How hard is it to write an exam for a course you’ve taught all semester? Seriously, tell me, how hard is it? On a scale of one to ten — ten involving programing a rocket ship, one somewhere around putting on pants in the morning — where does formulating a law school exam rate? A two? Maybe three if you are teaching the course for the first time?
It cannot possibly be so hard that you have to use the same exam over and over again, in the digital age. We’re not talking about something as complicated as the wheel. A law school exam can be reinvented, every year, with subtle and simple changes.
Using the exact same exam is just lazy. There’s no other word for it. LAZY. The high cost of law school is largely attributed to the hefty salaries of law school faculty. The least these people can do is write a novel exam each and every semester that they teach.
And yet during this finals period alone, we’ve got students from three law schools, including two law schools in the top ten, alleging that their professors couldn’t be bothered to come up with fresh exams for this year’s students….
I accept that some law professors don’t understand why it’s important to come up with a new exam for each class. You can imagine some profs saying, “it’s new to the students,” in a musty guffaw, as they read statutes out of a book before assuming the new dean for student affairs is a waitress in the faculty lounge.
What some professors don’t understand is that we have this thing called “the internet” which has pretty much recorded everything that’s ever happened. This technology is so powerful that it can find old exams that professors have given, even if they administered the test while teaching at another school, miles away from their current classroom.
When you reuse an exam, the best you can hope for is that all the students already know all of the questions and simply recite pre-made answers to the questions. But, invariably, not all of the students will be on a level and fair playing field. Some students would have used all their Google skills to search out old tests, while others, naive and innocent babes that they are, will simply study the materials presented in class. In every class there will be some annoying people who try to learn the subject instead of learning the professor.
It’s a very simple thing to write a new exam, but apparently Daniel Fischel at the University of Chicago Law School couldn’t be bothered. Was he too busy hanging out in his $8.45 million Manhattan pied-à-terre?
Professor Fischel’s Business Organizations exam from earlier this month was substantially similar to a previous exam he had given while at Northwestern, according to our sources. Dean Michael Schill had to step in and apologize to the class:
It has come to my attention that there were some issues with the Business Organizations exam that you took this morning. First, let me say that I deeply regret that this situation has arisen. No Dean ever wants students to be concerned about exam problems, and I sincerely apologize for any stress or difficulty this causes you.
I have reviewed the exam closely. As you know, it had three questions. The first two questions were significantly different from questions that had been asked on previous exams. The third question, however, was identical to a question that had appeared on another exam in the past. Under the Law School’s rules this question is impermissible.
Dean Schill says the first two questions were different, but some students disagree with that characterization. A tipster reports:
This exam… utilized the exact same question from the only model exam (including a model answer) that Fischel has on the schools website. Note that the other two questions were also extremely similar to the other exam.
Why do professors deserve to get paid exhorbanent amounts if they can’t even create a new question??
Of course, when the professors can’t be bothered to write new questions, grading for the entire class gets screwed up. Here was Dean Schill’s valiant attempt to make the best of a bad situation. You tell me if you’d like to go into interviews having to explain a “P” on your transcript with “Well, I had a really lazy professor and…”
The question, then, is what to do about Question 3 and the exam as a whole. Unfortunately, there are no good solutions here, only better ones and worse ones. It is very important to me that we reach an outcome that will be as fair as possible and does not put additional burdens on you. Therefore, rather than asking you to take another exam or force everyone into a pass/fail situation, I have decided on the following course of action:
1. The third question on the exam will not be graded.
2. All students who took the exam today will have the option to receive a grade based on the first two questions, or to receive a “P” on their transcripts. You must make this decision before receiving a grade – if you elect to receive a P, you must notify Roberto Koch by Friday, December 16 at 4 p.m. If you do not notify him that you wish to receive the P before then, your exam will be graded as above. There will be no exceptions to this deadline.
3. If you elect to receive a P on your transcript, it will be listed as a P**. This comes with a designation on the transcript which says: “P** indicates that a student has successfully completed the course but technical difficulties, not attributable to the student, interfered with the grading process.”
4. Students who have not yet taken the exam will have two hours for the exam, and will answer only the first two questions. These students will not have the P** option.
I am well aware that this is not a perfect solution, but I am convinced that there is no such thing in this situation. It is my belief that this resolution is the fairest way to put everyone on as close to an equal footing as possible under the circumstances. If you would like to discuss this further, Dean Gardner, Dean Strahilevitz, and I are available. I hope you will accept my sincere apologies, and that putting this matter to rest quickly will allow you to concentrate on your other exams.
What a parade of horribles. And all because a professor couldn’t be bothered to perform the basic job requirement of writing a new exam.
Click through to see how professorial indifference afflicts other law schools — and read one appropriate student response….