[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 OÃ¢â‚¬â„¢Hara
From: The undersigned members of LAW 60906-01
February 28, 2007
PETITION FOR REDRESS
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 courseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
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 Ã‚Â§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 Ã¢â‚¬ËœGroups,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ 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 schoolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s attendance policy. (Hoynes Code Ã‚Â§6.2.1.) Attendance, along with participation in class, accounts for 10 percent of a studentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 studentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 studentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final grade depends on attendance and participation, which are both tracked by each studentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s TA. The remaining 90 percent of the studentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final grade is split evenly between the final exam (45%) and the aggregate score of the studentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 assignmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã¢â‚¬Ëœcurve,Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ but that Ã¢â‚¬Å“some method of standardization will be worked out between [them] and Prof. CamachoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s section.Ã¢â‚¬Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬Ëœpreferred option.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢
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 DeanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 SchoolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mission states, in part: Ã¢â‚¬Å“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 heritageÃ¢â‚¬Â¦. Committed to the most demanding standards of scholarly inquiry, we seek to illustrate the possibilities of dialogue between and integration of reason and faith.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“standards of scholarly inquiryÃ¢â‚¬Â in this regard, seeking to build a community to enhance its studentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ souls as well as their minds. This philosophy is embodied by the Law SchoolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s motto, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Educating a Different Kind of Lawyer.Ã¢â‚¬Â
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 Ã¢â‚¬Å“Appellate GradingÃ¢â‚¬Â 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€œ two months prior to the course, after a years-long hiatus from 1L classrooms Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 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 SchoolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã‚Â§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 Ã‚Â§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 Ã‚Â§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 ShafferÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã‚Â§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 courseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 courseÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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 Ã‚Â§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.
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.
[names of signatories]
(Hat tip: Lisa.)