William H. Widen (Miami), The Only Question for Law School Re-Openings: How Do You Ask a Person To Be the Last Person to Die For a Mistake?:
That is the question American law school deans and their supervisors must consider as the fall term approaches. I pose this question to advocate for law schools to teach fully online in fall 2020 because a law school might take a conservative approach in the short term without serious jeopardy to their academic mission. ...
Administrators should strategically reduce overall campus population density by teaching law online because law adapts well to distance learning. ...
Law school management must prepare to answer this question if they open classes in-person, despite reservations about safety, or the efficacy of social distancing measures. Harvard Law School and UC Berkeley Law School led with decisions to cancel in-person instruction for fall 2020. Other schools have taken notice and are in various stages of deciding the way forward, including hybrid learning approaches that mix in-person and online instruction, also designed to minimize risk, as an alternative to the risk mitigation strategy advocated for here. UC Irvine just announced a hybrid approach—all online for upper-division, with a choice given to incoming 1L students.
For 1L courses, a large classroom with active discussion is common—but not strictly necessary. Conventional wisdom suggests that a failure to hold in-person classes will result in a dramatic decline in first-year law school enrollment and, thus, tuition revenue. Financial ruin follows because law students will only pay for the in-person Socratic experience. Economics drives the decision to take the risk to open with in-person classes. The brunt of the risk is borne not only by students but also by faculty and staff—groups situated below the pay grade of the administrators sending them into harm’s way.
Suppose you, as the ultimate decisionmaker, are asked this question by a grieving family who lost a father, a mother, a son, or a daughter just after you closed the law campus when, after a few weeks, your precautionary measures failed to control the virus. Now, you point to your liability waivers and warning signage sprinkled throughout your campus. You mumble something about CDC guidelines, best practices, decisions made on available information at the time, etc. And, of course, you are very sorry. Maybe you have no legal liability.
Yet, in the back of your mind, you never shake the feeling that your decision was guided more by economics than by safety. The calculus of decision to re-open with in-person classes troubles you long after the crisis passes, whether you are a member of a board of trustees, a president, a provost, or a law dean—and rightfully so.