Committee to Revamp FYL Program

BY ADINA LEVINE

The Committee on the First Year Lawyering Program led by Professors Andy Kaufman and Allen Ferrell expects to institute numerous changes in the program for next year, including a reduced class size of 40 students and a heightened coordination between first year courses and the FYL Program. The Committee consists of two students and numerous faculty members and has already begun enacting changes for this year in creating an Acting Director of the FYL program, Shaun Spencer.

“FYL is …. a key part of the 1L experience, and we want to make it as effective and as helpful as possible,” commented Dan Richenthal, Student Member of the FYL Committee. “Some recommendations could not be implemented absent more discussion and thought, and the current incarnation of the Committee has been working on these issues.”

The three issues that the Committee currently faces are how to better integrate aspects of FYL into first-year courses, how to recruit and hire the best student teachers and FYL instructors, and the role of the BSA in the new program. The first goal of integrating the FYL program into first year courses is a multi-year goal, according to members of the committee, that involves focusing exclusively on FYL’s purpose as a writing seminar. Many of the changes that the Committee has already instituted addressed this concept, including a reduction of class time and ultimately more writing assignments.

“FYL should narrow its goals to focus exclusively, or almost exclusively, on the development of writing and research skills,” asserted the Committee’s memo which was approved by the faculty last spring. “The number of writing assignments should be increased, and the number of class lecture sessions should be decreased, with the consequent opportunity for more one-on-one sessions critiquing the written exercises.” Furthermore, the committee wants to double the current number of FYL instructors to bring down class size from 80 students to 40 students. The Committee plans on hiring more academics which will change the scope of the program, and is currently working on writing the job descriptions for new FYL professors.

“Subject to budget and hiring considerations, the number of FYL lecturers should be expanded from 7 to 14 so that each instructor would be responsible for 40 not 80 students,” asserted the memo. “FYL lecturers would serve staggered two-year terms, and would be drawn from applicants with credentials for, and expressing strong interest in, academic careers.”

This change will also reduce the need for student teachers since there will be more faculty-student contact. Moreover, the committee wants to specifically determine how these student teachers are selected, considering perhaps that some of the best teachers may be members of Law Review or Legal Aid instead of only BSA.

In this vein, right before Thanksgiving, BSA Member Jay Cox claims that he was asked to resign from the committee because of his conflict of interest between the BSA and the FYL committee.

“After a full discussion with Jay and among ourselves, the Committee unanimously agreed that Jay’s membership in the BSA represented a classic conflict-of-interest in so far as he very likely would be asked to discuss and vote on the future role of the BSA in a new program, thereby in effect voting on his own job,” commented Richenthal. “No one publicly or privately questioned Jay’s integrity or honesty, but just as a decision was made last year that no FYL instructor should be an official member of the Committee because an instructor would also thereby be forced to voice opinions and vote on his or her own job, it was clear to all of us that the Committee should remain as objective as possible in all of its decision-making.”

The issue of a conflict of interest between the BSA and the FYL Committee also occurred last year, according to Kaufman, when one of the four students suggested by LSC was a member of the BSA.

“The Committee agreed with the precedent established last year that it was not appropriate for a member of BSA to serve on a committee whose charge was to make an independent recommendation about the future role of BSA,” commented Kaufman. “Professor Shapiro had said that because the charge of the Committee involved making recommendations about the BSA’s role in the FYL Program, no one should be nominated who was a member of the BSA. It had been our understanding that that precedent would govern this year. We believe that, through misunderstanding, that precedent was not discussed at the time of the appointment of Mr. Cox.”

The Committee learned of Cox’s BSA status when Cox attended the Committee’s November meeting.

“I didn’t want to serve on the committee as a ‘BSA representative,'” bemoaned Cox.

“Instead, I thought it was important that the committee have a voice from someone inside the program who could speak authoritatively about what was and was not working in the present FYL classes.”

It seems unclear the degree to which Cox willingly resigned or was forced out by the Committee.

“There has been a lot of confusion about what occurred,” began Richenthal, “but it is important for people to know that the decision to ask Jay to resign was not made on the basis of any debate about his views about the FYL program-he was not asked what his views were, and I and others assume that BSA members have a wide range of thoughts on how to improve FYL…Rather, his status as a 2L BSA member represented a classic conflict-of-interest, and it was unanimously felt that it was the ethical thing to ask him therefore to resign, which he did, saying that he understood.”

Cox, on the hand, claims that he was forced out of the committee.

“I did resign from the committee, but I resigned only after being told thatthe committee unanimously voted to exclude me,” recollected Cox. “I did not feel like this was a meaningful choice; I do not feel like I would have gotten a chance to contribute to the committee even if I had stood my ground.”

Cox is currently serving as a “special advisor” to the committee.

“I do not know what this position entails, and have not been contacted about it by Prof. Kaufman,” asserted Cox.

Holly Hogan, LSC President, believes that Cox’s reappointment is a compromise, and the best solution possible under the circumstances.

“This situation is reflective of communication problems between the committees and LSC,” commented Hogan. “We advocated having Jay put back on as a full member but that proposal was denied. LSC was able to work out a compromise in which Jay will serve as an informal advisor. Additionally, our Vice President Tara Curtis is working on a broader project to address the communication problems. Are we 100% happy with the compromise, no; did we do everything we could and get the best solution possible, yes.”

Cox thinks that the integration of the BSA into the FYL committee is an important voice to be present while the Committee is determining the future of FYL.

“I think a selection system that excludes BSA members, and excludes lecturers from participating as well, biases the committee against the current program, against incremental change and towards radical change,” commented Cox. “Everyone involved in the committee has some interest in the FYL program; by excluding many of those with a positive interest, I think the committee has attracted a pool of people most of whom have a negative interest, i.e. don’t like the current program and want to see it gutted.”

Another critique of the committee’s actions have been the lack of student involvement in the decision to “vote out” Cox.

“The committee is disregarding process” states Erika Reinders, 3L who is upset that the committee voted Cox out without approval from the LSC which is the student organization designated to select and deselect committee members. “I don’t think this topic is about whether members of the Board of Student Advisors or the FYL program itself should remain the same or be changed. This is about the silencing of a large group
of students.”

In addition to Cox’s status as a special representative, the Committee maintains that it is in touch with the BSA for particularly the type of perspective that Cox advocated.

“The Committee has felt all along that it was important to hear and consider the views of the BSA about its role in the FYL Program and the other functions that it serves,” asserted Kaufman. “Last year I met with BSA representatives several times, and BSA representatives presented their views to the full Committee in person and in written form. BSA representatives also attended a Committee meeting this fall and were very helpful to us.”

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