Political Appointees Still Keeping Law Schools From Going Pass/Fail

While the legal academy moves overwhelmingly to a mandatory Pass/Fail approach this semester, the public law schools in Georgia continue forging ahead with letter grades despite, from what we hear, the recommendations of faculty and administrators. The root of the problem appears to be the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents, a group of political appointees taking their cue from the Governor’s Mansion and trying to remain willfully ignorant of the scope of the crisis on the schools they ostensibly run.

For Governor Kemp, it was bending over backward not to learn that the disease was spread by asymptomatic cases, while for the Board of Regents, it’s all about not listening to the academic professionals at the schools about what steps must be taken to put students in the best position to further their careers after this passes. There’s also a petition with over 600 signatures — over half the total number of public law students in the state — asking the Board of Regents to wake up to academic reality.

Word on the street is that the USG claims that Atlanta Biglaw is pushing them to maintain letter grades. The Billable Hour Rules Everything Around Me, indeed. Except this doesn’t really sound plausible. Even if this was true at one point early in the crisis, times change and it’s hard to imagine anyone is adamant about this point now. Firms are laying off their existing staff and campus interviews are getting rescheduled — hiring strategies are going to get a serious reevaluation after all this is over and “Spring 2020 letter grades” are going to be the least of the concerns.

Indeed, supposed Biglaw pressure did not stop Emory from going mandatory Pass/Fail, a move that all but invalidates the USG position — employers are not going to blanket disregard a bunch of Emory applicants in favor of someone from Georgia State with a B+. The path to screwing over law students is in positioning them as outliers compared to their peer candidates.

But USG’s intransigence on the grading question comes with an even dumber twist. Instead of soldiering ahead with the standard curve — a bad enough idea — the schools are allowed to modify the curve, upping it to a 3.7-3.9 based curve. Apparently, in the eyes of the USG, Pass/Fail lacks academic integrity but naked grade inflation doesn’t. So… to serve the needs of employers who claim they need to know where students really stand, they’re going to let people get As who wouldn’t have gotten As? This is just nonsense.

And, yes, adjusting the curve is the best solution available from the perspective of the law schools who are trying to cushion the fallout that months of upheaval will wreak upon exams. But it’s not the ideal solution — shown to us by the wisdom of law school crowds — and it fails to cure the only issue that USG claims to be concerned about.

It’s almost like law schools staffed with professional legal educators should have the authority to set law school policy instead of a bunch of bankers beholden to Georgia politicians.


HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.

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