In our Above the Law Career Center, Columbia Law School boasts a 9.2:1 student faculty ratio. That’s
a bit high, but fairly average, but there’s no denying that Columbia is a big school in a big city. It still manages to sport a 94 percent employment rate, according to Law School Transparency. In general, the school does well by its students.
But the administration is not doing a great job right now. One of the school’s Constitutional Law professors cannot perform her duties three weeks into the semester. The school’s solution has been to create one behemoth Con Law class that seems to help no one.
It’s kind of amazing that a school that is widely thought to be one of the top five law schools in the nation doesn’t have one spare Constitutional Law professor on hand who can step up in a pinch….
The issues at Columbia start with one professor’s personal problems. Tipsters report that Professor Christina Duffy Ponsa has had to miss significant time this semester because she had to be in court for her divorce proceedings.
Look, it’s not really her fault that she has to be in court so much. Divorces are hard, and we wish Professor Ponsa the best of luck.
But the Columbia students in her Con Law class still need a professor who can be there consistently. Constitutional Law is a highlight course in most students’ legal educations. And given the prestige and stature of Columbia Law, you’d think the administration would be sensitive to giving the students the classroom experience they thought they were signing up for.
The school’s solution seems, at best, lazy. With around 100 students affected by Professor Ponsa’s absences, Columbia decided to just dump all of Ponsa’s students into Professor Trevor Morrison’s already huge Con Law class to create a 200-person Con Law behemoth, in which half the class had started with a different syllabus than the late arrivals.
Taking Con Law with 200 of your closest friends seems like a total joke. At that point, you might as well be listening to an online lecturer while doing the reading on your own.
The reaction from our tipsters has been mixed. Here’s one student’s take:
I think it is quite clear that the professor in question, although locked in messy divorce hearings that she cannot exactly schedule properly into her life, should not have been teaching in the first place. With her situation, it was highly unprofessional and she should have taken a professional leave of absence. Of course I don’t know the dynamics between student services and the faculty to know why she was teaching. Perhaps there was simply a shortage of con-law professors.
Student services should probably not have had her teach, but again, we don’t know the whole story behind the veil. Their solution, as haphazard as it was, seemed to have pleased a large part of the student body, but its equally clear that it has pissed off another large part. I think they were working under the assumption that more education is always better than less, so even if there’s some massive upheaval, this imperfect solution is better than letting 100 students go through con law with only half the lectures. Lets be honest, they cannot be trusted to read on their own.
Again, I don’t think it’s right to slam on Professor Ponsa here. She’s going through a divorce; that’s a pretty major personal event, and the fact that she didn’t anticipate it cutting into her professional responsibility suggests to me that the divorce has been difficult. She probably deserves sympathy more than anything.
The problem is the apparent shortage of Con Law professors. That’s the part that the Columbia Student Senate is focusing on. The group met and agreed upon a message to send to the administration. Here is the pertinent part:
Let’s put it this way: if Columbia Law is hiring professors who can’t teach a simple Con Law course, they’re doing it wrong. It really shouldn’t be that hard to find some professor to step up in a pinch. Heck, Columbia Law Dean David Schizer went to law school. He can’t pick up Ponsa’s syllabus and step up to the plate?
Having a 200-person Con Law class where half of the people have, essentially, a head start on the required material is simply not fair. Having a class where the professor has to miss a significant amount of time isn’t fair to the students either. The solution is to have somebody else replace Professor Ponsa, using her syllabus.
Surely, the fourth-ranked law school in America should have an extra professor lying around who can accomplish this simple task. Is there not one Columbia Law faculty member willing to help out the students in this situation?