Columbia Law Allows To Delay Exams Following Garner, Ferguson Decisions

Columbia Law students will be allowed to postpone their final exams if they feel unnerved by the grand jury decisions in the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases. The policy was announced on Saturday.

The policy is for those who feel the decisions from Ferguson and Staten Island could impact their performance on exams.

Some professors have also added additional office hours for students who want to discuss the implications of the grand jury decisions.

The school’s interim dean, Robert E. Scott, said in an email, “The grand juries’ decisions to return nonindictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally. For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process, and equality.”

Some are shocked that the Columbia Law students will be allowed to postpone exams because lawyers would not receive that kind of treatment while working.

Benjamin Brafman, a notable defense lawyer, said the decision was “absurd.” He explained that even though these students feel genuine trauma, “as lawyers, they are going to be dealing with tragedies many times worse.” He believes if law students can’t handle exams because of these issues, then they shouldn’t become lawyers.

Columbia Law, as a general policy, allows exams to be rescheduled in cases of illness, the birth of a child, religious observance, bereavement, or “in other exceptional and documented circumstances.”

Ellen Chapnick, dean for the social justice initiatives, stated the grand jury decisions have caused the law students to question the justice system and how they can represent their communities. She said most of the students at Columbia Law came to the school “to learn about how the law can be an instrument for social change and an instrument for justice.”

As a result, administrators insist that focusing on exams diverts from raising questions about racial injustice, which is necessary for the education of law.

David Rudenstine, a constitutional law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, said he could see why law students might be deeply affected by the grand jury decisions. “It may well be that people feel as if something important was just stolen from them, and it undermines some commitment that they have to this endeavor they’ve embarked upon.”

However, Rudenstine noted that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated right before he entered law school. He doesn’t recall that exams were allowed to be postponed then.

What do you think of Columbia Law allowing students to postpone exams?

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