Columbia Law Review Eds Ask for Xcellation of Exams Due to Protests

Columbia Law Review Eds Ask for Xcellation of Exams Due to Protests

“Irrevocably Shaken”

By Jonathan Turley

In recent years, there has been much discussion of the claims of “trauma” by students caused by court rulings and other events. These developments are often cited as a basis for the cancellation of exam or classes. Conservative speakers, case decisions, and protests have all been cited in the past for such demands as well as the creation of therapy tents and trauma counseling. Now, editors of the Columbia Law Review (and editors of other journals) have called for the outright cancellation of exams due to the trauma of watching recent protests on campus.  This is indeed a learning moment. Law students need to be able to face such moments without shutting down due to the stress. Our profession is filled with stress and trauma. It is the environment in which we operate. In those moments, we do not have the option of being a no-show. We make our appearance and speak for others.

Such claims have been commonplace. Black Harvard and Georgetown law students demanded exam cancellation after the death of Michael Brown in 2014. Administrators and faculty foster these claims by calling free speech “harmful” and “triggering” for students.

Students have also complained of the trauma of taking classes by faculty who do not recognize “white privilege” or classes that touch on certain crimes. After Trump was elected in 2016, universities set up “safe areas” and trauma tents for students.

The editors of the Columbia Law Review are virtually guaranteed their picks of top jobs after graduation. Yet, they told the law school that the clearing of the unauthorized encampment constituted traumatic “violence” that left them “irrevocably shaken” and “unable to focus.” They were joined by editors of five other law journals, including the Columbia Human Rights Law Review & A Jailhouse Lawyer’s Manual.

They portrayed the trauma as the appearance of counter protesters and police on campus, accusing a  “white supremacist, neo-fascist hate group” of “storming” campus.

The Columbia students told the university that “many are unwell at this time and cannot study or concentrate while their peers are being hauled to jail.”

The law school has postponed exams due to the protests but has not cancelled the exams.

The students offered an alternative but not preferred option of allowing them to take exams pass/fail. However, they emphasized that “instituting an optional Pass/Fail policy is not really optional when employers will see that some students have grades and others do not… [T]his leaves room for the introduction of extreme bias into the hiring process.”

It is true that law firms are likely to look for students who can handle high-stress situations. This letter suggests the opposite of students at the very top of the Columbia law class.

More importantly, the question is how such law students are emotionally prepared for the pressures of practice when such protests shut them down and leave them “unable to focus.” However, they have been educated in systems that have fostered the sense of victimization or trauma from opposing views.

While often called the “trophy generation,” it sometimes seems like this is becoming the trauma generation. I do not blame these students. Teachers and administrators have reinforced this view. That was evident in the controversial cancelling of a federal judge at Stanford Law School last year.

The Stanford Federalist Society invited Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit to speak on campus. It is a great opportunity to hear the views of one of the highest ranked judicial officers in the country.  However, liberal students decided that allowing a conservative judge to speak on campus is intolerable and set about to “deplatform” him by shouting him down. It was reminiscent of an equally disgraceful event at Yale Law School when another conservative speaker was similarly canceled — the law students then objected to the fact that campus police were present.

In this event, Duncan was planning to speak on the topic:  “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.” A video shows that the students prevented Duncan from speaking and the judge asked for an administrator to be called in to allow the event to proceed.

Dean Tirien Steinback then took the stage and, instead of simply demanding that the students allow for the event to proceed, Steinback launched into a babbling attack on the judge for seeking to be heard despite such objections.

Steinbach explained “I had to write something down because I am so uncomfortable up here. And I don’t say that for sympathy, I just say that I am deeply, deeply uncomfortable.”

Steinbach declared “It’s uncomfortable to say that for many people here, you’re work has caused harm.” After a perfunctory nod to free speech, Steinbach proceeded to eviscerate it to the delight of the law students. She continued “again I still ask, is the juice worth the squeeze?” “Is it worth the pain that this causes, the division that this causes? Do you have something so incredibly important to say about Twitter and guns and Covid that that is worth this impact on the division of these people.”

These students have spent years with such faculty telling them that they are fragile, vulnerable victims. However, our clients are often victims with traumatic injuries that must be addressed. Securing an equally vulnerable and triggered lawyer is not going to help them much.

Outside of the Columbia Law Review offices is a thing called life. It is neither predictable nor comfortable. We enter the lives of our clients when they are often failing apart. We have to bring our skills and support at those moments without the assistance of a trauma tent or emotional coach.  We also cannot ask judges for postponements to allow us to process the stress of the moment.

This is not meant to be another “buck up buttercup” dismissal. I understand that the campus faced disruption and that many feel deeply about the underlying issues. That passion is needed. Young lawyers should be motivated to right wrongs in this world. I also understand that many of these law students likely had friends who were arrested or involved in the protests. However, our clients look to us for strength not fragility in such moments.

The response from Columbia Law School should be simple: see you at the exams.


(TLB) published  this article from Jonathan Turley with our appreciation for this perspective

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Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

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