Law Professors, Law Schools, Screw-Ups

Huge Exam Screw-Up Requires Class to Retake Portions Of Test

We can argue about whether law schools should be prepared to help people get jobs. I mean, it’s not much of an argument, but some educators insist that helping students make good on their investment in legal education isn’t a primary responsibility of law school administration.

But surely we can all agree that administering exams is a huge part of running a law school. So why can so few schools do it properly? Honestly, why do we live in a world where people pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for legal education, but when it comes time to take exams that will determine the job prospects of students, law schools routinely screw it up? Why is this even acceptable? Every freaking semester we have stories about schools that can’t get their acts together.

And today, we have another story. A story of an exam issue that seems so incompetent that it’s hard to fathom. A solution that manages the rare feat of punishing everybody, while not fixing the problem.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, given that this school can’t even get its act together when reporting data to the ABA…

The problem school is Villanova Law School, which would be way more of a cool “reveal” if the school wasn’t still trying to recover from its misrepresentation of LSAT scores to the ABA.

Maybe this is Villanova’s attempt to show that it really is incredibly careless, not malicious. The problems happened in Professor Joseph Dellapenna’s 1L Contracts class. That’s right folks, 1L Contracts, a pretty basic and important part of the law school experience. Here’s part of an email received by the entire Villanova law community:

When Professor Dellapenna’s exam was being distributed last Thursday in Room 101, it was discovered that in some cases an exam for another course was distributed instead. In the approximately twenty minutes it took for replacement exams to be produced and distributed, the integrity of the examination process was breached. Students who had seen the correct exam were allowed to converse among themselves and even to have access to the bags they had brought to the examination room. Although there were some efforts to limit the breach, those efforts were insufficient. The integrity of the examination process was fatally compromised. The Administration cannot allow this breach to go unremedied.

The full email is printed on the next page.

I’m struggling to understand how you just hand out the wrong exam. I seriously don’t get that. It’s 1L contracts! Get it together.

Okay, once the initial mistake happens, what was this “breach,” and how were the people in the exam room unable to deal with it? “Stay in your seats,” boom, problem solved.

But fine, so students in one exam room somehow got up, talked to each other, and looked at their notes. Nonetheless, Villanova will punish everybody:

All students in Professor Dellapenna’s Contracts section will be required to take a new essay exam question between Wednesday morning and the close of business on Friday of this week. Students will be required to self-schedule the exam. The Registrar’s office will release the details of the self-scheduling process by late tomorrow afternoon. All of Professor Dellapenna’s Contracts students, not just those in the compromised room (101), must take this new question. The multiple-choice portion of the original exam is not affected by the voiding of the essay portion.

Huh? Is it really so hard to give the students in the “compromised” room a new question while preserving the essays of the other sections? Also, if kids “self-schedule” early, won’t at least some of them talk to those who “self-schedule” late? And, ohhh, just, how did the wrong exam get handed out in the first place? One tipster points out that the Villanova explanation email didn’t even get the date of the screw-up correct:

The students took the closed-book exam last Wednesday (not last Thursday as Professor Brennan’s email suggests), and they are just being told this afternoon that they have to re-take part of it…. Many of the students in the class took the exam in another, larger test room and were not even aware that incorrect exams were distributed. It’s also not clear to any of us how this solution is going to be effective since the 1Ls can choose to take essay portion at anytime between Wednesday and Friday, and there will doubtless be some discussion between students about the contents of the “new” essay portion. You’ve done it again, Villanova law!

At least one student has had enough:

[T]he main takeaway is that they lured me away from a much higher ranked school with a full tuition scholarship, among other amenities. I regret the decision. As they year has progressed, it’s just been one thing after another. I would recommend to any 0L to not even consider Villanova Law School.

I worked very hard to get to the point where my application would be accepted by a top school. I got there and, in reliance on Villanova’s reputation and full ride, and their representations about school quality, I chose Villanova. It looks like I may be starting my law school search over next fall.

That’s a ringing endorsement for a law school if I’ve ever heard one. Of course, the school is carrying around a public censure that they’re forced to link to on their home page.

In any event, read the full email from Professor Patrick Brennan, dean of academic affairs, explaining the 1L contracts exam screw-up. I don’t know what to tell Villanova 1Ls, except to ask them why they’re Villanova 1Ls in the first place.

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