Columbia Law School to Postpone Exams for Students Upset By Recent Grand Jury Decisions

Christine Rousselle
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Posted: Dec 08, 2014 8:28 PM
Columbia Law School to Postpone Exams for Students Upset By Recent Grand Jury Decisions

Not The Onion: Columbia Law School has decided to postpone final exams for this semester for students who claim to be distressed by the recent grand jury decisions in Ferguson, MO and New York City in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, respectively.

Robert E. Scott, interim dean, emailed students the following on Saturday:

“The grand juries’ determinations to return non-indictments 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,” Mr. Scott’s letter said. “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.”

As a result, “students who feel that their performance on examinations will be sufficiently impaired due to the effects of these recent events may petition [head of registration services] Dean Alice Rigas to have an examination rescheduled,” he wrote.

Another letter sent Monday, from the vice dean for curriculum, said that students should talk to their professors before asking for an exam to be delayed.

“Unless time pressure is severe, meeting with an academic counselor is the preferred alternative, in case our student services staff can offer support or other resources that may be helpful,” wrote the curriculum dean, Avery Katz, who said an extension request must include an “individual explanation” for why it’s necessary.

Faculty members said they couldn’t recall the last time the law school offered students an exam extension due to a highly charged public event.

Students at comparable prestigious law schools are also asking for a similar exam delay policy.

I would perhaps be more understanding if the incidents or some kind of vandalism related to intense protests had happened directly on campus, or if the grand jury decision was concerning the death of a member of the Columbia community, but this just seems a tad absurd. Yes, the grand jury's decisions raised questions for many people—myself included—but delaying exams seems to be a bit of an overreaction. Granted, the follow-up letter effectively discouraging exam postponements seems to be a bit of a mea culpa by the Columbia Law School administration.

It's unclear if anyone has actually delayed their exams.