How long should students have to wait for fall semester grades? Two weeks? A month? Some students at William and Mary School of Law are still waiting for fall semester grades — and they might not be alone.
I understand that law professors would rather drink wine straight from the box than grade a paper. It’s an onerous responsibility. But, it is a responsibility. Especially in this economy, where students are scrambling for scarce job opportunities. If a student has an incomplete transcript, or can’t produce a class rank upon request, a prospective employer might well go with one of the other hundreds of resumes flooding his or her inbox.
Last month, a student at the University of Texas School of Law complained that he lost out on a judicial clerkship because of one professor’s grading delay. Above the Law received this email on January 25th:
Texas Law’s Student Affairs Office said over the phone this afternoon that Prof. [Redacted] hasn’t submitted grades yet or filed for an extension. UT’s deadline was Tuesday of last week (which is already hilariously late compared to the University’s undergraduate policies). Supposedly, the Law School will dock [the professor's] pay until the grades are in or until he requests an extension, but he’s big pals with Dean Sager.
I’ve already missed out on at least one internship this summer because I didn’t have grades yet. A judge’s office called me to schedule an interview and asked that I bring a transcript. When I mentioned that, as late as Jan 16th, I still hadn’t received a single grade, they went ahead and hired someone else.
We emailed the professor to see if the grades were still outstanding, or why they were delayed in the first place, but he did not respond.
At William and Mary, the situation is such that the class rank of the entire school has been delayed….
Over the past couple of days, Above the Law has fielded a torrent of emails from William and Mary law students still waiting for grades from a fall semester course. The delay had actually prevented W&M from producing a class rank for its students, and this week the school decided to just go ahead and rank students without counting the course for which there are no grades.
From one student:
It has been 72 days since the students in William Van Alstyne’s First Amendment course took their exams, and we still do not have our grades. Grades were due January 29th, and the administration finally decided today that they will re-rank us without the four-credit class….
The administration first updated us on the situation two weeks after grades were due. We’ve received weekly updates since then and they have grown increasingly amusing. The school gives the chance for 3L’s to retroactively pass/fail 1 class. It’s basically a mulligan. They have had to inform us about this problem because of the deadline they set for those forms.
Above the Law spoke to Professor Van Alstyne, one of the nation’s top scholars of constitutional law, and he had this to say:
The lateness of my First Amendment, four-semester-credit fall semester course is surely not 72 days, but more nearly fourteen (and certainly not more than 21). It is, moreover, excused insofar as during the expected grading period (during the xmas break, extending through early January), I was suffering from the flu, running daily temperatures frequently above 102, with additional delay because of scheduled out-of-state speaking engagements (concluding just last weekend at the University of North Carolina Law School). Consistent with the law school rules, with the delay occasioned by these excusing circumstances, I am even now working to complete the raw scoring of the many essay exams from this fall semester course, expecting to be able to forward final letter grades by this weekend… all consistent with our established rules and procedures.
We certainly wish Professor Van Alstyne a speedy recovery.
But should one professor falling ill really gum up the works for an entire law school? Here’s the plan that Lizbeth Jackson, Associate Dean for Administration, presented W&M law students with on February 10th:
Because we are still missing one set of grades (I am sure you all know that the professor has been ill for almost 2 months and that has slowed the grading process) we will extend the grade conversion option submission by one week…. After all the conversions are completed, I will be able to calculate ranks. I realize we are quite delayed this year and I will do this as quickly as possible for you.
I am sorry for the delay in both your grades and your new rank. I really appreciate your patience and understanding.
Okay, the man’s sick, what are you going do? W&M students received this update on February 17th:
My dear 3Ls:
Once again I write to tell you I will not have the First Amendment grades in time for an informed decision for this Friday’s grade conversion form deadline. We will extend it again by one week. The forms are now due February 26.
For those who submitted your forms prior to today, Feb 17, you should find the conversion to “P” on already your transcript.
If the professor is sick — and we know that grading is already a low priority for healthy professors, much less ones that are dealing with an illness — was “wait-and-see” really the right approach for the W&M administration?
Yesterday, the students received this message:
Dear 2L and 3L Students:
I write with notification that class ranks and rank GPA will be run this week.
To students in First Amendment:
Neither the cumulative GPA nor the class rank will include your First Amendment grade. Those grades are not yet available. However, you will see this course listed on your transcript. There will be a grade of “G.” This means the grade has not been entered and is deferred. Neither the credits nor the grade of “G” will be calculated into your rank GPA and class rank.
As soon as the First Amendment grades are available, I will ensure they are entered. However, per discussion with Deans Douglas and Kaplan, Fall 2009 class ranks will stand without the First Amendment grade included. Ranks will be run again only at the conclusion of this spring term.
To 3Ls waiting for the First Amendment grade before submitting the grade change option:
Your final class rank and gpa will reflect the grade conversion. Forms received within 5 business days of notification that the First Amendment grades are available, will be processed the following week. Forms received after 5 days and by April 1 will be processed by mid-April. No form will be accepted after April 1.
To 3Ls who have not yet submitted the grade conversion form (not related to First Amendment):
Remember the due date for the form is April 1. No form will be accepted after April 1. Your final class rank and gpa will reflect the grade conversion.
My utmost apologies for this delay.
You know, I don’t think people should blame one sick professor for messing up an entire process. People get sick all time; the onus is on the law school to have some kind of backup plan for the situation.
Grades and class rank are important. In this economy, they might be more important than ever. Pedagogical excellence and academic collegiality are all well and good, but at some point these law schools have to start understanding that their students are competing for jobs in a ridiculously difficult environment. Law school is a trade school, and right now there just aren’t enough career opportunities to go around. You just can’t screw around with people’s transcripts right now, and the entire community — from the deans to the professors to the person that files requests in the registrar’s office — has to be on the same page with this.
You know, when UVA Law had their moot court problems earlier this week, a lot of William and Mary students had some fun at UVA’s expense. There was a lot of talk about inappropriately fertilizing various spots on the UVA campus.
And maybe UVA gets small things like moot court wrong. But when it comes to big things like transcripts and class rank, no law school can afford to have the kind of difficulties students at W&M and UT are facing. It doesn’t matter if someone gets sick, it doesn’t matter if there’s a biblical plague of locusts, law schools just need to get these things done. No excuses. You need to get these things right on the first try.
To students at other law schools: Are any of your professors delinquent in issuing grades? Feel free to let us know, either in the comments or by email (subject line: “Law School Grades”). Thanks.