Law Schools

Minority law student groups seek exam delays due to grand jury rulings; Columbia partly acquiesces

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Columbia Law School has announced it will consider applications to delay final exams by students traumatized by recent grand jury decisions in New York and Ferguson, Missouri, but that decision doesn’t completely satisfy a group seeking exam delays.

The Coalition at Columbia Law opposes the school’s requirement for individual explanations and wants exams pushed back to January, rather the Dec. 19 date given to some students, the National Law Journal (sub. req.) reports. Regularly scheduled exams began on Monday. The Wall Street Journal Law Blog, the Powerline Blog and Above the Law Redline also have reports on Columbia’s decision.

Meanwhile, students at Georgetown University Law Center and Harvard Law School are also seeking exam extensions, according to the National Law Journal and the Boston Globe.

The students argue that grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have deeply affected some students, who will have difficulty concentrating on the exam.

Columbia’s interim law dean, Robert Scott, announced in an email on Saturday that the school would consider individual applications to delay exams from those who feel they were “sufficiently impaired” by the grand jury decisions. The decision, he said, accords with the school’s exam policies that allow delayed exams in exceptional circumstances.

“The grand juries’ determinations to return non-indictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally,” Scott wrote. “For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process and equality.”

Scott also said trauma specialists would visit the school to speak with students, and several faculty members would be available to discuss the cases.

Powerline speculates on a possible motive for the request by Columbia students. “I suspect it’s the fact that the students in question would rather protest with their friends and perhaps disrupt New York City than read cases, review lecture notes, or whatever it is that students do these days to prepare for exams,” the blog says. “In addition, the students in question presumably want the law school to take their side on what they take to be a political question. In other words, this is, in part, a power play.”

Meanwhile, Elie Mystal of Above the Law Redline says he sympathizes with the Columbia students, but he doesn’t think an exam delay is the answer.

“Every black person has been told the line ‘you have to be twice as good’ as the white man to get the same thing,” Mystal writes. “This is what that looks like. Nobody said it was going to be easy or even fair, but showing up to take your test in the face of this adversity happens to be what is required. It’s a learning experience: how do I excel when the racism is so thick that I can’t breathe? It’s a skill that you might as well learn in school because it will be required of you in life.”

Updated on Dec. 11 to include Boston Globe story on Harvard law students.

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