The faculty at NYU Law are our poster children for law professors who lazily reuse old exams, instead of ripping themselves away from their largely unread law review articles long enough to write a new issue spotter.
Apparently, the school really likes being on that poster. Despite the fact that we’ve been highlighting this issue at the school since at least 2009, the faculty continues to use old exams. Students who find them enjoy an unfair advantage over students who are not skilled in the art of internet sleuthing. In fact, it seems NYU Law doesn’t even have a fully thought-out policy regarding exam reuse.
It must be a great life. Every time an NYU Law prof reuses an old exam (to the outrage of students), I have to write an entirely new post — even though the underlying issues of laziness and disregard for student concerns are the same. But if I were employed by NYU, I wouldn’t even have to go through the motions, I could just take the most recent post I wrote decrying the NYU Law faculty doing this, change the dates, and go back to watching the Australian Open on television. Does anybody know if NYU is hiring?
Actually, the latest example really is deserving of its own post. Because this time an NYU Law Vice Dean got into the mix and exposed a disturbing lack of understanding about the problem…
The set-up is, well, classic: professor gives exam in basic course, professor reuses old exam, some students find out/others do not, everybody freaks. Like a game of Clue, it’s about pinning the standard crime on the right person, place, and method. This time, I call Professor Andrew Schaffer, at NYU Law, with his Criminal Procedure exam.
In an interesting twist, a tipster reports that Professor Schaffer’s exam this semester was making its third appearance. Obviously, Professor Schaffer really likes the exam. Or he caught it after a trip to Thailand.
Shockingly, this is not a crime at NYU. Here’s what a vice dean (I believe it’s vice dean Randy Hertz, but I haven’t been able to confirm that) sent to NYU Law students in Schaffer’s Crim Pro class:
“I spoke with Professor Schaffer and Academic Services about this and we concluded that, because the exam was not readily available to prior students (i.e., it was not on Blackboard and it had never been posted on-line), Professor Schaffer’s exam practice conformed to our existing policy. I am very sorry to hear that some students may have learned about the exam from prior students but it’s difficult to know how to assess that without specific information about precisely how much information was related and how specific it was. For your information, the Dean and Vice Dean Forrest and I are in the process of re-examining our current policies on re-use of exam questions, with the goal of revising the policy for the future.”
See, the fact that the exam was not “readily available” to students is exactly why this is a huge problem. We’ve done a lot of stories about this, and readers have pointed out that when the old exam is easily accessible by all students, it’s less of a problem to use it. It’s still massively lazy on the part of the professor. But with an easy-to-find old exam, at least all students can be on the same page going into the test. There’s an unintended fairness if a Google search of the professor’s name and the subject matter reveals the old test.
But in a situation like this, when it’s hard to find the old exam, the students who found out get rewarded. Those who didn’t fall at a disadvantage. And don’t give me any kind of “meritorious” argument. You can’t have your curve set by students whose friends tipped them off about where the old exam was secretly stashed online. The harder the exam is to find, the more benefit will accrue to those lucky enough to be in the loop. The students who just went to class and did the reading will be more aggrieved.
In any event, why are NYU administrators just now “re-examining” their policies on old exams? This has been happening at NYU Law for a long time. This has been happening at a bunch of law schools for a long time. It’s called the internet! People can find things now! Using the same exam over and over again is code for: “I just don’t care enough about my students to be bothered.” But NYU Law is just not getting around to looking at its policies on this issue?
And how long does that review take? Should faculty be allowed to re-use old exams? No. NEXT QUESTION!
Here’s the rule we’d adopt at Above the Law Law School: “Professors are not allowed to re-use exams. If they are caught doing so, they will not be paid for that semester of teaching.” Bam, problem solved.
Actually, I’d extend it a bit. I’d add: “Professors must return grades in a timely manner, no later than four weeks after the exam was administered. If you can’t grade papers in a month, you can’t get paid for that semester.”
But that’s a problem that students won’t start screaming about for another 10 days or so.