Not Working Well: Volunteer Note-Taking

Rachel Chan (2L)

On March 9, Assistant Dean Alexis Archbold sent an email with the following statement: “Like last term, 100% of the courses that require notes have volunteer note takers.  We are proud and grateful that the system is working well.” Ultra Vires reached out to students and many expressed frustrations with the status quo of academic accommodations.

In fact, of the eighteen students who responded to a survey on the efficacy of the current system, seventeen indicated that they do not think that it is effective. The final student said that it was relatively effective, but only once someone is signed up for each class.

Major concerns included:

1)    Timely access

2)    Volunteer burden

3)    Quality

4)    Known Alternatives

1) Timely Access

Nearly one month into second-semester, there were still twenty-four classes that did not have note-takers signed up.

  •     One student commented: “It is an ineffective system, and insulting to students who require accommodations, for it to be acceptable that over half a course can pass before students receive notes. Fulfilling accommodations is not optional.”
  •     Another student was so dissatisfied that they have “given up on signing up for it as it takes weeks to get them. By the time I get them it is too late for me to gain anything from them.”

2) Volunteer Burden

  •     “A major concern is that the responsibility of academic accommodation has been foisted onto the student body as a voluntary service. This is particularly troubling when it’s coupled with the competitive nature of the program.”
  •     “I know of acquaintances who refuse, even within their own friend circles, to share notes or summaries, even well into the upper years. The stakes are simply too high. In any case, expecting law students to haphazardly hand out notes is a bit insane, given the monetary stakes at play.”

3) Note-Quality:

        Quality is a critical barrier, both for volunteer note-takers and those who require them. Many students are apprehensive about submitting notes because they are concerned that they will not be detailed or clear enough. Students often feel like there is a significant amount of effort required to get their class notes to a level that would be helpful to others.

  •    “Regarding the quality of notes, I have been a note taker and, while I wish we had more training, I think that note takers do their best to ensure their classmates receive quality notes. That said, for students who are entitled to recordings, it seems obvious that reading someone else’s notes doesn’t even come close to hearing the lecture yourself, deciding what is important, and taking your own notes.”

4) Known Alternatives

        One student noted that “students raise the same predictable, easily remedied critiques every year.” Some alternatives (which other law schools across the nation have successfully implemented) include paid note-takers and lecture capture.

Last year, the SLS advocated for better compensation for note-taking and, in response, note-takers who submit 75% of the notes per class now receive $50 gift cards. While this is a step forward, it has not been strong enough as an incentive ,considering how dozens of classes had no note-takers several weeks into the semester.

Stephanie Lewis (3L) commented that the “SLS has not received a satisfying answer as to why lecture capture has not been implemented. At the Mental Health Town Hall in 2017, Assistant Dean Archbold stated that it was ‘an Associate Dean’ decision and that the SLS could raise it again with the Administration if desired. Anecdotally, I have heard that some professors do not want their lectures recorded. However, I have faith in our professors’ willingness to ensure an equitable environment for students with disabilities.

I firmly believe that if the Faculty implemented a lecture capture system that was only open to students who are (a) registered with Accessibility Services and (b) entitled to lecture capture as an accommodation, (and perhaps, in addition, students who, for compassionate reasons such as a death in the family, may apply and receive approval to access the recordings from the Assistant Dean), and explained this to professors, those professors would see the value of such a system.

In my time on SLS, we were never advocating that lecture capture should be available to all students at all times. And, while I have the utmost faith in the reasonableness of our professors, this is, quite frankly, a human rights issue and the mere fact that some professors dislike the idea should not weigh heavily in the balance.”

Some students suggested boycotting note-taking, thereby forcing the administration to step up, but that would harm those who require the services immediately. In light of these concerns, it is apparent that the current accommodation system is not “working well” for those who rely on it.