Paul L. Caron

Monday, August 2, 2021

A Dean's Advice On Resuming In-person Law School Instruction In The Face Of The Delta COVID-19 Variant

Vikram David Amar (Dean, Illinois), Resuming In-person Law School Instruction in the Face of the Delta COVID-19 Variant:

Amar 3Logistical planning for the upcoming academic year (nearly upon us) at America’s law schools is unquestionably challenging given the evolving effect of, and public-health guidance relating to, the COVID-19 Delta variant. At the University of Illinois College of Law (and I suspect at most of the nation’s other law schools) we still fully expect that our instruction this year will be overwhelmingly in person just as it was before the pandemic, even as we also expect (in light of recent CDC guidance and our university’s reaction to it) the likelihood that students and faculty will need to wear masks in the building, at least for the early part of the fall.

To be sure, having to teach and learn through masks is suboptimal.

From the instructor’s perspective (and I speak from personal experience), talking (and breathing) through a mask for classes that last more than an hour can be tiring. And interpreting the students’ comments and questions through their masks can also be challenging for the person at the podium as well as for the other students, to say nothing of the fact that both instructor and students ordinarily benefit from being able to see and read facial expressions that make it easier to appreciate nuances in meaning. It’s much harder for an instructor to know, for example, if students are comprehending the key points of a discussion (or even appreciating the occasional attempts at humor) when no one can see the lower two-thirds of everyone else’s faces.

But as imperfect as having to wear masks during instruction is, my own view (having taught both in person and via Zoom during the last school year) is that it is still much better, at least with respect to the institutional mission of law schools, than remote instruction: ...

[W]hile I’m as unhappy and disappointed by the way the Delta variant is complicating our planning for the 2021-22 academic year (and while I’m also aware that changing public-health imperatives can upset everyone’s current planning even more), I’m still very much looking forward to the start of the fall semester, and very hopeful that—thanks to vaccines that the overwhelming majority of faculty and students have chosen to receive—that we will have a very positive, if not quite normal, intellectual and cultural experience.

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