have adjusted their grading practices for spring semester. Many of you have contacted me and Dean of Students Charles Todd directly about this. Student opinion here, as at other schools, is sharply divided, and any path is sure to disappoint many students. Please know that Dean Todd and I have read every single one of your emails and petitions, and that your varied points of view have very much been a part of all conversations about grading. I have also been listening carefully to the faculty and administration, as well as the many employers who have contacted me in the past week. There is no answer that is right for everyone, and the considerations are many and complex.

You came to our Law School for a variety of reasons, reasons as diverse as you are. I know that for most, if not all, of you, a few of our core values were of very high importance: the closeness of our small community, the deep importance of teaching to our faculty and their dedication to you, and the seriousness of our education. Every decision we have made about how to continue your education at this unprecedented time has been made with a concern for your health and safety, and with these core values in mind.

I have been working closely with our faculty and administration as they prepare to begin teaching you in a virtual environment next week. I am incredibly proud of not only all the hard work they are putting in to provide excellent teaching but also the enormous care with which they are proceeding. Every faculty member worries about all of you and how you are faring, and is thinking about how best to teach you and connect with you under these circumstances.

As we approach the new quarter, I and our faculty and administrators have given a great deal of thought to how to approach grading in a world where it is critically important that we continue to deliver excellent education. To that end, we intend at this time to maintain the status quo on grades at the Law School for the Spring Quarter. We will continue to watch developments in the next few weeks, and will make adjustments if the situation warrants.

I sincerely hope that the many steps that have been taken both at our University and around the world will help to “flatten the curve” and hasten the end of this difficult period. I hope that our online learning environment will quickly become comfortable for everyone involved and that its growing familiarity will make this decision about grading feel like just another part of that. One of the benefits of being part of a small, intimate community is that we can adjust swiftly if that proves not to be the case.

However, I believe that as of now, we are unusually well situated to rise to the occasion. Unlike most other law schools, next week we will start a new quarter. These classes will start anew rather than having been disrupted as semester-long courses were at other schools, and they come after an opportunity for a break and adjustment. Our faculty, who are already the best legal educators in the world, have had weeks, not days, to prepare for remote teaching. There are sure to be a few hiccups and stumbles, but I am confident that overall classes will run well in our new system. I am confident in our faculty’s ability to provide excellent teaching as they always do, just as I am confident that all of you will put as much effort into your learning as you always do.

We know that you are dealing with a variety of issues, including caring for ill or isolated family members, providing for children now home from school for weeks or months, and dealing with economic concerns of many kinds. Our faculty will be compassionate about whatever obstacles may occur for individual students, and I urge you to stay in close contact with them as the quarter goes along.

I, together with our faculty and administrators, wish to make your learning experience as favorable and beneficial as possible under the circumstances. As Dean Todd has already informed you, we are expanding the recording of class meetings. All exams in Spring Quarter will necessarily be take-homes. Our faculty are taking steps to tailor their teaching techniques to the remote format. Some faculty members may alter the manner of engaging students, such as employing panels to be “on call.” The particular tailoring steps are within each faculty member’s discretion, and please know that they are aware of your concerns. Like yours, their daily lives have been disrupted, and we all face similar challenges and risks. We want the learning in every class – and each of you – to be successful.

Everyone at the Law School is working together towards your success and well-being. You will continue to receive many communications from our extraordinary teams in the Dean of Students and Career Services detailing the many ways in which they can provide support and guidance as we are all physically separated. I hope that you will continue to reach out so that we can provide the individual support that is the hallmark of our community.

Tom Miles
Thomas J. Miles
Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics

TaxProf Blog coverage of law school grading policies in Spring 2020:

For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.

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