Law Schools

Exam Screw-up Follow-up: The New And Improved Plan For Administering A Simple Contracts Exam

Yesterday, we told you about how Villanova Law, a school still feeling the effects of a censure from the ABA for misrepresenting their class statistics to the organization, was having difficulties administering a 1L contracts exam.

Some people in Professor Joseph Dellapenna’s 1L Contracts class received the wrong exam, other students allegedly consulted their notes while the first mistake was being corrected, and it turned into a big mess. Villanova’s response was to void the essay portion of the exam for everybody, while preserving the multiple choice section, and making everybody “self-schedule” a retake of the essay section.

That was an unpopular decision.

Today, we have news that Villanova changed course. Now the dean is involved. But one wonders if the right solution might have been for everybody to suck it up and grade the original exam as it was taken, warts and all….

First, let’s get to the news. Disgruntled Villanova students, your concerns have been heard (no need to thank me). The law school has changed course, and is now voiding the entire exam, and changing it to a 24-hour take-home. I’m not sure if this is better, and if you are really good at multiple choice, this is assuredly worse, but here’s part of the message from Dean John Gotanda:

Your concerns regarding the previously announced decision were heard and, after further consideration and consultation with Professor Dellapenna and Dean Brennan, the final for this section of Contracts will now be a 24-hour take-home exam.

This new exam replaces the original test in its entirety; no portion of the previous exam will be counted toward your final grade. You may take the exam beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, May 11, and all exams must be submitted by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, May 21. Exam instructions will be forthcoming from the Registrar’s office.

You can click through if you’d like to see the full memo, which includes what to my eyes is a sincere apology from Dean Gotanda about the whole, pathetic mess.

Which brings us to our next point. From commenter “Artvandalay567″ (great name) last night:

Dear Above The Law …. I’m glad you and your writers enjoy writing articles like this on a daily basis … I hope it makes you guys feel good about yourselves to sit here and criticize decisions made by these laws schools like a bunch of cowards who think you are all smart … none of you have ever had to make any of these decisions before nor do you have any basis to sit here and criticize the people that take on the tough responsibility of actually running a law school administration

First, a couple of points:

  • I do, in fact, enjoy my job. Thanks for asking.
  • If there is a way to criticize in a more manly and courageous way, please let me know. Should I go to the 30th street station and accost people heading on the SEPTA? ‘Cause if you’re buying, I just might do that.

With those issues out of the way, the heart of your point seems to be the assumption that “actually running a law school” amounts to something approximating a “tough responsibility.” I disagree. I can’t wait till some university president allows me to run Above the Law Law School. Once I get my faculty together, I’ll tell them one of their responsibilities is to actually be in the room for any in-class exams, or in the room when take-home exams are being handed out and handed in. When I tell them this, I will not consider it a “tough decision” so much as “common effing sense” to have a professors play a more integral role in the entire examination process.

I’ll also instruct professors to spend time crafting new exams each semester, not just recycling old ones. In fact, I might even have a contest where the professor who writes the “best exam” as voted on by other faculty gets a big bonus (a bonus they’ll want, because Above the Law Law School will have a “salary cap” where the average faculty salary cannot exceed the average salary of the three most recent classes of school graduates). Again, I don’t see it as “tough” to incentivize professors so that their main responsibility is “teaching students,” and not “writing papers that nobody reads.”

But even if we had professors who actually gave a crap come exam time, mistakes would still happen. Even the most conscientious people will err from time to time. Which is why other feature of Above the Law Law School will be the “suck it up curve,” and the “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying” honor code.

I know this news will come as a shock to most millennials, but sometimes life isn’t fair. Sometimes, things don’t go your way. Sometimes, bitching and moaning doesn’t make everything better. There’s no honor code in real life. Professors should make exams that test a person’s quality of thought, instead of their ability to memorize (and you know, this is why good law schools focus on open book exams). But every time some student figures out how to get a leg up doesn’t mean we have to throw out the whole exam.

In the instant case at Villanova, there was a space of about 20 minutes where some students were able look at notes on what was supposed to be a closed book exam. First of all, if you’ve designed a closed book exam that can be totally flummoxed by thumbing through notes for 20 minutes, that’s a weak-ass exam. That’s an exam for high school students who watched the movie Frankenstein, but didn’t read the book.

But even so, one option would have been to let the students who got the unfair advantage have it, and expect the other students to rise to the occasion nonetheless. Because in real life, there’s always going to be somebody who has an unfair advantage over you, and there are never going to be any do-overs.

What do you think is better? Take our poll and let Villanova know how you would run their law school.

How should Villanova Law handle its exam screw-up?

  • Let the original test stand, giving a few students an unfair advantage. (45%, 396 Votes)
  • Make everybody retake the essay section but preserve the multiple choice section. (Villanova yesterday) (28%, 244 Votes)
  • Void the prior exam entirely and turn the exam into a 24 hour take-home. (Villanova today) (27%, 241 Votes)

Total Voters: 880

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Check out the full memo and apology next…

(hidden for your protection)

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