Law students quietly agree with my post on pass/fail grading

"I have to admit that I am concerned about my reputation among my peers"

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Yesterday, I blogged that professors quietly support my views on pass/fail grading. Since then, I have received several emails from students. They note there is quiet support for my view, but many students are afraid of being shamed by classmates on social media. I post here two such messages, with slight edits.

First:

Professor Blackman,

Thank you for sharing your platform with us. You have no idea how validating it is to know that professors also share the same views on the pass/fail grading system. I have taken the brunt of the attacks on social media. I have to admit that I am concerned about my reputation among my peers, but it is what it is. Here are my thoughts:

Like professors, the main method of attack on students who are against a mandatory pass/fail grading system is a lack of compassion for others. Any reasoning given to support our stance is drowned out by the droves of students claiming we are "gunners who want to screw the rest" and we should be worried about our community, not our GPA.

Based on the comments on social media that I've seen, what I can tell you about students like me who are against a mandatory pass/fail grading system – we are not gunners. The majority of students advocating against pass/fail are those who have suffered extreme personal tragedies during their law school career that negatively affected their grades. Arguably, we are students who have the most empathy for others. Because we know first-hand the challenges a law student will face should they or a family member contract COVID-19. Maybe the issue is that our perspective on problems is irreversibly skewed after what we've been through. Maybe the other law students simply cannot understand us because they are fortunate to never have experienced the things that we have. Things like taking care of someone with cancer, the death of a loved one, or Hurricane Harvey destroying their car and home.

Other students against the mandatory pass/fail system are those who are in their last semester of law school and this is their last chance to achieve the GPA they need to secure the job they are applying for. Students who need scholarships to continue their education. Students who are early in their law school career and are facing being kicked out if they don't up their GPA.

The major problem lurking beneath all this is that future attorneys, lawmakers, and judges are reinforcing the culture of hating anyone who disagrees with them and refusing to listen to the other's perspective. Hate is spread. Rumors are created. People are silenced. That's a problem that I am worried about.

Second:

It seems Professors are dealing with the same situation as law students. Currently, students across the nation are utilizing different avenues of social media to brutally wield their opinion as a weapon against all in opposition essentially silencing all that disagree. The opinion—mandatory pass or fail. There are many law students sitting quietly in opposition waiting for someone to be that voice.

Many of the things you have posted are silently supported by law students. However, I can only speak for myself. As a law student, I rely on my graded performance on exams to help gauge my weaknesses and strengths. With that information, I'm able to form a more suitable study approach to the Bar Exam. Without that feedback, I would not be able to identify where I need the most work.

I would consider myself affected by COVID-19. In fact, the other day, my significant other and I made a list prioritizing which bills to pay first in the event either of us lose our job. My new day consists of working from home, home schooling two small children and studying for and attending law school classes virtually. Fortunately, my significant other has a job but the future of it, is uncertain. With these financial and health concerns coupled with the limited time to devote to my studies, I fear I may under perform on exams. However, I have learned from multiple professors and mentors along the way that nothing worthwhile comes easy. I enrolled in law school as a young parent knowing I would face different obstacles than most. I welcomed the challenge at the time and stand ready for this challenge now.

If the Law School I currently attend switches to Pass/Fail (no decision has been made as of yet) it will take away my opportunity to rise to the challenge and learn a very important lesson. Wanting to refrain from a mandatory pass/fail is not wholly about boosting my GPA or maintaining my GPA (as most vying for pass/fail believe is the reason why students oppose). More importantly, it's about learning how to juggle the curve balls life can through because as an attorney, I won't be able to press pause or step away when it gets tough. This is a lesson most people, not just law students, need to learn. Law Schools taking this opportunity away are doing a disservice to their students.

The National Law Journal published a story on this issue. The University of Chicago has (at least so far) agreed to stick with the usual grading curve. Many students are unhappy. But some students were willing to sign a counter-petition.

A much smaller group of Chicago law students signed a counterpetition in favor of maintaining some form of the traditional grading system, citing a desire to have letter grades for 2L summer employment purposes and to ensure high-quality class participation.

"Many students chose to attend the law school due to the balance struck between collaboration and incentives for personal academic growth," the counterpetition reads. "We worry a mandatory pass/fail grading system would disrupt that balance by reducing class participation and lowering the quality of discussion."

I suspect more students agree, but are unwilling to publicly put their names on the petition.

Peer pressure to conform exists at all levels: for students and for faculty. Thankfully, peer pressure never worked on me, even as a kid. I will always voice my views candidly.

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  1. Just like a low tax bracket does not prevent the top 1% to pay more tax voluntarily, a mandatory P/F will not prevent your students from studying hard.

    1. But it does disadvantage the very best students from lower tier schools.

  2. Whether voiced candidly or not, the views voiced by the first law student are riddled with contemporary cliches and read more like the first rewrite of an LA-based TV “drama.” A few examples:

    Thank you for sharing your platform with us. You have no idea how validating it is …
    … main method of attack on students who are against a mandatory pass/fail grading system is a lack of compassion …
    … enforcing the culture of hating anyone who disagrees with them and refusing to listen to the other’s perspective. Hate is spread.

    Hopefully, this Newspeak is only a temporary aberration which will never make it onto pleading paper, blue-backed or not. However they grade their students, I hope the professors will at least teach them how to write!

    1. Is your problem the student’s prose/grammar or the supposed cliches?

  3. Whether voiced candidly or not, the views voiced by the first law student are riddled with contemporary cliches and read like the first rewrite of an LA-based TV “drama.” A few examples:

    Thank you for sharing your platform with us. You have no idea how validating it is …
    … main method of attack on students who are against a mandatory pass/fail grading system is a lack of compassion …
    … enforcing the culture of hating anyone who disagrees with them and refusing to listen to the other’s perspective. Hate is spread.

    Hopefully, this Newspeak is only a temporary aberration which will never make it onto pleading paper, blue-backed or not. However they grade their students, I hope the professors will at least teach them how to write!

    1. Says the maroon who posts the same comment twice. I bet you pronounce your name “Erb.”

      1. enforcing the culture of hating anyone who disagrees with them and refusing to listen to the other’s perspective. Hate is spread.

        Try to pay attention.

      2. Apologies for the double post, occasioned by an attempted edit … I think. Watch the racial slurs, BTW, and no, I chose NOT to attend UC.

        1. “Maroon” isn’t a slur. https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=maroon And odds are “maroon” comes directly from Bugs Bunny’s old line “What a maroon!”, a humorous mispronunciation of “moron”.

  4. Not all heroes wear capes:

    Peer pressure to conform exists at all levels: for students and for faculty. Thankfully, peer pressure never worked on me, even as a kid. I will always voice my views candidly.

    1. How do you know he doesn’t wear a cape? 🙂

    2. I came to the comments specifically for you. Thanks for not disappointing. This guy.

      1. I wonder whether this pass-fail thing will challenge the infamous NYT op-ed for sheer quantity of Blackman’s incestuous posting.

      2. Hah. Warms my heart to have some here think of me other than negatively.

        I feel like beyond even the economic stuff, this kind of isolating would be sooo much worse on a merely social/psychological level before this here Internet. It may be ugly at times, but from a human interaction fundamental perspective, it’s invaluable.

  5. “The majority of students advocating against pass/fail are those who have suffered extreme personal tragedies during their law school career that negatively affected their grades.”

    The likelihood that this assertion is accurate resembles the prospects that is author could accomplish a moon shot with a bicycle, a large rubber band, and a backpack full of juice boxes and energy bars.

    Its author should probably be thankful pass-fail is available.

    1. It doesn’t negate the fact that half the semester’s instruction was not provided. That’s a real problem…

    2. You skipped over the first sentence of that paragraph where the student says “based on the social media comments [they’ve] seen.”

      Typically the alternatives for students who are going through hardships are to take their exams anyway, defer their exams, or drop their classes and repeat the semester. There is not a pass/fail option.

      Since they mention Hurricane Harvey, it doesn’t sound like this student is enrolled in a law school in one of the COVID-19 hotspots.

      Your comment fits perfectly as an example of the student’s last paragraph.

  6. I was very surprised by his assertion that, without an actual grade in the class, he/she will not know which legal subjects are strengths and which are weaknesses. That was not at all my experience in law school. I knew the subjects I was strong in, and the ones where I was, um, less-strong. And I *certainly* knew, walking out of the exam, if I had done pretty well or not. Of course, I also took full advantage of the chance to take practice exams. I don’t think there was a “core” class where I did not take at least 5 exams…every professor at UCLA offered them (sometimes old exams, sometimes ones they would create just for students who wanted the extra practice). So, my assumption (borne out in real life) was that I would do at least as well as I was doing on the practice exams.

    p.s. What is a ‘gunner?’ Never heard that term in law school.

    1. A gunner is the person asking all the questions, sitting in the front row, and ready to sacrifice their firstborn for a top ranking and good internship. It’s a pretty common term in law schools for many years. I’m surprised you say you went to law school and haven’t heard it.

      I certainly had classes where I knew exactly what my strengths and weaknesses were and came out of an exam knowing exactly how I did. I had others where I thought I had it all figured out but after getting back an exam it turned out I was completely turned around on what exactly the professor meant. It’s those classes that are completely vital to have a grade in. You THINK you’ve got it nailed. That doesn’t mean you do.

      1. You can have a perfect grasp of what the law is, and how it would apply to a given fact pattern, and still do poorly on a law school exam. You just have to fail to grasp the analysis that the professor wants you to lay out, or to present it in a way that meets with their satisfaction.

        The issue-spotting I do in my job is nothing like the issue-spotting I did on a law school exam. Questions are narrowly-focused; problems may be multi-dimensional but they don’t encompass the whole of my knowledge; answers depend on what the client wants to achieve and how practitioners generally approach the issue. Nothing is black-letter law, and virtually nothing has a “right” answer.

        The skills I use now were definitely honed in law school. But my grades were not predictive of my future success or command of a substantive area.

        1. Yeah, law school had a useful first year, a meh second year and a useless third year except I still had loan deferment while I searched for a job.

          Plus there were lots and lots of misconceptions about actual practice that clinic just didn’t expose.

  7. Law schools are an evil, government created monopoly. They should be eliminated entirely.

  8. I would have serious reservations hiring a law student that supported the Pass/Fail initiative. Even now, law firms are full steam ahead. There is no pause button, clients do not expect less from you and the other side is going to press on at their full effort. If they can’t handle the pressure when the risk is only a bad grade, how are they going to handle the pressure when their client’s cases are at stake? Are they going to tell a criminal defendant, “sorry I was distress so you are doing 10-25?” or are they going to tell their personal injury client that they basically got nothing because they were traumatized? If so, they need lots of malpractice insurance.

    1. I would have serious reservations hiring a law student that supported the Pass/Fail initiative. Even now, law firms are full steam ahead.

      Uh-huh, sure. I’m guessing you don’t actually work in the industry.

      There is no pause button, clients do not expect less from you and the other side is going to press on at their full effort.

      It may surprise you to learn this, but across the board, clients are also dealing with Covid. A lot of deals are being tabled while we’re waiting for the stimulus package to come into form, the Fed invents new market support measures, businesses are frozen/closed, and so on. Meanwhile, courts are pushing off court dates, inventing new rules for proceedings, and prioritizing must-handle issues. There are areas of movement but, on the whole, legal work has slowed down quite a bit.

      If they can’t handle the pressure when the risk is only a bad grade, how are they going to handle the pressure when their client’s cases are at stake? Are they going to tell a criminal defendant, “sorry I was distress so you are doing 10-25?” or are they going to tell their personal injury client that they basically got nothing because they were traumatized? If so, they need lots of malpractice insurance.

      The difference here is that law school is mostly a waste of time and law school grades a poor indicator of pretty much anything. I certainly do care whether an associate is up to the task of handling a lot of work, on tight deadlines, in stressed circumstances. I do not care so much whether they are good at studying exam keys during a global pandemic.

      1. P/F this semester when it will not be so easy to assure quality instruction by faculty just learning to use distance learning tools and when administering exams presents special problems
        is one thing moving to an all P/F system is quite another

  9. Law students clamoring for the status quo, citing well-worn cliches in support of their positions – gosh, whoda thunk?! It’s like they’ve been going to law school.

    Like the shutdowns themselves, sometimes the wisest and most prudent course, on a policy level, is to act in a way that is contrary to one’s own intuitions about what best serves one’s self-interest.

    But no, sure, Josh – keep cherry-picking letters of support for your position. We readers will never tire of watching this auto-fellation.

  10. Let this discussion be a lesson to readers. If you disagree with many, if not most, left-wing professors, they will attack you and try to marginalize you. These professors champion diversity and inclusion but they care nothing about diversity or inclusion. For example, watch the video where Blackman spoke at CUNY. Some misguided students (probably ranked in the bottom of the class), protested and made idiots of themselves. I’d bet a million bucks that the administration condoned this nonsense. That’s why professors and lawyers silently mock many left-wing profs. They’re emotionally unstable, discriminatory, and divisive. And quite frankly not very smart.

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