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Students at the University of Connecticut School of Law are protesting possible changes to the mandatory first-year “Lawyering Process” class. The primary issue, in their view, is who will be teaching the first-semester research and writing aspects of the course — permanent faculty or those with real-world experience. In a Feb. 24 letter to faculty members, who would have to approve any curriculum changes, the school’s student bar association said it prefers the latter. “Students strongly prefer to be taught legal research and writing by full-time legal writing instructors,” the letter maintained. “While nobody doubts the doctrinal faculty’s ability to teach legal writing, we see many advantages to instruction by professionals who have spent their careers practicing before the court.” Doctrinal faculty, the letter added, “have a slightly different skill set. Their expertise is in teaching substantive courses, writing for publication, and conducting specialized research in their fields. Allowing doctrinal faculty to continue to focus on these areas both benefits students in the classroom and increases the prestige of the law school.” Jeremy R. Paul, associate dean for academic affairs, disputed the letter’s view of the faculty’s background. “A very high percentage of the faculty has had experience that I would describe as exactly what the students are talking about, or so much like it as to be indistinguishable.” Paul said there is not a “gulf” in experience between the permanent full-time faculty and the temporary full-time faculty that now teaches lawyering practice. Proposed course revisions seem to “still be in the development stages,” said Brian P. Murphy, student government president. Paul agreed. It’s “slightly premature” to discuss the issue because nothing may happen, he said. “Even if something does happen,” he added, the changes won’t be major ones. “The kinds of things we’re looking at are tinkering rather than wholesale change. It’s possible the structure of the staffing for the fall semester might change. When structures change, you get slight changes in the curriculum,” Paul said. There are three possible scenarios, he added: The course could become an elective, slight modifications could be made, or it could remain as is. A decision is expected by the middle to end of March. “We don’t do anything without talking about it a lot,” Paul noted. Students say they are concerned that changes could be made for cost-saving reasons, though there is little documentation on where those savings would come. “It appears that the primary objective for the [educational policies committee's] proposal is to cut costs,” the letter from the student bar association asserted. “At this point, however, it is nearly impossible for the students to have a real sense of how much money the school will save by altering the program because we have been unable to obtain even general dollar figures from the EPC.” According to Paul, budgetary issues are “clearly not the driving force.” Instead, the proposed changes, he said, were borne out of a desire to have research and writing instructions more closely tied to the small-section substantive courses that first-year students take in the fall. Also, in the spring semester, the law school is looking to create a program that is less of an administrative burden. By making the second half of the course an elective, some of that burden could be eased, Paul said. “It’s hardest to staff when all the students take it at the same time.” Murphy said he’s not sure how effective the letter will be. “It seems to be the best way to go about it right now.” “This is just a bad plan for students,” said another law school student, who didn’t want to be named. “We’re trying to help the faculty understand that.” The educational policy committee proposes curriculum changes, which then go to the school’s roughly 40 full-time permanent faculty members for approval. Paul noted that two students sit on the education policy committee and have attended all of the meetings on the issue. The letter to faculty also expresses concern among students over having a single professor responsible for up to six credits earned during the first semester. “Hiring decisions for a first-year’s summer are made based upon grades received during the first semester alone. … We are very concerned about one professor having responsibility for, and control over, such a significant percentage of a student’s first semester and first year GPA,” the letter stated.

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