Thursday, November 8, 2007
Core: Six or Four
There is a growing trend among law schools to reduce core courses such as Civil Procedure, Contracts, and Torts from 6 credits (3 fall, 3 spring) to 4 credits in one semester. Some say it's to conserve faculty resourses, others say it's to free up those credits for an elective. As someone who took four credit core courses and an elective, one I actually enjoyed (Criminal Procedure with a former SCOTUS clerk), I'm not so sure I prefer that option. It has nothing to do with the quality of the elective, mine was actually fantastic. It has everything to do with what I didn't get a chance to learn in the core courses, or had to blow through in the blink of an eye (e.g. Erie Doctrine). It has everything to do with the fact that I had only one semester to develop rapport and an intellectual connection with core course faculty.
It was so disheartening to overhear professors stand at the podium and mutter under their breath, "I used to teach this as a six credit course, I really want to teach this material, but I have to cut something . . ." Usually the statement was accompanied by a perplexed look and a hand to the head in frustration as the professor stared at the material on the chopping block. You could almost see the wheels in their heads spinning as they flipped through the pages they knew they had to eliminate. They were hoping against hope to fit it in and still stay on track to cover the rest of the material. Then came the sigh, the final look of exasperation, and the conclusion that no, it would just have to be cut. And so the material in question found itself on the cutting room floor. It was equally disheartening to sit in other classes and hear professors say to us incredulously, "You didn't learn THAT in x, y, or z course?!" followed by more looks of perplexity.
If we are distraught by the current trend, if we realize how important it is for students to learn as much as possible in their core courses, I can't help but wonder why the tide keeps turning in favor of four credit courses. Perhaps we lack a group of consumers who will push back. 1Ls entering law school don't know how to brief a case, let alone question the credit hours of their core courses. By the time they realize that six might be better than four they no longer have a dog in that fight, it's a moot issue. Future students who will have a dog in that fight down the road have a ripeness problem. They don't have a "claim" until they are students and by then it is too late.
This leads me to faculty. Professors confront this issue year after year. They are the ones who stand at the podium and scratch their heads in frustration because they can't teach all that they know their students need to learn. For all the faculty out there who yearn for six instead of four, I encourage you to push back. Just because this is the way it is doesn't mean it's the way it has to be.