November 13, 2007

Waitlisted ...

The current class registration system for seminars (“PRS Round One”) randomizes seminar registration by failing to provide incentives for thoughtful selection. Since seminar registration takes place before regular registration, students have every reason to apply for any seminar in which they have the slightest interest, even before they have determined whether there are regular classes that they would rather take at the same time slot. If students later decide to enroll in the regular class, they simply drop the seminar.

Also, the PRS system solicits up to seven seminar selections from each student (though students will be enrolled in at most one seminar), encouraging students to apply for a multitude of seminars, even those that they have no real interest in taking.

While Round One may seem student-friendly, it actually works to randomize the process by allowing students to bid on classes that they aren’t committed to taking. The system on the whole encourages a wait-and-see attitude, allowing students halfheartedly to take precious spots in 15-student classes that their fellow students may be eagerly waiting to fill. Banished to the waitlist, a student that really wants to take a seminar may prefer to fill that time with another class rather than face the uncertainty of gaining entry off the waitlist.

A simple solution would be to impose some sort of penalty on students who drop seminars once they are enrolled. Facing a penalty if they don’t enroll carefully, students would likely apply only for seminars that they really want to take. Simply reducing the number of seminars that students are allowed to request may also help by limiting the total number of requested seats, thus ensuring that students will only bid on their top two or three seminar choices, rather than applying for their top seven.

Waitlists of 50 and 60 students demonstrate great interest in certain seminars, but they also show that too many students are allowed to select too many seminars. Forcing students to think before they apply will reduce the total number of bids and make the process less random.

October 09, 2007

Let There Be Light!

A late-night e-mail is sent by the Dean to the entire student body outlining various administrative matters having to do with a grand plan to revamp the Law School’s lighting. Buried somewhere near the end of paragraph two is the mention that the beloved Reading Room is slated to be closed for a full semester – the final semester for about 250 law students who will thereafter never again have the pleasure of sitting on uncomfortable wooden chairs while trying to make out the text of the case book before them in the green lamplight. Despite the strong cloak-and-dagger undertones of the e-mail, we’re fully behind the Dean’s plan to close up shop for renovations, for the same reason some are troubled: the Reading Room is one of the most visible and visited features of the Law School, and having it look and feel its best for years to come is worth the inconvenience of having to find another place to study for a few months.

When it comes right down to it, we all know that denizens of the Reading Room are almost all undergrads or those looking to pick up undergrads (surprisingly similar to Rick’s in that respect, and in the interests of keeping that the only similarity we shouldn’t let the lighting level stay at the Rick’s norm). Yes, the average law student may occasionally go there to do some serious studying once in awhile, but face it – the “halls of knowledge” schtick wears off after the first few months of law school, and the belabored law student is in search of three things: comfortable chairs in which to sit for hours on end, a quiet atmosphere in which to zoom through pages of reading without needless interruption by cadres of giggling undergrads, and good light by which to read so as to minimize the deleterious effect law school is already having on our collective vision. None of those is currently available in the Reading Room. At least after these renovations, one of them will be.

Granted, for those who seriously rely on the Law Quad as primary studying grounds, quarters are bound to get a little tight in the Subs. But maybe it was time to branch out anyway – the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library is just across South University and boasts individual carols with doors that actually close (though the efficacy of the noise barriers created by said doors is another matter). In addition, Weill Hall, our new neighbor to the south, boasts a nice little reading room of its own, on the third floor, which we’re sure they’d absolutely hate to see law students begin to occupy – but don’t tell us they won’t feel free to avail themselves of the newly refurbished Reading Room once it’s done. And, of course, if you’re still looking to troll for undergrads, you might try either the reading room at Hatcher, one of the reading rooms in the Union, or else the old standby – the Shapiro Undergrad Library, just across the street.

Of course, the most important piece of this cost-benefit analysis is still a little uncertain: will the new lighting scheme actually make any difference to the quality of life in the Reading Room? While it’s impossible to know for sure, we have confidence that the beneficial effects of the renovations will prove at least enough to outweigh the minor inconveniences posed by a semester of construction.

September 25, 2007

Don’t Be a Slave to the Curve

It starts again. Every semester, when we run grade curves, we also run an editorial imploring everyone to view those curves more as a tool to asses your relative understanding of material and what classes to take going forward than as a ruler with which to measure your own personal worth (which should instead be measured by just how well you do in your more … extracurricular activities; please see Solicitations on page ____). And every semester this editorial goes unread as people run straight to the grade curves and commence the ego-crushing exercise of comparing their own performance to that of the 900 other brilliant minds enrolled at our Law School.

Seeing as you’ve already skipped over this editorial and gone straight to the grade curves on pages [_____], there is nothing we can do to prevent the same thing from happening this year. Sure, we could remind you that it wasn’t just your academics that got you in here. Sure, we could point out that Michigan is a great school so it doesn’t matter as much how well you do. Sure we could put smiley faces around the grade curves. But, ultimately, none of it would help.
That is why we are taking stronger measures this year. Before you are allowed to read the grade curves (go ahead, try to turn to them now, you’ll find you can’t!) you have to sign the following, recognizing that you are more than your GPA.

I (please print name) ___________________, the undersigned, being of at least marginally sound mind and only slightly inebriated body, do hereby acknowledge that grades are not everything. I understand that however my recent academic performance stacks up compared to my peers, I will be getting a job offer when I graduate. I further acknowledge that, in the event I do not listen to this advice and I die as a result of taking the grade curves too seriously, I, on behalf of myself, my agents, heirs, and assigns, do hereby hold the RG harmless for having provided them to me. I further leave my entire life savings to the RG for their discretionary use.

Name: ____________________________
Date: _____________ GPA: __________

September 11, 2007

Too LawOpen? Commercial E-mails Clog Inboxes

It began on July 6, 2007, at 6:03 p.m. The responsible party, a 3L who shall remain nameless, might have been blissfully unaware of the tide he was ushering in. The message was short. It went like this: “Buying Notre Dame tickets. If you are selling, let me know.” Since that day, the e-mail accounts of every law student at the University of Michigan have been flooded with hundreds of e-mail solicitations for semi-legal (see Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.465) football ticket transactions.

Out of a random sampling of 1,000 e-mails sent to LawOpen over the last three months, 652 of them were for the purchase or sale of football tickets, while an additional 246 of them were aimed at buying and selling various other items, from course packs and textbooks to furniture. It appears that fully 90% of the messages on LawOpen are commercial.

It’s easy to get worked up over this situation. What is less clear is what to do about it. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure: Those who complain about ticket-sellers on one hand are only too anxious to beg the captive audience of 1,000+ law students to borrow a laptop cable (or, around finals time, a whole laptop!). Those who love to hawk their wares in the football ticket marketplace are the first to write angry emails chastising use of the list as a bully pulpit for political debaters. “Something for everyone” quickly turns into “something for everyone to hate.”
Many people bring up the digest option, by which you can choose to receive a whole day’s LawOpen offerings in one long email, as a solution. We would suggest that the digest feature is part of the problem. Though we may clash on precisely which topics represent the biggest peril to inbox feng shui, we can surely all agree that receiving e-mail asking the same question or making the same point as was asked or made in a post several hours prior can ruin anybody’s good mood. It’s all well and good for someone to save himself the hassle by receiving the digest, but is it really fair to the rest of us when he then lobs gruesome chunks of spam over that little barricade he hides behind?

One possible solution is to prohibit postings that offer to buy or sell anything. LSSS polices LawStudents effectively, and a similar effort could clean up LawOpen. Another possible solution is the creation of an additional listserv for sales. The creation of LawSales would meet the obvious demand for a quick-response forum for sales, one that is apparently unfulfilled by the Law School Classifieds, and would free up space on LawOpen for the spread of other types of information. In any case, one topic sure to stir up a lively debate, and yet equally relevant to all members of the Law School community, is what to do about the spam-mobile that LawOpen has become.

March 20, 2007

Ask Ms. Sandra D.

Dear Sandra D.,

I feel like the dumbest person at law school. Am I going to be miserable for my whole career if I am unhappy here?
-Afraid I made the wrong decision.

Dear Afraid,
I am sure you have heard it before, but law school is hard. Not just for you, but for everyone. There will always be many challenges within the law school environment, whether they be annoying classmates or uncooperative professors; so when it gets completely unbearable, think of law school as a stepping stone. Think about what makes you happy and how you can work in that area with a law degree. There are many more career options than working in a firm or at the public defender’s office. Browse through our faculty profiles and see if anyone shares your interests and try to set up a meeting with anyone who does. Having a good mentor can really make law school easier and help you through the tough times. And, if nothing else, know that you are not alone, we all feel like that sometimes.

Dear Sandra D.,

My boyfriend and I have been together for three years, but I find myself falling for an old undergraduate friend. He has been giving me lots of attention and has even come all the way to Ann Arbor to visit me. I miss having someone care about me in that way and think I am falling in love with him. I’m not sure right now is the right time to get in a serious relationship, though.
-In Love and Confused

Dear Confused,
Think hard about why you want to go from one relationship to another. Is it just for a temporary fix? Are there things in your current relationship that might be suffering but can be improved, or do you sincerely feel nothing there can be salvaged? We all have heard that the grass looks greener on the other side, and that is especially true when it comes to relationships. Also, I always recommend taking a break between relationships; jumping from one person to another can create a bad pattern for your life. Whatever you do, keep in mind that three people’s hearts are involved right now: tread carefully.
Dear Sandra D.,

Is Britney going to be OK?

Dear Worried,
Recent pictures have shown her playing tennis in rehab, smiling, and looking a little bit like the old Brit we knew and … loved to hate. She’s taken some steps in the right direction, and I’m sure if she stays committed, we’ll get that comeback she promised us. I don’t know about you, but I’m still crossing my fingers for a Britney and Justin reunion!

February 20, 2007

You Are Not Your GPA

Once again, we bring you the second of two issues that keep our readership faithful throughout the school year; grade curves for last semester start on page 14. As usual, we debated replacing them with an extra spread of bar night photos in the hope that no one would spend hours and days waxing and waning through the inevitable cycle of smugness and despair, but decided the inevitable e-mail backlash wasn’t worth the hassle.

So, enjoy. If the lurid temptation of raw statistical self-torture hasn’t already swallowed you whole and you’re still reading this editorial, we have full faith that your curiosity will devour you before the end of the day. We have long since given up any illusions that a critical mass of readers will ignore the grade curves and just keep living their lives. We do not actually wish to suppress the publication of the grade curves; any sliver of transparency that can be shed into the otherwise murky, zero-sum game of grades is helpful and necessary. It’s just that they are wont to draw much, much more attention than they deserve.

The current paradigm of law school instruction and grading is virtually feedback-free. Setting aside the extent to which this approach might be pedagogically unsound, we can’t help but notice that any shred of feedback on students’ performance that comes into view is greedily gobbled before it can hit the plate. Of course it is – we are all starved for some confirmation that what we do and the way we do it is good, right, correct, sufficient, etc. Seeing the grade curve for a class can help place your grade in context, which is valuable since a B+ exists not in moonless outer space but rather in the thick of the curve. Even those who know and understand the suggested grade distributions can benefit from occasionally seeing the curve take shape, especially during 1L year.

But context has limited utility. It is essentially impossible to get a grade changed at the Law School; changes are only granted if there is a quantitative error in the calculation of the grade. The overwhelming majority of transcripts may as well be carved in stone, because the grades will stand. This is a good thing; opening pro fessors to the puppy-eyed wiles of disappointed law students would not serve anyone’s best interest. So, does it matter if your grade was better than 16 people as opposed to 25? The grade will stay the same. Firms, judges, and fellowship committees will most likely view a transcript as a transcript, not a cog in a giant grade curve. And, while it is helpful to gain perspective on the nature and behavior of the grade curve, the utility gained by this perspective is quick to expire. No one is willing or able to give weight to a complaint of “but surely there aren’t TWENTY people in the class who can outperform me,” and few of our grades’ future uses can be accompanied by an explanatory spreadsheet.

Please, resist the urge to use these grade curves to rend apart the fibers of your confidence. We offer them as informational tools and nothing more. They will not help you be a better student, lose weight, win friends, or influence people. They will not whiten your teeth or airbrush your skin. They will only contextualize the grades you have already earned. We would say more, but we are late for the funeral of a poor, poor horse.