1Ls cry foul over TA role in Property class

[Bumped to top. -ed.]

In case the latest developments in the Patty O kerfuffle weren’t enough NDLS controversy for one day, here’s another, bigger issue that I’ve only recently become aware of. It seems roughly half the 1L class isn’t happy with the way Property is being taught this semester, due to a highly unusual situation (by law-school standards) in which student TAs are reportedly playing a substantial role in teaching the class and grading students’ work.

Rather than getting into the details, I’ll let the 1Ls’ exquisitely drafted petition to the Dean tell the story. You can read it in full (along with the letter that accompanied it in a mass e-mail to the Class of ’09 last night) after the jump.

Please note: Names of individual students have been redacted, for basically the same reasons stated on the Patty O thread.

Also note, I don’t have any personal knowledge of this situation beyond miscellaneous hearsay that I’ve picked up around the law school (and even that has been sparse). My knowledge is basically limited to what you can all read below. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of the information contained in the petition, but if anyone reading this believes that the petition’s account of things is inaccurate, misleading or incomplete, I would encourage you to say so in comments, whether anonymously or otherwise.

Here’s the letter:

Fellow 1L Property Students,

Good evening. I’m writing you today to seek your support for the attached petition, which seeks redress of concerns arising from our enrollment in Professor Shaffer’s Property class, LAW 60906.

A petition like this is an extraordinary measure. Please know that this petition means no personal disrespect to Professor Shaffer or the TAs. We believe they are trying to make the best of a bad situation; this petition is meant to address – and suggest a remedy to – that bad situation.

Please know, too, that your three 1L SBA Representatives were consulted prior to and throughout the drafting process of this petition. The three of them, like so many of you, have been in dialogue with the administration regarding the suboptimal class structure and subsequently expressed their support for the purpose and message embodied in this petition. As such, they have all three agreed to sign the petition.

As you will note, the demands for redress pertain mostly to future actions. In particular, the petition asks that the Administration convene a faculty committee to draft guidelines for the hiring and use of TAs in the classroom, and that any student who requests it may audit next year’s Property class free of charge. This is an acknowledgment that little can be done to address the situation this semester; indeed, any attempt to significantly change course would likely prove counterproductive.

This petition will likely prove controversial to some. If you disagree entirely with the petition, I encourage you to write a letter to Dean O’Hara detailing what you like about the course, and why you believe this petition to be in error. I truly believe this issue will benefit greatly from every bit of dialogue it generates.

Similarly, if you agree with the substance of the petition but have reservations about one or more parts of it, I ask you to sign the petition, but also write a letter detailing your reservations. If you do so, I will submit your letter along with the petition to the Dean.

*You will have three ways to sign the petition*. First, I will attempt to circulate a master copy of the petition in class on Wednesday; this is the preferred method. Second, you will find a copy of this petition in your mailbox; if you are uncomfortable with signing the petition in class, then you may sign the hard copy and return it to me in person, or to my mailbox … . Finally, if you would like to indicate your support but would rather not sign your name, I ask you to indicate your support anonymously by writing your first-semester exam number in place of your signature – either in class or via mailbox submission.

In closing, let me acknowledge again that this is an extraordinary response to an extraordinary situation. Despite what controversy may result from this petition, I have endeavored to proceed in an honest, straightforward, and honorable manner. I take full responsibility for the petition, and would be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Here’s the petition:

To: Dean Patricia O’Hara
From: The undersigned members of LAW 60906-01

February 28, 2007

PETITION FOR REDRESS

I. Introduction.

1. We, the undersigned members of LAW 60906-01, the first-year section of Property instructed by Professor Shaffer, submit this Petition for Redress of our concerns arising from the following facts and circumstances regarding the course’s content and structure.

2. Professor Emeritus Shaffer, also Dean Emeritus of the Law School, is a distinguished scholar and honored member of the profession. We wish to refrain explicitly from personally criticizing Professor Shaffer, who has conducted himself in a respectful, personable, and dignified manner for the duration of the course. We respectfully constrain our concerns to the structure of the course, and to the oversight given its planning by the Law School faculty and administration. We do not wish to disrespect Professor Shaffer, and expressly disclaim any interpretation of this document that would bring any personal disrespect or disrepute upon him.

3. We also wish to refrain explicitly from personally criticizing any of the Teaching Assistants (TAs) employed in the class. These TAs have, for the most part, done an excellent job, considering they are 2L and 3L students and not professors of law. We do not wish to critique their teaching styles, and disclaim any such interpretation of this document. Our wish is to register our concern with and objection to the principle of employing TAs to teach and grade a required 1L course.

II. Facts.

1. LAW 60906-01 is a four-credit, first-year Property course taught and directed by Professor Shaffer, in which half the first-year law class is enrolled. The class is a required core element of the 1L curriculum (Hoynes Code §4.3.1), and students enrolled therein are not permitted to drop the course or switch to another section.

2. Professor Shaffer is assisted by (7) teaching assistants (TAs), who are also law students. Some of the TAs are third-year law students, and some are second-year law students. There are no first-year or LLM TAs.

3. The enrolled students are divided into 7 ‘Groups,’ and each group is assigned to a corresponding TA. This equates to roughly 15 students per TA.

4. All students are required to attend every class, in accordance with the law school’s attendance policy. (Hoynes Code §6.2.1.) Attendance, along with participation in class, accounts for 10 percent of a student’s final grade. Attendance is tracked and enforced by means of a daily sign-in sheet each student is required to sign, initial, or otherwise mark during class. Participation in class is also tracked by each student’s TA.

5. The class meets Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in Room 120 at 3:00 p.m. On Monday, Professor Shaffer lectures the class en masse for the duration of the time period (from 3:00 until 4:15 p.m.). On Wednesday, Professor Shaffer will lecture the class for a portion of the time period, then relinquish the floor to a TA, who will discuss a problem set assigned for the week. On Friday, the class convenes in Room 120 for administrative announcements from Professor Shaffer, and to address any questions that have arisen during the week. This session usually takes about 20 minutes, after which the class is dismissed to small group sections led by the TAs.

6. During the TA-led class sessions on Friday, the TAs are charged with discussing the case law, notes, legal concepts, and all other materials assigned from the casebook. This session typically lasts about 45-50 minutes.

7. As stated above in Item II.4, 10 percent of the student’s final grade depends on attendance and participation, which are both tracked by each student’s TA. The remaining 90 percent of the student’s final grade is split evenly between the final exam (45%) and the aggregate score of the student’s weekly writing assignments (45%), which are due at the beginning of class each Wednesday.

8. Professor Shaffer has indicated in class that the final exam will be a multiple-choice exam based on the Property portion of the Multi-State Bar Exam.

9. The weekly writing assignments are submitted every Wednesday, evaluated by the TAs, and returned every Friday.

10. No standardized grading criteria for these assignments have been articulated; no system articulating each weekly assignment’s value to the final grade has been established. This constant fluctuation in grading standards requires the TAs to exercise substantial discretion in grading each assignment.

11. Professor Shaffer and his lead TA … have both stated in class that there is, and will be, no grading ‘curve,’ but that “some method of standardization will be worked out between [them] and Prof. Camacho’s section.” No further clarifications have been articulated as to the method or gradient of standardization that will be made.

12. If a student disagrees with a grade given him by his TA, he may appeal the grade anonymously to Professor Shaffer; alternatively, he may elect to meet in person with Professor Shaffer and his TA to discuss the paper and resolve the dispute. The grading policy states that the latter is the ‘preferred option.’

13. Weekly written assignments are not submitted or graded anonymously. There is no provision in the grading policy for switching TAs in case of repeated disagreements.

14. There was no standardized process for the solicitation, hiring, or training of the TAs. Some TAs are second-year law students, and others are third-year law students. Some TAs have been recognized on the Dean’s Honor List; others have not. None of these TAs ever took Property from Professor Shaffer.

15. The TA hiring process was not contemplated, conducted or reviewed by the Faculty Hiring Committee.

16. The Hoynes Code contains no provisions for the hiring of TAs with grading authority. The Hoynes Code further contains no provisions for the selection, use, or teaching responsibilities of TAs whatsoever.

17. The Hoynes Code contains no provisions for the evaluation of weekly assignments.

18. The Hoynes Code contains no provisions for the teaching of required core courses by Professors Emeritus.

19. The Law School Administration was properly informed no later than April 2005 that Professor Nicole Garnett would hold a visiting position at another law school during the Spring 2007 semester. According to the guidelines of the American Association of Law Schools (AALS), the Law School had until April 2006 to tender offers to Visiting Faculty Candidates to teach Property in Spring 2007.

20. Professor Shaffer did not learn until October 2006 that he would be assigned to teach Property in the Spring 2007 semester.

III. Implications / Grounds for Redress

1. The Law School’s mission states, in part: “We aspire to be a premier law school, as well as an integral part of a great university which claims the Catholic tradition as part of its intellectual heritage…. Committed to the most demanding standards of scholarly inquiry, we seek to illustrate the possibilities of dialogue between and integration of reason and faith.”

2. We believe that the employment of Teaching Assistants with lecture and grading responsibilities in core, required, first-year Law School courses is not indicative of a premier law school or of any school which aspires to be one.

3. We believe that the integrity of the Law School, and of the University, is linked directly to the quality of instruction the institution provides within its walls. Notre Dame Law School has traditionally maintained the highest “standards of scholarly inquiry” in this regard, seeking to build a community to enhance its students’ souls as well as their minds. This philosophy is embodied by the Law School’s motto, “Educating a Different Kind of Lawyer.”

4. The responsibility of teaching and evaluating law students in this community is a formidable one, and the corresponding hiring process of new faculty members trusted with this responsibility is necessarily complex. We therefore object to the delegation of lecture and grading authority to 2L and 3L students, without approval from the Faculty Hiring Committee. None of these students, however well-meaning, have any experience or qualifications in teaching law, and none were approved by the Faculty Hiring Committee to assume teaching responsibilities within the Law School.

5. We object to the method of “Appellate Grading” exercised by Professor Shaffer, and object to the notion that this justifies his delegation of grading authority to 2L and 3L students. On the contrary, a non-anonymous grading system that employs student evaluators and does not provide for switching TA sections discourages students from challenging TA-evaluated assignments.

6. We believe that the manner in which Professor Shaffer was assigned to teach this course – two months prior to the course, after a years-long hiatus from 1L classrooms – reflects a manifest injustice to Professor Shaffer, especially given that the Administration knew since April 2005 that the Law School would need to fill a vacancy this semester.

IV. Demands for Redress

1. We make the following demands with the hope that the Administration will take decisive, positive action in order to ensure that future attempts to employ TAs will be in concert with the Law School’s spirit, mission, and ideals:

a. We ask the Dean expressly admit or refute all facts listed in Items II.1 through II.20 above.

b. We ask the Dean appoint an ad hoc Faculty Committee, in accordance with Hoynes Code §3.5, to investigate the decision not to hire a visiting professor between April 2005 and October 2006, as well as the decision not to inform Professor Shaffer of his need to assemble a 1L Property curriculum until October 2006. We ask that such Committee issue a written opinion documenting its findings on the matter no later than six months following its appointment, and that such written opinion be made available to any student who requests it.

c. We ask the Dean appoint an ad hoc Faculty Committee, in accordance with Hoynes Code §3.5, to add a section to the Hoynes Code addressing the solicitation, selection, hiring and duties of Teaching Assistants in the classroom at Notre Dame Law School. We ask the Dean, in accordance with Hoynes Code §3.6.1, appoint a voting student member of this committee, and that this committee complete and submit to the Faculty at large its recommendation for final amendment no later than May 1, 2007.

d. We ask that any student in Professor Shaffer’s Property class be afforded the opportunity to audit any part of any section of 1L Property in Spring 2008, free of charge, in accordance with Hoynes Code §7.1.4.

2. We acknowledge that, at this late date, there is little that can be done to rectify all of the flaws in the course’s structure. Changing course now would hurt more students than it would help. We therefore make the following, non-exhaustive list of suggestions to help address the course’s most egregious flaws:

a. The weekly writing assignments should continue, but should be made objective (multiple choice or short answer) to the extent possible. Any subjective components (essays or answers requiring explanation and elaboration) should be evaluated directly by Professor Shaffer in order to enhance normative consistency in evaluation across the TA sections. To minimize potential for bias, these assignments should be submitted and evaluated anonymously, in concert with Hoynes Code §6.3.1.

b. The grading criteria for each weekly assignment should be articulated in detail no later than the Friday preceding the due date. This should include, but not be limited to, a list of cases, statutes, and standards the assignment is expected to address.

c. The point value of each weekly assignment from now until the end of the semester should be determined and articulated as soon as possible.

3. We ask that the TAs hold additional, optional discussion sections every week, to take place for one hour after class on Monday, Wednesday, or Friday. The TAs should organize a schedule to hold at least one session on each of these days, in order to accommodate students with competing priorities.

V. Administration

1. If this petition garners the support of fewer than 30 persons in the class, it will not be submitted.

2. If, upon submission, the Dean takes no action with regard to any of the above listed demands within 7 days, we reserve the right to forward our concerns to the University Provost, the University President, and the Law School Board of Directors.

3. We, the undersigned, appoint the Student Bar Association President … to be our representative in discussions with the Dean regarding this proposal.

RESPECTFULLY SUBMITTED,

[names of signatories]

(Hat tip: Lisa.)

83 Responses to “1Ls cry foul over TA role in Property class”

  1. Mike says:

    As a caveat, I’m not a law student. My graduate level work has been entirely in the sciences. But I have to ask: why is the fact that TAs are not hired by the faculty hiring committee (they are TAs, not faculty after all) or the fact that TAs are grading a required class a problem? I can see objections to the way in which TAs are grading–that it’s not each TA grading a given set of questions for the entire class, but instead each TA grading all the questions for a given set of students, or that the papers are not anonymous–but the fact that TAs are grading does not in any way strike me as contrary to the notion of it being an elite university. I was graded by 2nd year graduate students in a course that was required for the majority of bio-field students at Stanford; heck, I myself graded graduate students in a course in my first year there that was required by several professors for their students.

    Requiring a grader to have previous grading in a law school setting would logically lead to a catch-22 that no new graders could be introduced ever if this system were universally implemented–everyone has to start at some point, whether it’s as a TA or as a first year professor. It seems that having them gain this experience while a TA (when there is a professor to the course who can overrule them) is greatly preferrable to hoping that the faculty hiring committee gets things right and therefore that future classes don’t get screwed.

  2. Brian Foster says:

    Mike,

    Respectfully, the culture in law school is vastly different from the sciences (and indeed, I would venture to guess, pretty much all graduate programs in liberal arts, humanities, etc., as well). For a century or more, the first-year law curriculum has been a fairly standard and uniform one across all law schools, and tenure-track faculty or experienced adjuncts (or the occasional visiting assistant prof or post-JD fellow) teach all substantive courses, whether required or elective, 1L or upper-class. About the only exception, ironically, is the first-year research and writing classes which are often taught by non-tenure track instructors.

    Arguably — and I stress arguably, as in this is the argument being made by the petition writers and signers, and NOT necessarily my personal view of this matter — NDLS’s decision to allow this unorthodox evaluative method in the midst of the standard first year curriculum is fraught with complications. The most immediate is that the first year greades in law school are of supreme importance to second-year recruiting for summer jobs which in the normal course of things leads to one’s first job offer out of law school. To the extent that this Property class grading system departs from the standard pedagogy of a single comprehensive final exam at the end of the semester, the (admittedly imperfect) comparison of grades across students at NDLS, and among NDLS and other law schools, will be negatively affected. More fundamentally, students have paid tuition under the expectation that, like at virtually every other law school in the country, their Property class will be taught, in full, by the qualified and appropriately hired professor designated to teach it, rather than spending nearly half their class time each week under the instruction of their fellow students. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some ABA regulations regarding curriculum, accreditation, or both, that speak to this issue.

    While it’s true that the law school pedagogy is not set in stone, and professors can (and perhaps should) experiment with other instructional methods (including, perhaps, the use of weekly essays in lieu of a one-shot final), the heavy reliance on student TAs with grading responsibility is wholly foreign to the law school curriculum, and — arguably — goes too far beyond experimentation to improve pedagogy.

    Finally, I should stress that my personal knowledge of this situation is basically limited to the contents of Brendan’s post, and I echo the sentiments of the petition in emphasizing that I mean no disrepect at all toward Prof. Shaffer, whom I have met only briefly and about whom I have heard uniformly positive and exemplary things.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Any chance you could bump this to the top? As cute as those baby pictures are, this might be of a little more interest to your regular law school readers. Seriously cute baby though.

  4. Anon 2L says:

    My evaluation of the 1L class this year: whiny, pretentious, and with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Didn’t a shuffling of profs happen because one of the profs got sick and wasn’t able to teach? I think that this would more than account for assigning a class late to a Prof Emeritus.

  6. Brendan Loy says:

    Supposing, for the sake of argument, that the 1L class is indeed “whiny, pretentious, and with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement” … what impact, if any, would that have on the veracity or seriousness of the allegations contained in the petition?

    In other words, shouldn’t we be discussing this issue on its merits, rather than engaging in collective character assassination? If the petition is wrong, I’d suggest you explain why. Calling its drafters “whiny” doesn’t prove anything about anything.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’d imagine some of the 1Ls were complaining that some TAs were grading other students’ papers less stringently than their own, thereby creating an unequal grading system. To the extent that certain 2L/3L TAs were easier in their grading/requirements than others..I think the 1Ls have a legitimate gripe.

  8. Anon 3L says:

    They might have a legit beef with unequal grading among the TAs. But that’s not that much different from the difference in grading among legal writing profs.

    Can’t help but notice that this class, which is much larger than ours, managed to land only 16 people on Dean’s List while we had about 23-25. Maybe the class should spend less time putting together petitions and more time studying.

  9. Ike says:

    Speaking as a law student, this is pretty much an utter disgrace and a black eye for NDLS

    TAs teaching property with “Assignments” is preposterous. The curve is all that matters as a 1L, I don’t understand how this can possibly allow for a fair comparison of students between sections when the two are taught in such widely different ways

  10. Ike says:

    @ Anon 3L

    you sir, are a fucking idiot. The reason that there’s fewer 1L’s on Dean’s List than 3Ls is because the curve isn’t really enforced beyond 1st year, that means that most grades will be higher…as Dean’s List at ND is a hard line cutoff 3.60, and not a percentage, the number has ALWAYS been higher for 2L’s and 3Ls

    If you had made dean’s list as a 1L you’d have known that

  11. Brendan Loy says:

    11 comments, and we’re already calling each other “fucking idiots,” and throwing out “you didn’t make dean’s list”-type insults? Jeez, this is going south faster than the first Patty O thread.

    Can’t we all just get along? Or at least try to play nice?

  12. Derek says:

    Actually, Anon 3L, fewer on the Dean’s List means that the class is studying better than most; after all, in a forced curve, more students doing well means that fewer are distinguishable as “outstanding.” Of course, more students doing poorly has the same effect, so the number of 1Ls on the Dean’s List is immaterial.

    I’m with Brian. I’d heard some (slight) grumblings a few weeks ago, but I didn’t know the extent of the problems until I read this petition (and from which I’m basing most of my opinion). I’m particularly interested to know what the administration did from April 2005 to October 2006 in terms of looking for 1L Property professors to visit.

  13. Anon 3L says:

    Ike,

    Unlike you, I am quite familiar with the Dean’s List. I was speaking of the Dean’s List when our class were 1Ls. For the record, the curve was about 2-3 hundredths of a point harsher our 1L year and our class still did better. 3Ls are smarter that you think.

  14. Jay Johnson says:

    BTW, thx for the prettying up of the post below.

  15. anonymous says:

    I would rather sleep with Dean O’Hara than have another law student be my TA

  16. David K. says:

    3Ls are smarter that you think.

    So? They still aren’t law proffesors.

  17. Anon says:

    ND law is a joke!

  18. David K. says:

    Also its probably not the best idea to tout ones intelligence by typing that instead of than

  19. Anonymous 2L says:

    I’d just like to say that no 2Ls or 3Ls should base their opinions of the situation solely on what they read in the 1L petition. I am not a TA for the class, but I know for certain (though I can’t disclose how, so take my knowledge for what you will) that some of the claims made in the petition are either completely false or greatly exaggerated. In order to fully understand the situation, you would have to also understand Professor Shaffer’s/the TA’s side of the story. Therefore, unless you have spoken to Professor Shaffer or the TAs or you know the full extent of the situation, please reserve judgment.

  20. Derek says:

    If you can’t disclose how, could you disclose which claims are completely false, and which are greatly exaggerated, Mr. Twain?

  21. NOLA 2L says:

    Your blog was forwarded to me by a friend who is a 2L at NDLS. I am currently a 2L at Loyola New Orleans. I read the petition from the first year property class, and while some of the concerns made sense, in the end this was a borderline ridiculous action. From what I have been told, the first year class this year is unusually large and this property class sounds therefore unusually large. I may be wrong, but it seems this professor is making the best of a difficult situation. When I read this, it brought back some memories of making the best out of a bad situation during my first year of law school, which was for a lack of a better word—unique.
    I woke up early the Saturday morning after my first week of law school getting ready to do some contracts reading. As I was eating breakfast I turned on the t.v. for a bit. Next thing I knew I was sitting in a hotel room in Memphis with one of the few people I met in law school each of us on the phone with our families trying to figure out what the hell to do, cause our lives had just been turned upside down. Earlier that morning, a day or so after hurricane Katrina, the levees in New Orleans broke and our beloved city was under water. My life was a crazy rollercoaster after that. Within a month I ended up in Houston, TX where my law school moved for the semester. The University of Houston was gracious enough to give us any spare classroom and library space they had. While we were fortunate enough to be attending classes, but it was by no means convenient or comfortable. Since not many professors could come, our class sizes were doubled or even tripled. In my first year property class we had numerous students sitting on the floor, cause we had been cut from 3 sections to 1. We had to have classes Saturdays, and most of our classes ran nearly 2 hours so we could get enough hours in to be ABA approved. Our finals had to be held after Christmas break (the study time was appreciated but having the holiday season ruined by extreme stress and exhaustion was not). Our class was given about 72 hours between the completion of first semester finals and having to start reading for second semester classes (which started 4 days after our finals). Needless to say I have much room for complaint to my school and circumstances that I know effected my first year performance, such as losing everything I own, having to move 4 times between 3 states, and seeing a city I love destroyed. This is just the tip of the iceberg for what me and my fellow students went through during our first semester/year.
    I guess what I am getting at is stop whining y’all do not have it that bad. Some times you just have to adapt to situations that are not ideal. Having TA’s teach is not ideal, but it may be necessary given the circumstances. Saturday classes, and having to sleep on an air mattress in a strange house in a strange city was not ideal for me, but it was necessary due to given circumstances. Yes this memoir may be a bit melodramatic, but this response to a situation that does not seem to be all that bad is also a bit melodramatic. (note the fact that there is no qualms with the quality or style of teaching).

  22. bored 2L says:

    “Boo Hoo, my city was destroyed.”

    Quit whining NOLA.

    Have you ever had lunch at the Irish Cafe? Have You? Do you know what it is like to wait in line for 30 minutes to get a burnt Panini and corn chips?

  23. Anonymous says:

    So you’re saying that because their situation could possibly be worse, they have no right to complain about what they perceive as an unfair/inadequate learning environment? That’s ridiculous. I’m sorry you had to go through Katrina, but that has nothing to do with this situation. There will always be a worse situation out there, but that does not prohibit someone from voicing concerns on a topic about which he/she feels strongly.

  24. 3L No. 27 says:

    NOLA 2L, the big difference between your situation and that of the NDLS 1Ls is that your law school administration had no control over Katrina and the chaos the storm created. This is a situation within the control of the NDLS administration. Unless your law school administration can control weather patterns, I don’t even know what could possibly be the subject of a petition. Here, the 1Ls are upset about a situation that resulted from something the administration should be prepared to handle – a first-year professor being unavailable one semester.

    In some ways, I am actually rather impressed with the petition. The petition seems largely focused on making sure a situation like this does not occur again. Essentially, the 1Ls appear to be asking for answers and accountability from the administration for the current situation.

    I am interested to hear from the 2L who claims to know about incorrect facts in the petition.

    A final note: I heart Tom Shaffer.

  25. Brendan Loy says:

    Okay, bored 2L’s response is unfunny and uncalled for. Like Anonymous, I am obviously very sorry that you had to go through Hurricane Katrina, and I have nothing but sympathy for the massive disruption it must have been. However, I’m afraid your argument is deeply flawed. Specifically:

    Having TA’s teach is not ideal, but it may be necessary given the circumstances. Saturday classes, and having to sleep on an air mattress in a strange house in a strange city was not ideal for me, but it was necessary due to given circumstances.

    It’s the nature of the “circumstances” that sets these issues apart, and makes your analogy irrelevant and, with all due respect, pretty ridiculous as applied to this situation. To put it as straightforwardly as possible, Notre Dame was not hit by a hurricane.. There is no claim that an act of God, entirely beyond the law school’s control, forced them into this circumstance. The claim is that NDLS dug its own grave, so to speak, by failing to hire a professor in an adequate and timely fashion. Now maybe that claim is true, maybe it’s false, maybe it’s a half-truth, I don’t know. But that’s the claim, and if it’s true, that’s certainly a vastly different situation that having your law school flooded due to a hurricane (and shoddy levees).

    You say, “Needless to say I have much room for complaint to my school” for the “circumstances” you endured after Katrina. But I fail to see how that is so. It’s not your school’s fault that Katrina hit. Your school was forced to deal with a situation entirely beyond its control, and while you may have certain specific complaints about how things could have been handled better, you certainly can’t say it’s Loyola’s fault that things weren’t business-as-usual. Whereas here, again, the claim is that this situation is Notre Dame’s fault. If the complaining students could be convinced that NDLS had no better options, was forced into this situation by circumstances beyond its control, and is now making the best of a bad situation, I’m sure the vast majority of them would back down and stop complaining. But absent any evidence suggesting that, why should they concede that these highly unusual educational conditions are “necessary given the circumstances,” and let NDLS off-the-hook on that basis? If Notre Dame created the “circumstances,” that excuse makes no sense at all. Nor is it self-evident that the complained-of steps are “necessary,” even given that the circumstances exist. That’s really the whole heart of the debate, isn’t it? Just because you can say the words “necessary given the circumstances” doesn’t make it so, much less make it a valid excuse.

    Beyond that, Anonymous is right: “There will always be a worse situation out there, but that does not prohibit someone from voicing concerns on a topic about which he/she feels strongly.” It’s one of the cheapest and lamest rhetorical tricks in the book to respond to someone’s legitimate grievance by saying, “Oh shut up, I had it worse than you, so you’ve got no right to complain.” In addition to being completely devoid of context, this line of reasoning is just totally illogical. If Person A and Person B both really do have legitimate grievances, they both have the right to complain, by definition. Just because Grievance A is worse than Grievance B, doesn’t mean Grievance B ceases to be a grievance. That’s just elementary logic. If it were otherwise, people who got robbed couldn’t complain, because there’s always somebody else who got robbed and raped; and people who got robbed and raped couldn’t complain, because there’s always somebody else who got robbed, raped and killed. Just because people suffer varying degrees of misfortune, doesn’t mean that only those on the “high end” of the misfortune scale are allowed to complain.

    Again, I am sorry you suffered through Katrina, but that situation really just has no applicability whatsoever to this situation. Whether the claims in this petition are right or wrong is something that needs to be judged on the merits of this situation, not judged by comparison to an irrelevant situation that happened elsewhere, for totally different reasons, under vastly different circumstances.

    Oh, and an unrelated aside… the levees didn’t break “a day or so after hurricane Katrina.” Many people, in New Orleans and elsewhere, didn’t become aware of the breakages until 12-24 hours later, because it took a long time for the water to fully engulf the city. But the historical record is clear that the levee breaches began during the storm, and by noon on the day it hit (Monday morning), most of the major breaches had already occurred. After that, it was just a matter of time and gravity before the city flooded. The notion that major levees were bursting a day after landfall is nothing but an unfortunate urban legend.

    It’s absolutely true, of course, that the levees shouldn’t have broken in a storm of Katrina’s magnitude; Katrina’s impact on New Orleans was borderline Category 2, as it had weakened and its center was well east of the city, and the levees were supposed to be able to withstand up to a Cat. 3. And it’s also tragically true that, if the levees had held, the storm would have been far less of a disaster in Louisiana, and hundreds of people who are dead now would instead be alive. However, the fact remains, the levees began to fail during the storm, not a day later, and had finished failing within a matter of hours after its departure.

  26. Brendan Loy says:

    I am interested to hear from the 2L who claims to know about incorrect facts in the petition.

    I second (third? fourth?) that emotion.

  27. another 2L says:

    I see this as an example of a situation handled badly by our administration. Yes, the 1Ls are especially whiny this year, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t s real problem. Our administration has known for a while that Nicole Garnett would be gone this semester and had ample time to find a replacement (they didn’t ask Shaffer until October).

  28. 3L No. 27 says:

    another 2L is right. It’s not ridiculous to request the administration offer an explanation. It’s possible they had another professor lined up to teach it and that something unexpected happened. If that’s the case, the administration should explain the situation so that people can be more understanding. And if Patty O and her minions messed up, they should admit it. Bottom line is, the students deserve information about something so unusual regarding what is normally a very standard class.

  29. Yet Another 3L says:

    Indeed, one wonders what is occupying Prof. Nagle’s time this year. He taught a seminar (Biodiversity and the Law) in the fall, with 12 students enrolled; he is teaching another seminar (Advanced Environmental Law) this spring, with 21 students enrolled; and he is JLEG’s faculty advisor.

    Now, yes, sure, he’s a Dean too, and it does appear he had the same one-class-per-semester load during 05-06. Though it should be noted that last year he taught Biodiversity, and a full-size 1L section of Con Law. And of course, he taught Election Law in Fall 2004 and Property in Spring 2005. (And maybe something else too; I don’t recall.)

    But regardless. If we’re going to screw some students over because the administration mucked things up, better to screw the 21 people in Advanced Environmental Law by cancelling that and having Prof. Nagle step in to teach a class he just taught two years ago, instead of dragging poor Prof. Shaffer out of Emeritus status.

  30. 3Ls have too much time says:

    While the grading does seem questionable, I’m not sure it rises to the level of making “demands for redress.” This stuff happens more than they might think.

    Brief exammples: Our 1L year a Con prof left in the middle of the semester. His section felt screwed because they had to cram a whole semester into half and squeeze in a mid-semester final. Meanwhile the other section also felt screwed b/c they had to study for 4 finals in the spring while the Kelley section only had to bother w/3, thus giving Kelley’s section better odds of getting a good grade on those 3. Additionally we had a Property prof who gave out a law school final essay that had been previously used. People either killed that essay (b/c they had seen the answer from the previous year) or did poorly. The point being is that the grading system isn’t totally fair, even for the important 1L year.

    Regarding the 1Ls here, my question is simple: have any of the 1Ls actually brought this to Shaffer himself? Or any of the TAs? This kind of drastic move seems hasty and insulting (to Shaffer, DOH, faculty board, etc) unless all other options have been explored. A bold move by the 1Ls, especially considering Shaffer’s support and kindness to students.

  31. Anonymous says:

    I heart Professor Shaffer as well

  32. Brendan Loy says:

    my question is simple: have any of the 1Ls actually brought this to Shaffer himself? Or any of the TAs? This kind of drastic move seems hasty and insulting (to Shaffer, DOH, faculty board, etc) unless all other options have been explored. A bold move by the 1Ls, especially considering Shaffer’s support and kindness to students.

    My understanding is that they have brought this to all appropriate parties, and have had no luck, and this petition is really a last resort. I can’t vouch for that statement as being true, but that’s my understanding.

  33. Brian Foster says:

    The Kelley argument is very nearly as inapposite as the Katrina argument. True, Kelley’s departure was not an Act of God, but it was nonetheless an entirely unforeseeable circumstance for which the administration could not possibly have planned in advance. And it is beyond all reason to suggest that the administration should have refused to let Kelley go. His appointment to a White House position is quite the allocade for the law school, one that almost certainly justifies whatever angst it caused. Finally, as noted, any perceived unfairness was felt across the board, albeit in different ways, so there was an equalizer.

    I’m not familiar with the Property final essay scenario you describe, so I can’t comment knowledgeably on that. Speculatively, if we’re talking about a recycled policy question, it seems the prof could easily mark DOWN answers that seem too similar to the model answer, which would be entirely appropriate on a question designed to demonstrate actual and original thought and reflection on the material. If it was a fact pattern, then maybe there was new material not taught the last time around that changed the preferred answer. (Again, speculating.)

  34. NDLS2006 says:

    Oh, now it’s Nagle’s fault? Nagle stepped up last year and taught Con Law at the last minute when Tricia Bellia went on maternity leave. Yes, he is a dean, and that means that, under the rules, he teaches one class a semester because of the additional responsibilities of the deanship (not to mention that, after Finnis, he’s the most cited faculty member and the most prolific publisher). Technically, emeritus faculty aren’t permitted to teach core classes at all. You don’t think the 1Ls would bitch and moan if they didn’t think Nagle had sufficient time to devote to them?

    This was a lose-lose situation, and the blame rests entirely on the dean’s office.

  35. Yet Another 3L says:

    No, I’m not blaming Nagle at all — I’m wondering why the decision was to draft Shaffer rather than Nagle. As you point out, emeriti aren’t supposed to be teaching core classes, while Nagle can and does.

  36. NDLS Alum says:

    Two points:
    1. Nagle, although really good at environmental law, absolutely sucks at teaching property. The 1Ls would just have started a petition about him. Generally he’s a stand-up guy about cleaning up law school messes, like last year when he taught con law on no notice due to another professor’s medical emergency, but there’s no reason he should be expected to rearrange his entire professional life because O’Hara royally fucked up.

    2. Yet another 3L- You wonder what’s occupying Nagle’s time and at the same time acknowledge that he’s a dean, faculty advisor to a journal, and teaching two classes a year (which is a full teaching load). Are you retarded?

  37. NDLS2006 says:

    Nagle *has* taught core classes. He last taught Property before he was appointed as a dean. He taught Con Law last year as a favor.

    The decision to “draft” Shaffer was probably a result of the realization that they’d already asked Nagle once to pitch in when he wasn’t supposed to.

    Believe me — everyone involved is better off focusing their energies on the fact that the dean couldn’t get a real replacement. Hell, when I was a 1L I had three visiting professors. Two of them were okay, one sucked ass. But at least they didn’t have to go breaking their own faculty policies.

  38. Practical 3L says:

    Wait. So 10% of your grade is for showing up. 45% percent of your grade is for doing a weekly writing. And 45% of your grade is a multiple choice exam based off the MBE? Is it just me, or does that sound far simpler than writing a 3-hour exam for Garnett about getting virtual property worth real money stolen from you in a virtual world? When did she teach us about that topic again? Oh right, never.

    I wish I had a class like this as a 1L–and a 4 hour class at that. Seems to me that if you show up to class, keep up with your essays, and get some MBE practice tests–you’re going to do pretty well in this class. Take the money and run. That’s 4 hours of credit at a relatively small price.

    By the time you graduate–it’s not like you’ll be reminiscing about the intricacies of your 1L property professor’s lectures about the “unanswerable questions.” Most likely, you’ll simply want to pass the bar exam and get on with your life. Sounds like students in this class are actually learning some black letter law that might help them pass the MBE some day. Seems more sensible (or at least simpler) than the weird-ass way most law school courses expect you to learn.

  39. Brendan Loy says:

    Is it just me, or does that sound far simpler than writing a 3-hour exam for Garnett about getting virtual property worth real money stolen from you in a virtual world? When did she teach us about that topic again? Oh right, never.

    At the risk of pissing off my classmates, I feel the need to stick up for Professor Garnett here. Did I miss the memo where it was announced that law-school exams would henceforth be, like most undergrad exams, primarily exercises in regurgitating memorized material? I took that exam too, and I thought that question was perfectly fair. In fact, I think it might have been the best, most “law-school-ish” exam question I’ve ever had to answer. It asked us to take the general concepts of Property law and apply them to a new situation — much like real attorneys do when presented with new and different situations in practice. Especially given that it was an open-book exam, I see absolutely nothing objectionable about asking an outside-the-box question. Was it a hard exam? Yes. Was it a hard question? Yes. But I don’t think there’s any cause to be bitter about it two years later.

  40. Brendan Loy says:

    P.S. Also, lest those who didn’t take the exam be misled, let’s be clear: it wasn’t “a 3-hour exam…about getting virtual property worth real money stolen from you in a virtual world.” It was a 3-hour exam (actually, wasn’t it 4? it’s a 4-credit class) with various questions, of which that one question was by far the most unconventional. I don’t remember the point values or suggested time allotments, but by no means was that question the entire exam. The bulk of the exam tested the class’s knowledge in more conventional ways, and then that one question asked students to think outside-the-box and apply the general concepts of Property law to a new situation. And it’s not as if anyone who failed to come up with a perfect answer got a bad grade. The class was graded on a curve, so to the extent it was an unusually hard question and thus an unusually hard exam, it nevertheless remains fair, because it was hard for everybody. The only real issue is whether such a question tests student knowledge in an appropriate way, and I don’t see how you can argue that it doesn’t.

  41. Brian Foster says:

    I completely agree with Brendan @ 10:03. NSG’s property exam in Spring 05 remains one of the two most challenging, thought provoking, and downright *educational* exams I’ve had here.

    NDLS2006 — maybe I missed something, but I didn’t see anyone suggesting that Nagle hasn’t taught core classes. Yet Another 3L seems to be saying it would have been preferable to have Nagle teach Property over Shaffer, because Nagle had done it more recently, routinely teaches core classes, and is a full time faculty member.

    NDLS Alum — a full teaching load is actually three classes per year, not two. I assume Nagle only does two per year to compensate for being dean. In any event, I read Yet Another 3L to suggest that perhaps Nagle should have taught Property *instead of* Advanced Environmental Law, not *in addition to.*

    In any event, I do agree with NDLS2006 that the point here is whether and to what extent the administration failed to find a suitable replacement given the considerable advance notice that one was needed. If, as Mr. Twain above intimates, there is a good reason for it, then it would be helpful to have that reason disclosed. (e.g., maybe they had a visitor lined up who backed out for some reason, such that this situation was not really of the administration’s making).

    The petition makes a good prima facie case, but there definitely could be other factors that make the situation they’re facing the most reasonable response to an unforeseen crisis.

  42. Brian Foster says:

    Sorry — it was one of the THREE best exams etc. etc. I forgot about another one that’s right up there.

    And as I recall, Brendan, even though it was a four-hour class she designed it as a three-hour exam. I could be wrong on that though. But I have it on my Outlook calendar as a three-hour event.

  43. Brian Foster says:

    Apologies for the multiple posts, but:

    “Nagle *has* taught core classes. He last taught Property before he was appointed as a dean. He taught Con Law last year as a favor.”

    According to his bio, he was appointed dean in 2004, but he taught a Property section to the current 3Ls back in Spring 2005. So, whether or not it’s wise, it’s not impossible to have a dean teach Property. (Or Con Law, obviously.)

  44. Brendan Loy says:

    Well, far be it for me to contradict your Outlook calendar. ;) I would check my iCal, but I lost those records when my old PowerBook got stolen… anyway, I don’t specifically recall whether it was 3 or 4 hours, so I’m sure you’re right. Do you recall approximately how much of the exam the “virtual property” question comprised? I want to say it was no more than one-third (i.e., a suggested allotment of one hour), but my memory of such two-year-old minutiae is admittedly fuzzy.

  45. 3Ls have too much time says:

    Brendan, you might know more than me – and that is entirely possible – but from the few 1Ls I talk too they said that the Property class never even got together to discuss this issue or what actions they wanted to take. Sounds like it’s a small isolated group that’s doing this petition w/the rest of the class feeling burdened one way or the other to take a stand. Not sure if this contradicts your info but I still think it’s a little hasty unless Shaffer, TAs, DOH, etc. have shown actual resistance to providing answers/changes, especially the following:

    “2. If, upon submission, the Dean takes no action with regard to any of the above listed demands within 7 days, we reserve the right to forward our concerns to the University Provost, the University President, and the Law School Board of Directors.”

  46. Practical 3L says:

    Dungeons & Dragons law aside. My point was not to bash Garnett’s exam. And 2 years later, I could hardly care less about my 1L exams one way or the other. My point was that this 1L Property Class sounds relatively easy.

    That may not be so appealing to my classmates hoping to be law professors some day… but at least some of us just want to graduate, and then move far, far away from South Bend.

    Why do you think so many 2L’s and 3L’s sign up for Depo Skills, Patent Law, Canon Law, etc.? Little work is required. High marks are freely given.

    All I’m saying is that shaking things up a bit 1L year so that 100% of your grades (and future career prospects) don’t come down in a week-long flurry of essay exams isn’t all so bad for the run-of-the-mill student.

  47. Derek says:

    Interestingly, it appears that few students are ever pleased with their property professors, given the vitriol against Nagle, Garnett, and a prof who allegedly recycled an exam. Perhaps this petition is just too much because 1Ls dislike Blackacre and fee simple absolute?

    A little more on the Nagle points. Nagle was asked to step in for Con Law around November 2005 for Spring 2006, if I recall correctly. In a class he’d never taught before. That’s a big move. Also, he didn’t get to teach his Advanced Environmental Law seminar, his specialty, in Spring 2005. Next year he’ll be on sabbatical. This year would be the only chance for him to offer that seminar over the course of three years and, given his expertise in Environmental Law, it would be a strong negative for the school to lose that seminar once again this semester.

  48. Brendan Loy says:

    3LsHTMT, no, I don’t have any information that contradicts (or confirms) that “it’s a small isolated group that’s doing this petition.” My understanding, though, is that whatever the size of the group pushing the petition, they have indeed been “shown actual resistance” in previous attempts to get answers/changes. However, again, that’s just what I’ve heard, not from personal knowledge, so I could be wrong.

    I don’t doubt that there are a wide variety of opinons within the class about this. It is, after all, a large class, and like most disputes, small-time “politics” is undoubtedly involved. Without knowing any of the involved parties, I can confidently predict that there are some students who think the petitioners are assholes, other students who think those students are assholes, students who have grudges against particular TAs, students who don’t have grudges but still object as a matter of principle, students who think the principled objectors are tools, students who think the non-objectors are gunners and suckups, students who agree with Practical 3L and think the whole thing is a bunch of overblown nonsense, etc. etc. etc. The “cast of characters” in a situation like this is, frankly, pretty predictable, and I think any characterization of the class’s opinion as a whole — from either side — is inherently suspect. There are doubtless some who believe it’s a small group of troublemakers burdening the silent majority of students who don’t care, and others who believe a small group who don’t care are trying to stand in the way of the brave organizers who are trying to speak for the silent majority who do care, but are too busy, apathetic, or fearful of retaliation to take a stand independently. Who’s right? I have no idea, I’m just saying I don’t doubt that all of these interpretations of the situation, and others, are out there, given the number of students involved, the fact that law students are notoriously opinionated and sure of ourselves, and the general principle that the pettier the dispute, the more bitter it becomes. :)

    …at least some of us just want to graduate, and then move far, far away from South Bend.

    Heh, well, I won’t argue with you on that point. ;)

  49. Brendan Loy says:

    Perhaps this petition is just too much because 1Ls dislike Blackacre and fee simple absolute?

    Don’t forget the rule against perpetuities.

    Wait, I forget the rule against perpetuities. Nevermind.

    :)

    Regarding last-minute cancellations of seminars. If we’re talking about the notion of cancelling a spring class after the class signup period has passed (and I’m not sure if we are; if not, disregard the rest of this paragraph), a class for which 3Ls are eligible to sign up, I would argue that that’s worse than a less-than-ideal 1L class setup, for the simple reason that various 3Ls may be depending on that class to get the requisite credits to graduate. In the spring semester especially, the law school needs to avoid unnecessarily messing around with the schedule after people have already signed up, because it’s really unfair to everyone, but 3Ls in particular, to do so. (I don’t have an axe to grind on this point, BTW; schedule shenanigans have never screwed me over or anything. I’m just saying this is a countervaling concern that needs to be considered before we just say, “Well, why didn’t they cancel the seminar?”)

  50. Derek says:

    Sorry I was unclear, Brendan. I didn’t mean anything about the timing. I meant that it would simply be a bad loss for the school to keep losing the Environmental seminar, year after year, because of assorted inconveniences that arise. As it is, ND’s not exactly an Environmental law hotbed, and canceling the advanced seminar year after year is a bad choice (I would think).

  51. Brendan Loy says:

    Derek, apparently I was unclear, because I didn’t mean to imply that you meant anything about the timing. :) I was raising an independent concern that’s percolating in my head ever since the suggestion was first made that NDLS should have cancelled the seminar. Basically, we’re arguing for the same conclusion, just for different reasons (I think).

    That said, as a recovering Democrat, I must say: always question the timing! ;)

  52. anonymous says:

    Not to be rude, but the petitioners sound like babies. No wonder they don’t want to identify themselves.

  53. Brendan Loy says:

    No wonder they don’t want to identify themselves.

    The petitioners are identified by name in the petition. (It wouldn’t be much of a petition if they weren’t!) It was MY decision, and mine alone, to remove all student names from the post (petitioners and TAs alike), because I recognize that permanent archival exposure on the Internet is quite a bit different from being identified in a series of e-mails and internal law-school documents. Even if they feel entirely justified — even if they are entirely justified — they might not want this controversy to be permanently associated with them via Google. What if some prickly partner has the same reaction that you do, that — devoid of context, years later — they sound like babies here? Even if the partner is wrong, I don’t want to be responsible for causing anybody that sort of unpredictable future grief.

  54. NDLS2006 says:

    Derek makes outstanding points. I’d also point out that it seems to me that everyone bitches about their Property class/professor/exam at every law school. Why? Because it’s a sucky class. Not a sucky subject, but a sucky class. I remember my classmates calling Professor Nagle (who, it might be added, is a recognized expert in the widely divergent fields of both environmental and election law and is, moreover, a scientist by undergrad training) an “idiot” because he couldn’t call up a vast store of knowledge on zoning or estates at a moment’s notice. Property as a class is sort of ill-thought-out altogether and no professor is entirely capable of teaching every part of it well.

    And while NDLS isn’t an “environmental law powerhouse,” enough ND grads go on to practice in states where environmental law is huge (including AZ, CA, and TX) that they need to offer advanced courses at least once every other year. As Derek points out, Professor Nagle jumped in at the last minute to teach Con Law and told me once that he even offered to teach Immigration Law if they needed him too when Barb Szweda took a sudden leave of absence.

    The problem is that the law school administration couldn’t get its collective shit together to hire a visiting professor and that’s pathetic. I’d actually encourage the students in question to go directly to the Provost about the matter. Because if NDLS is anything like it was even last year, you won’t hear a peep out of the Dean.

  55. Anonymous says:

    Look, I don’t claim to know the entire situation. But I will say, Brendan, that I think it’s a little inappropriate that you put this petition up on your blog. This blog has a much wider readership than the NDLS community, and I don’t think it’s right that you have put up a petition that sets forth the arguments for one side of this situation (which may or may not be true or legitimate; not knowing everything about the situation, I won’t venture to say) without any argument in favor of the teaching style on the part of Prof. Shaffer, his TAs or the adminstration. If the 1Ls are simply seeking a fair opportunity to be heard about a situation that distresses or concerns them, that’s fine. What I don’t think is fine is disseminating this petition to the wider student body who is unfamiliar with the situation, nor do I appreciate 2Ls and 3Ls bandwagoning onto the 1Ls’ view without knowing all the facts. I think this is something that should be kept among the real parties concerned: i.e., the administration, Prof. Shaffer, the TAs and the students in this Property section. Moreover, if, as someone seems to be suggesting in an earlier post, the 1Ls actually have had their concerns heard by the administration, it seems wrong of them to try to strong-arm the administration into implementing the changes they want, without regard to the legitimate reasons for the course structure on the part of Dean O’Hara or Prof. Shaffer. Once again , I am not criticizing the 1Ls for seeking an opportunity to be heard; I am just saying they are not necessarily entitled to the relief they seek. I also think it is inappropriate for the wider law school community to automatically assume that they are entitled to such relief or that there is no legitimate reason for the structure of the course. Returning to my original point, I would like to see that the law school is not unnecessarily tarnished by such complaints until there is a real determination that they are legitimate and both sides are heard. Therefore, I think that putting such a set of complaints up on the blog (which, again, has a pretty wide readership) is somewhat inappropriate and could lead to bad consequences for the law school that I think we all would like to avoid. Again, I don’t want this taken as a statement against the 1L class; it’s just an acknowledgement that the facts aren’t all in yet, and it’s not quite time to circle the wagons.

  56. 3L No. 27 says:

    NDLS 2006 wrote: The problem is that the law school administration couldn’t get its collective shit together to hire a visiting professor and that’s pathetic. I’d actually encourage the students in question to go directly to the Provost about the matter. Because if NDLS is anything like it was even last year, you won’t hear a peep out of the Dean.

    Exactly! People have mentioned Nagle teaching ConLaw while P.Bellia was on maternity leave. Let’s think about this one – P.Bellia had a baby right around Thanksgiving 2005, meaning she probably got pregnant in February 2005 and knew by March 2005. She did not announce her pregnancy to her 1L class during spring of 2005, but knowing P.Bellia’s level of professionalism, I suspect she notified the administration of her need for maternity leave for spring 2006 semester by May 2005. And yet they waited until the last minute to find a replacement in Prof. Nagle. I’m noticing a pattern here.

    Bottom line is that the administration needs a better plan for dealing with potential professor absences. Illness, pregnancy, unexpected appointment to the White House, freakish abduction by aliens, or any other number of things could impact the faculty. You know those disaster preparedness commercials? We need to make some law school themed ones for the administrators.

    Regardless of how petty one thinks the 1Ls concerns are with their property class, their petition is really just pointing out this problem. I wish they would have used slightly less pretentious language. Did it really need to be a “Petition for Redress”? Was a “letter of concnern” not sufficient? Nevertheless, their concerns about the administration’s handling of faculty issues are legitimate.

  57. NDLAW2006 says:

    I would second (or third or whatever) the motion that this years 1Ls need to shut up. I don’t know any of them since I graduated last year, but bad stuff happens all the time. My first year Prof. Amy Barret went on maternity leave and they hired a totally sub-standard professor to fill in for our Civil Procedure class. Our class was angry, miffed, etc. We made sure that the visiting prof. wasn’t hired by the administration but we certainly didn’t make a petition. Grading is never going to be equal, that’s just the nature of the legal profession. If you want totally objective grading, go get a degree in math or something. Finally, trust me, you don’t want Nagle for property as someone who has been there and done that. If anything, 1Ls, I’d be more concerned about multiple choice based on the multi-state bar exam. As some one who just took the bar and passed (thank God!), the property questions are killer!

  58. Another 3L says:

    I agree with those above that say that propery seems to be one of those classes that people complain about. During my year, many in Professor Garnett’s class complained about her SIMS question, many in Nagle’s class claimed he was not an expert in property law, and still others in Pearson’s class complained about his recycled exam. All of which, I think were unwarranted. I have heard several students echo B. Foster’s sentiments about Garnett’s test (that it was thought provoking, creative, etc.), I know that both Garnett and Nagle have excellent scholarly reputations, and I personally can attest that I did not look at Pearson’s old exams, took his exam, and still received an excellent grade. Perhaps, the current arrangement is not ideal — but really, is it any less fair or messed up than legal writing? I will state that it seems like NDLS administration has some serious problems, particularly when it comes to student concerns. A good friend of mine had a very legitimate, very serious complaint about a grade received in legal writing one L year and the dean simply refused to meet with her. Finally, I would just like to end by saying that I have only heard wonderful things about Professor Shaffer.

  59. David K. says:

    I would second (or third or whatever) the motion that this years 1Ls need to shut up. I don’t know any of them since I graduated last year, but bad stuff happens all the time.

    Your right, bad stuff happens and we should all just shut up and let it happen. Thanks for those wise wise words.
    The point here NDLAW2006 is not that something bad happened (i.e. a problem finding a professor) its how the bad thing was handled. The main goal of this petition as i can see it is to get some explanations as to why it got as bad as it did, and to try and make sure the mistake isn’t repeated in the future.

  60. another 2L says:

    I agree that grading might never be equal and also that there are other classes in the past that have had problems with professors that haven’t been addressed. Again, I don’t see how this take away from the 1Ls claims. This isn’t jsut about grading; it’s about the quality of teaching and the inadequacy of our administration. The fact that this type of thing has happened before and is clearly continuing to happen only reinforces the idea that our administration isn’t doing an adequate job.

  61. 3L says:

    Anon 3L:

    Actually, fall semester our class had exactly 12 people on dean’s list, not 23-25. There were more second semester but I don’t remember how many.

  62. N.D.Law 2007 says:

    22 in the fall, 19 in the spring. I think what you mean is that 12 were on BOTH lists.

  63. Kristin says:

    Honestly, I would like to hear the other side. There are too many things that we don’t know for sure to be making any judgments. The 1Ls may be right and crusading for what is their proper due (as seems to be the predominant opinion here, and I’ve heard around school), or they could be mistaken, exaggerating, or lying (as I have also been hearing around school today). I don’t know what to believe, but my point is just that things probably aren’t as black and white as they seem and we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions before we hear what Shaffer, the TAs, and the administration have to say.

  64. N.D.Law 2007 says:

    Excuse me — it was 22 in the fall, 21 in the spring. Definitely 12 who made it both semesters though.

  65. Anonymous says:

    Amen, Kristin. That’s what I was trying to say (comment 56) but you’ve said it more succintly.

  66. Brendan Loy says:

    Anonymous @ 1:27, your points are well-taken, and I appreciate your thoughtfulness and lack of snark in making them. However, I disagree that it’s inappropriate to post this petition. In my opinion, the very fact that this petition exists, and is being widely circulated with the SBA’s imprimatur [UPDATE: correction below.], is itself newsworthy (or blogworthy), regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the opinions it represents. To make an odd analogy, imagine that a bunch of Notre Dame football players drafted a petition complaining that the coaching staff was mistreating them. The very fact that such a petition exists would be newsworthy enough for every Notre Dame football blog to post about it. Now imagine it was endorsed by the team captains — that’s even more blogworthy! And do you think the ND football blogs would wait to write about the issue until the university had released an official statement responding to the petition? I certainly don’t, nor do I think they should, as that would give the university the ability to control the flow of information.

    Now, you can argue that I (and, in my analogy, the Notre Dame blogs) have an obligation to actively seek out comment from the accused parties, but I don’t buy that. We’re blogs, not newspapers. If I was the Observer, certainly I would have an obligation to actively seek out both sides of the story… but then, if I was the Observer, I’d have a greater readership, better access to the administration, and press passes for football games. :) The fact is, I’m not the Observer, I’m a blog, and blogs don’t have an obligation (unless their owners consciously choose to assume one, which I explicitly don’t) to be “balanced” or “objective.” We do have an obligation, like everyone does, to tell the truth, not lies, but here I have no reason to believe this petition contains lies, and indeed, the involvement of the SBA creates a presumption that there is at something newsworthy going on here, whatever the specifics might be. Moreover, I’m not asserting that the details of the petition are correct — I’m simply pointing out that this controversy exists, saying what the petition says, and inviting comment. I think that’s a perfectly appropriate role for this or any blog to play in a situation like this. My whole intention, really, is to open this up as a forum for discussion, not to advocate one position or another, and I’ve obviously succeded in that, given the robust debate that’s happening here.

    This thread has open comments, so anyone wishing to rebut the petition has an opportunity to do so, either anonymously or by name. Could I have sent an e-mail to Peter Horvath or Professor Shaffer specifically asking for their side of the story? Sure, but I think we both know that effort would have been pointless, and would have simply caused needless delay rather than adding anything to this post. As it stands, anyone from the administration or faculty is free to comment on this thread, just like everyone else, and moreover, I can assure you that if they write me an e-mail or otherwise contact me asking for a more prominent forum (i.e., a new post) to rebut the petition, I would most certainly grant it to them. Again, I think we both know that’s not going to happen, but the same would be true if I had actively sought out their “side of the story.” The reality is that this is the sort of situation where the complainers are the only ones likely to speak publicly, and any rebuttals will most likely be anonymous or off-the-record. The comment section on this post is arguably an ideal setting for that sort of discussion to occur.

    So in sum, I don’t feel I have any obligation to wait until a definitive conclusion is reached (if that’s even possible) before posting something about this story, given the blogworthiness of the allegations themselves, and I don’t feel I have any obligation, as a blogger, to provide an objective or balanced account. Nor, certainly, do I have any obligation to walk on eggshells over law-school contoversies in order to ensure that NDLS looks good. I’m not a P.R. agent for the law school. My obligations are limited to providing a truthful account (and it’s unquestionably true that this petition is being circulated, and I have no reason to believe that anything contained within it is untrue) and giving anyone who objects the opportunity to respond — and, of course, to correct anything that I subsequently learn is false, and both correct and remove anything that I subsequently learn is libelous, neither of which have occurred.

  67. Derek says:

    I’d like to add an undiscussed (so far) but relatively significant criticism of the “demand for redress.” It “demands,” “We ask that any student in Professor Shaffer’s Property class be afforded the opportunity to audit any part of any section of 1L Property in Spring 2008, free of charge, in accordance with Hoynes Code §7.1.4.” I think this should be reworded to something more forceful, such as “the undersigned will attend a section of 1L Property in Spring 2008.” Making a demand that, at most, 3 people will take advantage of undermines this cause significantly. And really, is the primary injustice the fact that TAs are teaching some of the course, or is it the grading and/or the lack of hiring a visiting faculty member? Or is there no primary injustice, and instead just everything that will stick?

  68. Kristin says:

    Brendan, could you clear something up for me? I didn’t realize that the SBA was backing this. I had heard that the 1L SBA reps were involved (and may have even written it, unfortunately for them), but not that SBA supported this action. What’s the deal?

    P.S. I don’t think the petition is well written at all, hence my parenthetical snark.

  69. Anonymous says:

    From what I heard, the 1L SBA reps did not write the petition but did give some input.

  70. David K. says:

    Kristin

    Since part of the petition is asking for the other side to either acknowledge or rebut these assertions, so hopefully we will hear from the other side, but from what i can gather a lack of communication has been part of the problem in the first place.

  71. Brendan Loy says:

    Brendan, could you clear something up for me? I didn’t realize that the SBA was backing this. I had heard that the 1L SBA reps were involved…but not that SBA supported this action. What’s the deal?

    Well, I don’t know much beyond what’s in the text, but my statement about the “SBA’s imprimatur” is based on the final line of the petition — “We, the undersigned, appoint the Student Bar Association President … to be our representative in discussions with the Dean regarding this proposal” — and also the following line from the e-mail that accompanied the petition: “your three 1L SBA Representatives were consulted prior to and throughout the drafting process of this petition.”

    I suppose those lines don’t necessarily establish that the SBA institutionally endorses the petition, but if all three 1L reps and the SBA president are explicitly on board, and the president is being cited in the petition in her official capacity as such, I think it’s fair to characterize the effort as having the SBA’s imprimatur, even if it’s only de facto.

  72. sba insider says:

    Just to clear things up, the SBA had no involvement with this petition. The line regarding the SBA president involves her capacity as the representative of all students and as their liason to the administration. The 1L reps were consulted and alerted the SBA to the situation. They may or may not have supported this in their capacity as fellow 1Ls or members of the class, but any action they took on behalf of the petition is unofficial. The SBA had no advance notice of the petition and therefore has yet to endorse or condemn the petition itself. Whether or not the SBA has taken other steps in regards to this situation, the SBA had nothing to do with the petition itself.

  73. Brendan Loy says:

    Fair enough then, I misunderstood those lines from the petition, and take back what I said about the “SBA’s imprimatur.”

    Nevertheless, I think the rest of my comment remains valid.

  74. Brendan Loy says:

    NDLS2006, it’s a fine line, but your last comment, I feel, crosses the line into the realm of gossip that I don’t want to get into here, so I deleted it… nothing personal.

  75. ND Legal says:

    Before my afternoon class, I witnessed a pretty heated argument between a Property TA and a 1L who apparently played a key role in drafting the petition. Actually, it was really just the TA yelling at the 1L and claiming he was “thrown under the bus” by this 1L. I thought they were going to fight, and I may have welcomed it as the TA is a loudmouth jackass and the 1L is pretty big guy. The temperature is rising at NDLS…

  76. NDLS5555555 says:

    The NDLS administration is a joke

  77. NDLS2007 says:

    Brendan, I think it is great that you posted this on your blog. While, I understand concerns that people outside of the NDLS community will see this, I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. It may hurt the law school’s reputation, but maybe that’s what it will take to get O’Hara in gear to actually do something (maybe I am being too hopeful). The only way stuff like this is going to stop happening is if there are more serious consequences to the dean than just a bunch of complaining students. It is certainly a pattern: Velasco had to cancel his corporate finance seminar this semester (which has not been taught in the last two years) to teach BA because the professor who was supposed to teach it couldn’t. I forget her name, but this prof hasn’t been around since we started and the administration hasn’t bothered to hire another corporate prof to deal with the situation. This is just another example of the kind of thing the 1Ls are complaining about. Other posts have talked about other situations that are similar as well. All in all, the way this law school is run is sub-par and soon that will lead to drops in the rankings. If your blog promotes dialog or puts more pressure on the dean for change, I think it’s great!

  78. NDLS2006 says:

    “It may hurt the law school’s reputation, but maybe that’s what it will take to get O’Hara in gear to actually do something (maybe I am being too hopeful).”

    “Too hopeful” doesn’t begin to describe it. O’Hara will do absolutely nothing, the 1Ls will get a form letter blowing them off, and that will be the end of it.

    Also, I was totally joking with the dating thing. Also, what’s the point of the comments if not for gossip :) ?

  79. Anonymous says:

    All right, Brendan. I see your point about the “blogworthiness” of the story, the difference between your blog and something like a newspaper, and your obligation of truthfulness. And I understand that this blog is not a PR (or propaganda) machine for NDLS. I was just saying I would hate to see more damage done than necessary by the controversy. I will stand by my statements about the bandwagoning of 2 and 3Ls onto the 1L position without having all the facts, however. My comment was mostly meant as a caution against blowing this out of proportion, which I think is still valid. Thanks for taking the time to answer my concern.

  80. Brendan Loy says:

    You’re welcome, and thanks for answering mine. It’s always nice to disagree civilly, sometimes one even discovers that the other person has valid points. If only blog discussion was like that more often. :) I agree with you that, however tempting it is to lump this incident in with other, previous incidents about which people have strong opinions, it is important to withhold final judgment unless and until all the facts of this incident are known. Not necessarily defending the administration here, but as a matter of general principle, it is all too easy to fool oneself into thinking that a “pattern” has been established when some — or all — of the elements of that “pattern” were never adequately proven individually, on their own fully fleshed-out facts, but were simply assumed because they fit in with the purported pattern. There’s a danger of that here: because there are several instances in which it appears that the administration hasn’t handled things well, there is a temptation to jump to the conclusion that anytime such an appearance again presents itself, it must be yet another example of the same old problem. Yet has the existence of a pattern really been definitively established in the first place, or does the whole argument rest on a faulty (or at least unproven) premise? Again, I’m not saying this is the case, but that certainly can happen (I see it all the time in political arguments), and it’s a key reason why it’s important to, as I said, reserve final judgment until we know all the facts. It’s okay, I think, to make a provisional judgment, subject to later revision, so long as one keeps an open mind and doesn’t state one’s provisional opinions as if they are certainties.

    Wow, that paragraph sounds extremely windy and pretentious. I think I need to take a walk or something. :)

  81. David K. says:

    It’s always nice to disagree civilly, sometimes one even discovers that the other person has valid points. If only blog discussion was like that more often. :)

    Oooh lets all disagree civilly. Clearly you hate America and want the terrorists to win, you left wing-environment hating-voucher supporting-mysoginistic-pro-abortion-pro-gun–teachers union-right wing-commie pinko-fascist-with bad hair.

  82. Lionel Hutz says:

    As a sympathetic observer, I want to point out three immutable truths that I think should be considered before affected students make any final decisions about what to do.

    1. Law professors and administrators by and large do not give a damn about students.

    Given (1), it would be a miracle if a petition made one whit of difference. The most one can hope for, if a petition is filed, is an empty promise from the administration to investigate the matter, perhaps accompanied by a vague expression of regret. But you will still have to write those weekly papers and have them graded by students who, however qualified, are not seasoned instructors and who in some cases are competing for the same jobs as you. And amongst themselves, the faculty will dismiss you as a bunch of whiners. So if I were you, I wouldn’t waste my time with a petition (or at least wouldn’t make it my primary strategy).

    2. Law professors and administrators cannot be out-lawyered by a bunch of 1Ls.

    It strains credulity to think that the administration did not consider the Hoynes Code and ABA rules before deciding to offer Schaffer’s property class in its present form. They will not be moved by a bunch of 1Ls pointing out their supposed violations. Moreover, if you take your matter to the University or the ABA, the faculty are infinitely more equipped to argue their side than you are to argue yours. It certainly wouldn’t hurt to alert Fr. Jenkins, the ABA, or anyone else with any power over the law school, but if I were you, I would not make this my primary focus, either.

    3. Law professors and administrators by and large care about their reputations above all else.

    So here is what you do. You pick a day and time to schedule a walk-out. You send an open letter to the administration, informing them briefly, and without laughable attempts at legalese, of the grounds for your displeasure and your plans for an embarrassing walk-out. You have everyone and their dog sign the letter, and you send copies to the school newspaper, bloggers, and anyone else who might listen. If no resolution is reached by the date you picked, you call the local papers and TV stations and ask them to wait in the quad for the walk-out. Then you walk outside and complain like crazy about your unfair treatment, but without rancor or insult. Be sure to agree on your message and talking points before the walk-out

    Of course, the chance that the walk-out will work is slim, but less slim, I think, than that of your other options. If you don’t like my proposal, I would recommend thinking creatively along the lines I have suggested, keeping the three immutable truths at the forefront of your minds. Remember, the only real power you have over the faculty is your power to make them look foolish in public. (But don’t forget that they have the same power, plus much more, over you.)

    One more bit of advice: Make friends wherever you can. This means to treat with respect the poor professor and the poor 2Ls and 3Ls who are stuck in the middle of this thing.

    Finally, a disclaimer: Please note my use of “by and large” in (1) and (3). There are naturally some genuinely student-oriented faculty at Notre Dame law.