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Administrative Law for All at Yale!

Yesterday we covered a controversy at Yale Law School over an Administrative Law class with an oversubscription problem. The course, taught by visiting Stanford law professor Daniel Ho, wound up with a waitlist of about 100 students.

Some 3Ls who were denied admission into the class were quite upset, since this represented their last chance to take Admin Law. The situation was described to us as a “near riot.” As a tipster noted, “Only at YLS could students get this bent out of shape about not being let into a black letter law class.”

This morning we bring you an update to this story — which has a happy ending, we’re pleased to report….

Remember that famous episode of Oprah, when she gave away cars to her entire studio audience? Imagine YLS registrar Judith Calvert running up and down the main hall of the Sterling Law Building, pointing at random Yale students and screaming, “YOU get Admin Law! YOU get Admin Law! YOU get Admin Law! Everybody’s getting Admin Law!!!”

Not long after our story went up, the Yale Law School administration announced the creation of a new section of Administrative Law for the spring semester. You can view the memo, from deputy dean Doug Kysar and registrar Judith Calvert, on the next page (along with some humorous graphics dramatizing the situation that were sent our way).

The good news: the new Admin Law section is open to all YLS students, there’s no cap on enrollment, and it’s being taught by an excellent teacher who knows a ton about the topic — E. Donald Elliott, former EPA general counsel and current Willkie Farr partner. (I took Complex Civil Litigation with Don Elliott, and he’s great.)

The bad news: no three-day weekends for 3Ls. The new Admin Law class meets on Friday afternoons, from 1:00 to 4:00, starting this Friday. “It is not the time most students want to be reading about Administrative Law,” quipped a tipster who’s signing up, “but we will take what we can get.”

Despite the relatively happy ending, not everyone is thrilled by how this all unfolded. From a YLS student I’ll call “Grumpy Yalie”:

This problem was entirely predictable. The underlying problem is that the main admin teacher at Yale, Jerry Mashaw, has a reputation for running a dry and difficult class. Students therefore waited for the chance to do the subject with two apparently “more interesting” instructors (while Mashaw is on sabbatical). The administrators should have guessed that the two sections offered this semester would be grossly oversubscribed. Students should have guessed this too.

Other sources add that Professor’s Mashaw’s Admin class in the fall was undersubscribed because students opted to take different black-letter courses that semester — courses that, at the time, were being offered exclusively in the fall semester for the 2012-2013 academic year. These students postponed taking Admin because they figured they could take it in the spring instead.

Back to Grumpy Yalie:

The troubling aspect of this is that the professors seemed very reluctant to compromise. Dan Ho, for example, insisted on teaching a class of 65 people only. He then grudgingly raised the limit to 80, but this still left 100 people on the waitlist. Professors understandably want to teach smaller classes, as they can focus more on each student. [Ed. note: And do less grading. I have numerous law professor friends, and grading is generally the one thing they dislike about their jobs.]

But, ultimately, students pay for professors, either through (high!) tuition fees or through alumni donations. Ho seems arrogant in thinking that he had no duty to teach a larger class.

More troubling yet is the pressure that was needed to get the administration to run another section. A letter with 50 names was sent to the deputy dean; a petition was started; and, finally, the story made Above the Law. In the end, it worked. But ATL only ran this story because it involved Yale, allegedly the nation’s best law school. It seems likely to me that stories like this happen in law schools all over the country every year, but these schools don’t face the public scrutiny that YLS (rightly) faced, and so aren’t forced to change in order to serve their students. Perhaps this kind of thing doesn’t happen in other schools; maybe they are better managed. But I suspect not, which leaves a lot of disappointed students out there.

Thanks for running this story.

You’re most welcome; happy to help. And, for the record, we might have run this story even if it didn’t involve my alma mater. We cover many different law schools here at ATL, and students at some of them — they know who they are — complain that ATL covers them too much.

That’s the critical view of how this was handled. In fairness to Yale, many other YLS students seem reasonably pleased by the solution to Adminlawgate. Says a source I’ll call “Happy Yalie”:

While the additional section (on Friday! for three hours!) isn’t what I’d hoped for, I think this is a great example of how and why YLS works. Things are haphazard. Most solutions are ad hoc. But in the end, we have everything we need (yes, including all of the major black letter classes one might need), and the bit of uncertainty/heartburn is a small price to pay for the freedom and enrichment (seriously!) of the YLS experience. YLS is a wonderful place, and while the administration could think about the students a bit more *before* things like this happen, in the end, I wouldn’t trade my time here for a thousand black letter classes elsewhere.

I agree with Happy Yalie. Yale Law School is a wonderful — if, at times, wonderfully shambolic — place. As I wrote in my earlier post, I’m glad that I went to YLS; it has its quirks, but it is undoubtedly a great school.

In my prior post, I noted that black-letter courses at YLS are often taught by visiting professors and adjunct professors. Happy Yalie pushes back on this a bit:

The *vast* majority of YLS courses are taught by tenured professors. The rest are taught by distinguished visitors (see, e.g., Prof. Ho, or Pam Karlan or Sandy Levinson, both of whom taught here last semester) and practitioners. Yes, other schools might offer bankruptcy every semester by bringing in random adjuncts, but if you plan correctly (sometimes that means taking a class when it’s offered, rather than when you really want to), you can hit all of the “requirements” while also benefiting from the fact that the faculty are allowed to teach things like “The Crisis of 21st Century Constitutionalism.”

Most of what you’d call the “core” blackletter classes are taught every semester. There are two sections of Property this semester (taught by Bob Ellickson — an institution — and Claire Priest — a tenured professor). Same with Bus Orgs (Macey, Romano, Brooks). Three sections of Crim, all taught by tenured profs. Two Legislation classes, both by tenured faculty.

These are fair points as well. As you can see from the YLS Course Information and Selection Site, Yale has no shortage of courses in black-letter law, many of them taught by talented tenured professors. These classes share space in the course catalog with the quirkier, more theoretical offerings for which Yale is famous. [FN1]

And this is not the first time that the YLS administration has made special accommodations for students with frustrated curricular desires. Happy Yalie furnishes an additional example:

A few 3Ls couldn’t fit either of the fall sections of Fed Courts into their schedules. The administration added a THIRD section, taught this spring. I honestly think that one was far more than was necessary. (The 3Ls concerned wanted to take other classes too. I didn’t get to take all of the classes I wanted to take here. They should’ve been told to suck it up.) But the associate dean (the fantastic Prof. Kysar) took it upon himself to teach the extra section to satisfy every single person here.

'YOU get Admin Law!!!'

That’s just the kind of place that Yale is. I am pleased, but not surprised, by the similar resolution of Adminlawgate.

The Yale Law School faculty and staff members care deeply about the students, and the students care deeply about each other. In short, Yale is an amazing community in which to study law.

[FN1] If you want to study substantive law at Yale, you’ll find numerous opportunities for doing so. I know this from personal experience. The judge for whom I clerked — Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain (9th Cir.), a proud graduate of Harvard Law School — used to tease me by saying, “You gave yourself a Harvard education at Yale.” While at YLS, I took the following courses that could be considered black letter, statutory, or practical in orientation: Antitrust, Bankruptcy, Business Organizations, Civil Procedure, Complex Civil Litigation, Constitutional Law, Contracts, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Federal Income Tax, Federal Income Tax II, Federal Jurisdiction, Landlord Tenant Clinic, Legislation, Pension and Employee Benefit Law (ERISA), Property, Sentencing, Sentencing II, Torts, and Trial Practice.

P.S. Don’t forget to flip to the next page for (1) the complete memo announcing the new section of Admin Law and (2) some humorous graphics about the situation.

(hidden for your protection)

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