Law schools across the country are scrambling to move classes and operations online amid the coronavirus outbreak, but at least one professor is already pulling together a class on the myriad legal aspects of the global pandemic.
Dan Rodriguez, a professor and former dean of the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, is planning to launch a pop-up online course early next week focused on the coronavirus that will address topics such as the relationship between federal, state and local governments to make decisions to ban travel or close schools. The course also will cover the ability of the president to use emergency powers to respond and the regulatory landscape around drug and medical device approval.
Rodriguez said he got the idea for the class last week, after seeing the strain that the upheaval of the semester was putting on students. (Northwestern Law announced last week that all classes will go online beginning tomorrow.) A short pop-up course on the swift-moving coronavirus topic could keep students engaged with the school and give them another opportunity to interact with each other, albeit virtually, he reasoned.
“I just look around our community and notice the suddenness of things ending, and the chaos and vulnerability of our students,” Rodriguez said Monday. “I wouldn’t call our students lost, but I would call them preoccupied with everything going on in their life while maintaining a commitment to getting through the academic parts of the semester and do their work. What we’re anxious to do is to collectively provide students opportunities for engagement with one another and the school.”
Rodriguez turned to Twitter to generate topic ideas for the class and found no shortage of suggestions on areas the class could explore. In addition to issues of government jurisdiction, presidential power and drug oversight, there are contract issues arising out of canceled events and travel, and issues pertaining to social equity, such as moratoria on evictions during the pandemic response. There are also criminal justice matters to weigh.
“What do you do about the right to a speedy trial when the courts are effectively shut down?” he said.
Rodriguez is on a research leave this semester and is not teaching any regular courses, so he has some additional time to pull together the class quickly. He has also taught courses online before and is not facing the same learning curve as many other law professors who are new to distance education.
The pop-up class will likely run for four or five weeks, and Rodriguez is awaiting a decision from the administration on whether students will earn credit for it. Some other professors have inquired about whether the course could be available to students at law schools outside Northwestern. Rodriguez said he’s open to the idea but not sure that the logistics can be worked out in time to allow non-Northwestern students to attend.
The class will have three components: A website with reading materials and coronavirus resources; short videos that can be viewed whenever is convenient for students; and twice-weekly synchronous sessions where students can interact with Rodriguez and with each other.
“Because we’re in the middle of the semester, we’re scrambling,” he said. “But if we can think of creative or unusual academic opportunities above and beyond what they’re doing already—obviously in a remote teaching format—then this could be a great opportunity to keep students connected. And for them to know the faculty and administration are committed to their well-being.”