Columbia Law School To Let Students Postpone Exams Due To “Trauma” Over Ferguson, Garner

Apparently, law schools are in the business of coddling their special snowflake children now.

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Columbia University Law School is letting students delay exams if they are experiencing ” rauma” due to the Grand Jury decisions in Ferguson, Missouri and and Staten Island and the protests related to the same:

Columbia Law School is allowing students to postpone their final exams this month if they feel unnerved by the recent grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of unarmed black men.

The policy was announced by the school’s interim dean, Robert E. Scott, in an email on Saturday to the school community. A small number of students have received postponements, a Columbia spokeswoman, Elizabeth Schmalz, said on Monday, though she declined to say how many.

In his email, Mr. Scott wrote that following existing policies for “trauma during exam period,” students who felt their performance could suffer because of the decisions in the Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island cases could request a delay.

“The grand juries’ determinations to return nonindictments 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,” he 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.”

The policy, reported this past weekend on the Powerline blog, quickly drew derision from some conservative websites. Some legal scholars expressed surprise, too, saying it showed an unusual degree of solidarity between the law school administration and students, two groups that have not always seen eye to eye. Some also suggested that it was a particularly striking statement for a law school to make, since the students may find themselves on both sides of cases when they became lawyers.

“It shows a remarkable degree of empathy,” Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said. “Students cannot expect that from their boss in practice, nor I imagine would they ask for it. And they certainly can’t expect it from a judge when papers are due. But you know, academic institutions are worlds of their own.”

Benjamin Brafman, a prominent defense lawyer, called the decision “absurd.”

“Despite the genuine trauma that law students may honestly feel about the Ferguson and Garner decisions, as lawyers, they are going to be dealing with tragedies many times worse,” Mr. Brafman said. “If law students cannot function with difficult issues like these, maybe they should not try and become lawyers.”

The law school has a general policy that exams can be rescheduled in cases of illness, the birth of a child, religious observance, bereavement or “in other exceptional and documented circumstances.”

One second-year law student said the decision followed a petition to postpone exams and to gain acknowledgment from the administration “of how we felt.”

The student, who did not want to be named because he was applying for clerkships, said that he was aware of some students having their exams, which began this week, postponed until next week, but that he had not heard of any longer delays. The dean’s email did not specify how long the exams could be put off.

“The word ‘trauma’ is sort of being misunderstood,” the student, who is Latino, said. “It’s not a trauma that somebody has if they’ve been exposed to the war. It’s not being able to focus, it’s worrying about your family members. It’s worrying about your future as a lawyer. It’s an existential worry. Then having to apply the very law that’s being used to oppress us.

Put me firmly in the camp with Brafman of those who find this announcement to be utterly absurd. A policy that allows students to request individual delays in their exam schedule because of family emergencies, for health related reasons, or because of illness some other legitimate emergency non-foreseeable reason are, of course, perfectly reasonable and indeed necessary. Such policies were in effect when I was at Rutgers and George Mason some twenty years ago, and I can’t say that I ever became aware of anyone who abused the policy or any Professor who wasn’t willing to provide the necessary accommodations in such circumstances provided that there was sufficient notice and at least some degree of verification that the request was based in truth and not in a desire to simply gain more time to study, or just delay the inevitable.

That’s not what the students at Columbia and, apparently also Harvard Law School, are asking for, though. Unless they were personally connected to the Michael Brown or Eric Garner cases somehow, the odds of which are fairly unlikely, the idea that they are being so “traumatized” by the decisions of the two Grand Juries to not issue indictments is, quite simply, absurd. There are any number of stressful items in the news right now that one could point to, are we to also accept the arguments of graduate students that they are “traumatized” by these events to such an extent that they cannot be ready for exams that they have known were coming for months is utterly absurd. These are students at one of the top law schools in the country who are basically saying that they cannot handle stress. If that’s true then perhaps they don’t belong in law school or becoming lawyers.

And one more thing, if you’re not suffering existential worry then you aren’t doing the law student thing right to begin with. Man up. Or find another career.

FILED UNDER: Education, Law and the Courts
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. JKB says:

    This is exceptionally sad given the very good legal minds that have provided analysis of the Ferguson evidence and demonstrated the strength of Wilson’s self defense case. Law students should be the first to see the facts and not let emotions cloud their judgement.

    This is a very sad comment from a law students (from a NYT article)

    Here is what one Columbia law student, a Latino, told the Times:

    “The word ‘trauma’ is sort of being misunderstood. It’s not a trauma that somebody has if they’ve been exposed to the war. It’s not being able to focus, it’s worrying about your family members. It’s worrying about your future as a lawyer. It’s an existential worry. Then having to apply the very law that’s being used to oppress us.”

  2. CSK says:

    Anyone who’s too traumatized by a grand jury decision to function does not belong in a courtroom–unless, perhaps, it is equipped with a fainting couch.

  3. jewelbomb says:

    And this is where a break with many of my (presumably) liberal brethren. This policy seriously reads like a parody of how many conservatives think liberals think…only it’s true this time! Seriously, these crybabies need to grow up and take their damn finals because that’s how the real world works. I’m disgusted that they would ask for such accommodations and even more disgusted that the administration capitulated.

  4. Neil Hudelson says:

    A lot of the reasons seem to be blaming the students. The universities are the idiots here. If my nephew asks for candy for dinner and I give it to him, good for him for finding a sucker to fall for his plan.I would be the irresponsible one, not him.

    This isn’t a case of students thinking they are special snowflakes and demanding better treatment. This is a case of panicked students grasping at a straw to delay exams and the university falling for it. Well, good for the students. If the university administration its that gullible, you deserve the extra days.

  5. CET says:

    @jewelbomb:
    Yea . . . one of the things that concerns me about the direction the left is headed is this sort of militantly PC garbage (trigger warnings, microagressions, coddling students and suppressing speech because some of them find it disagreeable, etc). In an academic environment, it’s ridiculous but relatively harmless as long as students grow out of it. But it looks increasingly like this is going to be a new battleground in the culture wars (affirmative consent laws, for example).

  6. jd says:

    If I were a law student entering the field of jurisprudence, I would be seriously concerned… by the way the grand jury process was subverted. I can see myself rethinking what I was doing.

  7. HarvardLaw92 says:

    OK, officially filed under “you have got to be kidding me …”

    I’m not entirely sure that a few of my profs in law school would have allowed me to postpone an exam if I had been bleeding from my eyes. This is just ridiculous.

  8. al-Ameda says:

    T

    he policy was announced by the school’s interim dean, Robert E. Scott, in an email on Saturday to the school community. A small number of students have received postponements, a Columbia spokeswoman, Elizabeth Schmalz, said on Monday, though she declined to say how many. In his email, Mr. Scott wrote that following existing policies for “trauma during exam period,” students who felt their performance could suffer because of the decisions in the Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island cases could request a delay.

    It does not appear that the school is will require that “traumatized” students will be required to get a signed note from their psychiatrist that attests to their claims of “trauma.”

    Seriously, if these kinds of incidents create an anxiety among law students that prevents them from carrying on, my feeling is that I hope that none of them becomes a defense attorney or a public defender

  9. Guarneri says:

    Oh, please.

    It’s transparently just a stunt. Have the administration inform them that absence at finals results in an F and their faux PTSD will vaporize. The fact that the admins, presumably adults, won’t and you know how faulty your presumption of adulthood is.

    What next, a Harvard prof traumatized about his overly expensive Kung Pao chicken??

  10. Will says:

    this is pretty funny. Kind of like one of those urban legends where if your roommate commits suicide you automatically receive straight As

  11. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Man, my apologies for so many erroneous words–new phone, new autocorrect dictionary.

  12. JKB says:

    To be fair, Columbia is trying to clawback this demeaning move by the interim Dean. Perhaps he’ll be moved to a job more suited to his talents, like the Columbia Law School Daycare.

  13. roger says:

    You would think the Brown and Garner stuff would inspire these students to knuckle down, study for those exams, get out in the world and help fix what went wrong in both cases. Instead, they find a lame way to get out of exams. Shameful.

  14. CSK says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Oh, we just thought you were doing a Sarah Palin imitation.

  15. grumpy realist says:

    As another holder of a J.D., yah, I’m also in “WTF? ” class. If a grand jury decision is “trauma”, what are these precious snowflakes going to do when one of their clients yells at them? Break down and cry?

    (Law school exams in Chicago get delayed due to snow, snow, broken-down-train lines, and more snow. Anything else? Fuggetabahtit.)

  16. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    Not a JD, don’t think the decision is particularly well reasoned, but I doubt that I would bother to cross the street to complain. I’m sort of in Neil’s camp here. If the students can get someone to buy this, more power to them. If the school decided this on its own, the school has that right.

    For the JDs complaining about it–your comments have a sort of “well back in my day [when dinosaurs ruled the earth and we walked to school every day, uphill both ways, in the July snow storms]…” combined with a “get off my lawn” feel. Yeah, we know life was tougher back when you were in school…

    Now when I was in school…

  17. DrDaveT says:

    I think I’ll tell my boss that I can’t finish my project on time because I’m suffering from weltanschauung and the marthambles, brought on by the torture report. I have a note from my mom…

    (Agree with Neil, though, that it’s the school that looks pathetic here, not the students.)

  18. grumpy realist says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: Can I at least bitch about having to write out by hand the answers to a 4-hour Torts exam?

  19. bill says: