In the last issue of Ultra Vires, the paper took statements made by Associate Dean Alarie and me about the 1L Legal Research & Writing (LRW) program, and pitted them against each other such that a reader might think that it was the tale of the tape for an upcoming Alarie vs. J-Nasty boxing match ( I would most certainly lose ). I am now taking this opportunity to clarify my relationship with A.D. Alarie, my statements, and my position on student consultation.
I’ll start by saying that I have a healthy and excellent professional relationship with A.D. Alarie- he has always opened his door to me for meetings and discussions on any number of issues. Some editorial liberties taken by the UV may have made it appear as if I was promulgating an antagonistic image of the SLS’s relations with the Faculty- I wasn’t. This year’s SLS, led by President Aaron Rankin, has had an unwavering commitment to a strong SLS-Faculty relationship that involves clear lines of communication between the two bodies.
Nevertheless, establishing such a relationship does not come without its challenges. At the time at which I gave my interview to UV, there had not been any formal meeting of the Dean’s Curriculum Committee yet- this is the Committee that was tasked with evaluating LRW, and its existence was formalized in September, when the SLS received a list of all of the Dean’s Committees for the 2011/2012 school year. That is why it came as a surprise to the SLS, when A.D. Alarie provided a summary report about the LRW program at the January Faculty Council Meeting. It was certainly within the competency of the Committee to have a plan for evaluating LRW feedback, and to compile this feedback into a report- Our only objection was that at the time, the student members of the Committee had not been informed about (i) the efforts taken until then to compile feedback about the program, (ii)a date for the Committee to have an official meeting, and (iii) what kind of feedback the SLS would be entitled to see. It’s understandable, then, that students who had been appointed to the Committee would feel ‘out of the loop,’ upon hearing that report at Faculty Council. There are SLS members appointed to these Dean’s Committees specifically for the purpose of representing student views, and of providing access to information about what goes on within these Committees to the greater student population- this is a cornerstone of the relationship between the Faculty and the SLS.
With respect to the January LRW Town Hall, the UV framed my interview as me “admitting” that this Hall was sparsely populated- I’m not sure what the article is trying to imply by saying this was admitted- I expressly and openly acknowledged that the Hall had a low attendance rate at the outset of my interview. Nevertheless, when 15 students show up to a Town Hall, and express deep frustration with something, it is incumbent upon the SLS to investigate the issue, and to see whether the general student population feels that way. Furthermore, the fact that a minority of students express frustration about a program does not mean that their frustrations are incorrect or unwarranted. That is precisely why the SLS engaged in a thorough consultation that included small group discussions about the LRW program, and a survey distributed to the 1Ls. These efforts culminated in a SLS Report on the LRW Program, which will be available on the SLS website later this month.
The Curriculum Committee met on March 2, provided the SLS with a thorough Faculty feedback report, and gladly received, read, and discussed our LRW report. The SLS is confident and hopeful that our recommendations will be adopted. They were almost always consistent with the Faculty’s own findings, and A.D. Alarie chaired a productive and thoughtful discussion on the issue. Everything ultimately turned out great- but that doesn’t change a position that I’ve had on virtually every SLS-Faculty issue- that there is a tremendous value to student consultation, and that the SLS and Faculty should be in clear communication so as to ensure that this consultation is timely and thorough.
Generally speaking, I think that the best practice for Dean’s Committees is for the Chairs of these Committees to call meetings in October or November, at which time they can communicate the mandate(s) of the Committee, the role of the SLS members on that Committee, and how student consultation, if warranted, can be facilitated by the SLS. Several Dean’s Committees follow this practice already, and they experience great success. This minimizes the risk of surprises or misunderstandings, and maximizes the potential productivity of Committee initiatives. It is this kind of thorough consultative process that Aaron Rankin and I were advocating for when we published a critique of the Faculty’s approach to deciding on, and unveiling the new grading system during the Fall.