Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Treasury of Idiotic Quotes by Law Professors, Vol. VI: "[S]eriously underprepared law students occupy a role as "other" just as students from vastly different cultures do." (CUNY Law Prof. Deborah Zalesne)

ABA Standard 501(b) states that "A law school shall not admit an applicant who does not appear capable of satisfactorily completing its program of legal education and being admitted to the bar." 

On the basis of LSAT scores alone, it should be glaringly obvious that most law schools are recruiting a significant and increasing contingent of law students whose presence violates Standard 501. However, law school admissions officers can always claim that, regardless of the general statistical correlation between low LSAT scores and bar exam disaster, they saw the requisite appearance of capability in each and every one of the particular weak-credentialed students they did admit. All appeared destined to beat the odds, glittering like juris diamonds in the very, very rough. 

Therefore, it is refreshing when a law professor (along with a law school academic support specialist)  admits that her classroom includes students who are so "seriously underprepared" and so lacking in "academic intelligence" and "cognitive skills" as to be beyond the reach of "traditional law school pedagogy." In other words, students who do not appear capable of satisfactorily completing a doctoral-level program of legal education and then passing the bar. Even if the law professor only make the admission in the context of trying to normalize the presence of unqualified law students via highly creative forms of obfuscation. 

Consider the following synopsis of a forthcoming conference presentation by CUNY Law Prof Deborah Zalesne and CUNY Law Director of Academic Support Programs David Nadvorney, entitled "Learning Outcomes, Cultural Competency, and the Underprepared Law Student as "Other."" (The conference itself is entitled "Teaching Cultural Competency and Other Professional Skills Suggested by ABA Standard 302" and will be held from July 7-8 at the University of Arkansas School of Law (Little Rock)).
"We believe a student’s academic intelligence is about more than simply cognitive skills; it’s akin to culture, including not only cognitive, but also affective and social skills, all of which contribute to a student’s level of success. Our workshop posits that for many faculty, seriously underprepared law students occupy a role as "other" just as students from vastly different cultures do. The workshop will emphasize the responsibility of the teacher to understand and bridge the gap that exists between students’ level of preparation and the goals of the course. In doing so, we will highlight the failure of traditional law school pedagogy to reach the underprepared student, and suggest a framework and materials for teaching the cognitive component of academic intelligence."
It would be problematic for law faculty to explicitly recommend dumbing down law school classes in order to reach "seriously underprepared law students" because, under ABA Standard 501, students in need of such remedial-skills spoonfeeding probably should not have been admitted in the first place. So Zalesne and Nadvorney make that recommendation implicitly via some very delicate wording and by misusing the fashionable concept of cultural competence teaching. That way, they can talk piously about the diligent efforts that law schools must make in order to satisfy ABA Standard 302 (learning outcomes) while conveniently overlooking the fact that poor learning outcomes are the foreseeable result of law school disregard for Standard 501 (standards for admissions).

Zalesne and Nadvorney’s novel little trick is to analogize, even equate, the needs and skills of law students who are "seriously underprepared" due to cognitive deficiency with the needs and skills of law students from "vastly different cultures."

By pretending that under-preparedness is simply another form of diversity, Zalesne and Nadvorney inadvertently recall the timeless statement by a right-wing U.S. senator from the 1960s named Hruska, who demanded opportunities for the marginalized Mediocre-American, including a Supreme Court seat, stating that "there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?"

In case there is any sentient being who doesn't understand this distinction, membership in a cultural community, whether racial, ethnic, religious, or gendered, means belonging to a group with a distinctive history, values, norms, customs, and traditions. It makes sense for a law school to welcome students from "vastly different cultures" and try to provide them with whatever they reasonably need in terms of mentoring, counseling, accommodation, and protection against bigotry. By contrast, serious under-preparedness is a personal failing caused by lack of aptitude, poor training, laziness, or disinterest, and does not deserve outreach, but rather exclusion.  

Identity politics may be on the rise, but I do not anticipate a Seriously Underprepared community coalescing within law schools to protest the cruel pedagogical othering of being expected to read and analyze complicated material in the traditional manner. I do not anticipate inspirational chants of communal affirmation such as "Say it loud, I am seriously underprepared and proud!" or "We’re here, we’re seriously underprepared, get used to it!" Though, come to think of it, these would make fine law school mottos, given the horrifying decline in the quality of incoming law students over the past several years, and could even be adopted as formal ABA interpretations of Standards 302 and 501.


  1. No doubt there are some JD Vance types out there - smart folks with aptitude, but who have not had the benefit of quality education, mentoring, cultural cues an connections, etc. etc. etc. Actual "juris diamonds" in the rough (great phrase), as was stated above.

    Those folks probably make up, oh, I don't know, 10%, 25% of the "Others" being referenced by the Cartel? That is not what this is - this is trying to justify the whole-sale opening of the flood-gates in order to maximize federal loan dollars. It's about survival, not about educating productive members of society.

    How does a millstone of debt around one's neck actually help anybody anyway, juris diamond or not? I have yet to hear a rational response from the Cartel to this question, one that does not involve strategic use of IBR, bait-and-switch scholarships, and the like.

  2. It's probably not worth it for most people to pay full sticker price at Stanford, Harvard or Yale, regardless of ability.

  3. Good observations, Dybbuk. The Treasury of Idiotic Quotes by Law Professors is a veritable cretin's chrestomathy of crude, crazy crapola.

    Seriously underprepared law students should be rare, and indeed they should be required to leave. Although a slight lack of preparation can perhaps be remediated during the course of study, a serious one cannot be. Professors do not have a "responsibility" to teach people who aren't prepared to receive instruction; their only responsibility is to recommend those people for expulsion.

    As Dybbuk suggested, rarely does anyone claim to be seriously underprepared. On the contrary, lemmings tend to deem themselves excellent, and of course the law-school scam encourages that narcissistic self-image through its rhetoric of greatness, agents of change, global leaders of tomorrow, and so on. So how can the seriously unprepared, not recognized by themselves or by the institution, constitute a downtrodden "Other" with claims to special pedagogy?

    Note that this conference will be held at the U of Arkansas (Little Rock), where most students scored in the low 150s or lower, possibly much lower, on the LSAT. The proposed "Other" would seem to be the majority.

  4. I once worked with a CUNY grad in a state government office. He couldn't pass the bar and got shit canned because he wasn't admitted within 18 months of being hired. Sad story.

  5. If law schools want to take a chance on marginal students, then they can have some skin in the game--They can guarantee the student loans if they are not paid back. Sounds fair to me.

  6. That paragraph is so poorly written I'm having a difficult time following the argument well enough to articulate how stupid it is.

    I'm fairly certain they're misusing the term "academic intelligence," ignoring the term "emotional intelligence," botching the core concept of "culture," and - this is more of a stylistic annoyance - using "cognition/cognitive" where they mean "intellect/intellectual."

    Are they claiming being lazy is a facet of emotional intelligence? Or am I missing something? I'm legitimately curious on academic level, which I guess now means on an emotional level as well.

    1. Well, let's try to piece it together. The paragraph starts with a claim that "academic intelligence" includes several important components beyond "cognitive skills". Then it suggests that "seriously underprepared law students" are lacking in the non-"cognitive" aspects. It ends by promising a proposal "for teaching the cognitive component of academic intelligence".

      If the non-"cognitive" component accounts for the difficulties of "seriously underprepared" students, what's the point of focusing on "the cognitive component"?

      It makes no sense. This is my best take on it:

      In this age of brazenly kleptocratic administration of law schools, we overfed bureaucrats and self-styled professors find ourselves stuck with moronic students by the boatload. Rather than improving our admissions policy and kicking out those students who plainly cannot succeed even by the scandalously low standards of the legal "profession" and its self-preserving custodians, we shall, of course, take and keep everyone with enough cognitive ability to sign (at least with an X) a check or an application for federally guaranteed student loans. This presentation offers answers to two questions of supreme importance to effete scamsters from Maine to Thomas Jefferson: 1) How can we dumb the curriculum down so that at least a little bit of legal knowledge will penetrate our students' millstone-thick skulls? 2) How can we avoid scrutiny for admitting and retaining these idiots? With respect to the second question, the authors recommend obfuscation through vacuous but progressive-sounding jargon, along with the time-tested bleeding-heart strategy of framing the said idiots as victims of cultural bias, as if they had just wandered in from the highlands of Papua New Guinea.

  7. Sadly, these pigs know they can utter sheer nonsense - and that legions of law school applicants will not bother to conduct 10 minutes of research into the real costs and gambles of "legal education." It's only a crucial financial decision, after all.

  8. Don't overthink this. The ABA has implicitly endorsed enrolling anyone who can fog a mirror. The only reason there are written standards is to maintain the pretense that it is a professional organization worthy of remaining an accreditor. For all but a handful of politically-disfavored schools, to which the standards can be applied arbitrarily, there is no consequence to ignoring them.

    Regarding pedagogy, this is the same academy that still relies the Socratic method and values its faculty based on their publication. In one sense it's refreshing they recognize the need to change that to reach their waterheads — which is arguably impossible — having admitted them in the first place. On the other hand, the feigned, contrived, word salad approach to justifying the change shows these educators are either deluded or evil or both.

    1. The ABA has to be seen as cracking down on two or three shit-pits so that 200 others can continue. So it slaps Indiana Tech and Charlotte on the wrist—while accrediting _UNT and turning a blind eye to the other scam schools.

    2. PresTTTige is exactly right-this is about, and only about, money. These schools will accept absolutely anyone. As many have pointed out, the LSAT scores spell trouble on the bar exam-but of further note is how poor the GPAs are-with grand inflation being what it is, how in the world does someone graduate with a liberal arts degree with a sub 3.0 GPA? But they can still get accepted to law school...
      The ABA exists solely to keep the scam going, period full stop.

  9. I got to say, I am lost by the argument about limited "cognitive skills". I remember when I went to law school, more than three decades ago... a mediocre school (I got into a much better top flight school...and still regret to this day not having gone there), and having come from a State's Flagship public University, I found some of the students at law school then to be not very bright (to be kind). Its hard for me to believe they could be that much more "cognitively" impaired now. That's almost scary. And yes... back then, as I recall, an average of 75 - 80% or so of our graduates passed the bar exam first try. And many of our graduates ended up in Big Law in the Regional Area, clerking for Federal Judges...etc... and again... we were mediocre. The top school, down the Block...was Tulane.

    1. A few students at my élite school were downright dumb, although probably not so bad as the generality at a Florida Coastal.

  10. "However, law school admissions officers can always claim that... they saw the requisite appearance of capability in each and every one of the particular weak-credentialed students they did admit. All appeared destined to beat the odds, glittering like juris diamonds in the very, very rough. "

    Aw, c'mon, dybbuk. You know that ALL the kiddos at Lake Wobegon School of Law is above average.

    And ALL the Law Schools are located in their own, special, Lakes Wobegon.

  11. I graduated from CUNY Law School in 1988. We did okay. Thirty per cent passed the bar exam on the first try! Why mess with success? But I don't think Iyanla ("Fix My Life, Iyanla") ever did.