Law Professors, Law Schools, Screw-Ups

It’s That Time Of Year When Law Professors Show Themselves To Be Lazy, Incompetent, Or Both

‘If they hadn’t done what I told them not to do, they’d be alive.’

It’s final exams time, which means it’s time to start our semi-annual series on law professors who are too busy to write novel exams for the students who pay their exorbitant salaries.

I really don’t understand how this happens every semester. You know how in children’s stories there’s often a key plot point that revolves around the child/hero being specifically told not to touch something or else horrible things will happen to them, but they touch it anyway because they’re just kids, but the “horrible thing” doesn’t kill them? That’s what this feels like.

Every semester we write stories about how one professor’s laziness in question usage screws up entire transcripts, and yet every next semester it happens again. Either writing exams is one of the hardest thing to do on the planet or there are way too many law professors who don’t care one iota about the careers of their charges.

I don’t know about you, but I’m leaning towards the latter….

Our first exam screw up of the season comes from Michigan Law. We recently learned the average salary of a Michigan Law profs is $243,177. But evidently that kind of coin doesn’t buy you professors who actually bother to make up new exams each semester. Here’s what a Michigan Contracts professor sent to his class:

After consulting with Deans [redacted], I have decided not to grade Question 3 (Exploding Nylon) as part of your final Contracts exam. Therefore your exam will be worth a potential maximum of 150 points (45 points for multiple choice questions, plus 105 for essays), instead of 195 points.

The reason for my decision is that Question 3 tracks closely a question I used in a Contracts exam three years ago (and which I had forgotten that I had used) for which a model answer, representing the best answers I received in 2010, was also readily available. Therefore it would be inequitable for me to grade this question since some of you had undoubtedly read the model answer before taking the exam.

I deeply apologize to all of you for this rather major glitch.

It’s not a “glitch.” It’s a screw-up. Your screw-up.

It’s not hard to come up with novel questions that test the same thing. I’m just a blogger but I’ve written, what, 100, 200 versions of the “the tuition is too damn high” post? It’s the same post, every time, it’s maddening almost. But you don’t see me using the same jokes over and over again (errr… don’t check me on that).

The point is, a law professor should remember which four questions he’s used before for the same thing. I bet he would if tenure were on the line.

Meanwhile, at Case Western Reserve, an evidence professor straight up copied questions from his own evidence textbook supplement and used them for his evidence exam. That’s led to this convoluted work-around:

I am writing with regard to the problem with the Evidence exam. First, I want to apologize for this unfortunate situation. Everyone agrees that it should not have happened.

Here is how we propose to address the grading issue. We recognize that there is no perfect solution, but what follows is designed to allow you to make the choice that seems best for you under the circumstances.

If you took the course for a grade, you will have the choice of taking the grade that you got on the exam or a grade of CR (for Credit). If you select the CR, the 4 credits for Evidence will not count against the 6-credit limit under the Pass/No Entry option.

If you signed up for the Pass/No Entry option, you may proceed in either of two ways:

(1) You may follow the regular P/NE rules (i.e., you may take the grade or, if you got at least a C+ you may choose a grade of Pass; if your grade was below C+ you may take the grade or choose No Entry); OR

(2) You may choose between the grade you got on the exam and a grade of CR. You may choose CR regardless of the grade you received on the exam. If you take this route, you will be able to use the 4 P/NE credits that you spent on Evidence toward one or more other courses next year. In other words, you’ll get back those 4 P/NE credits under this approach. You won’t get them back if you choose to proceed under the regular P/NE rules summarized in (1) above.

You will have all of your grades for this semester before you need to make your decision. I will post the Evidence grades immediately after sending this e-mail to you.

Everyone agrees that this should not have happened? Great. So, how are you going to be accountable? Oh, in NO WAY WHATSOEVER. Great, sounds like the kind of operation that Dean Lawrence Mitchell can be proud of.

If law students copy term papers from sources readily available online, they are expelled. But if law professors just copy their exams, there’s no punishment, no accountability, and no disincentive for the next professor doing it again.

In any event. Send us more of your stories. I guarantee that we’ll have more of these posts in the future.

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