An Open Letter Concerning Practice and Professionalism
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To: The Administration of the University of Minnesota School of Law
We, the undersigned, having completed the course, Practice and Professionalism, as members of the first class required to do so, issue the following statement:
We recognize the importance for legal professionals of practical skills and experiential learning and appreciate the difficulty of addressing these needs within the law school curriculum. But we assert that the law school owes a duty to provide for the best interests of the students whenever it makes a decision about the required curriculum. These interests go beyond the classroom experience, and they can be served indirectly if curriculum changes benefit the law school itself. But regardless of how a curriculum change is intended to benefit students, its value must be measured against its opportunity-cost -- the value of other alternative possible curricula or course requirements not implemented as a result.
While the course Practice and Professionalism was not entirely without value, and might someday have sufficient value, as it was taught this year and last year, the course was without sufficient value to justify the costs of including it within the mandatory 1L curriculum, notwithstanding the value to the law school of testing new curriculum. The decision to include the course in the mandatory 1L curriculum was premature and in error. The administration should have waited until the course had demonstrated greater potential.
Current problems with the course, identified by some or all of the undersigned, include: a lack of continuity between sections of the class; a lack of coherence between materials within sections; poor organization of course materials; poor choices of assigned reading material; poor presentation of reading material; ineffective use of recorded materials; low-utility classroom exercises; poor implementation of classroom simulations; inconsistent acknowledgement of non-realistic elements of simulation scenarios; cursory coverage of relevant substantive law; poor communication of expectations and evaluation criteria; written assignments founded on faulty premises; etc. The undersigned are divided as to the feasibility of addressing these problems.
We call for the administration to publicly recognize the widespread dissatisfaction with the course, Practice and Professionalism, and to issue an explanation of the process that lead to the decision to prematurely include it in the mandatory 1L curriculum. In light of fears that the administration will not seriously consider student criticism and rumors that it has already begun to take actions inconsistent with recognition of error, we call for a demonstration on the part of the law school acknowledging the need for action.
Possible demonstrations the law school could undertake include: offering Practice and Professionalism as an elective until the curriculum has been altered and demonstrated effective; removing the Track 1 section of the course entirely; inviting future Track 2 adjuncts to attend Track 1 sessions and participate in reforming the curriculum; requesting written feedback from students concerning the course itself; providing for full and independent review of all course materials by a neutral third party in advance of offering the course again.
The law school will fail to demonstrate good faith and proper judgment if it chooses to substantially retain the status quo, or if it chooses to offer the course to next year's class as one taken for a grade. The current problems with the course are simply too numerous and too deep to be solved by such a change.