No blogging today: I'm grading.
A Personal Blog
by Michael Froomkin
Laurie Silvers & Mitchell Rubenstein Distinguished Professor of Law
University of Miami School of Law
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Out of curiosity, when were your exams available for you to begin grading and when did you actually start grading?
A rather convenient excuse so that alarms are not raised in certain quarters when a dangerous person is taken into custody.
I got them the day after the exam was administered, about two weeks before I started working on them seriously this week. Meanwhile, I had jury duty, went to a two-day conference in Nashville, and finished writing a conference paper for the Bologna event I’m going to next week. This is an annual fact which gets in the way of grading: conference season starts as soon as classes end.
I have a small class this year, so even though I’m the World’s Slowest Grader I’ll get my raw grades in tomorrow. Once they are in, the Registrar will give my secretary the blind grading numbers for students. I have a scoring system for in-class participation, which results in dividing the class in to (usually) three groups. She will tell me which numbers fall into each of the three groups (but not show me their names) and I’ll work out the final grades tomorrow. The final grades will probably be posted by Friday as will the memo discussing the answers.
A colleague reminds me that the law schools gives us five weeks to grade exams and says it’s just like any other deadline: “How many students turn their papers in early?”
So is it arguably true that if you were given one week to grade your exams (determined say, based on your class size) that you could have had your grades in two weeks ago? Students make plans to avoid scheduling conflicts during final exams – professors could hypothetically do the same and get their grades in a lot sooner.
Also note that if the grades are not posted by Friday, under Dean Stearns’ new system they will not be posted until the following Friday. Evidently, checking law school grades daily was too stressful for a few students so she changed the policy from posting them every day to posting them once a week.
Seven to ten days ago would have been arguably do-able for a SMALL class like the one I had this year — I just would have had two conferences fewer — which by the way, is my entire conference diet for this summer. But if I had TWO classes, or a BIG class, I think that would be next to impossible for me, although many of the colleagues might be able to do it. I’m just slow – I read them carefully, and there’s a limit to the number I can read that way in a day. Do you want me to get sloppy?
And, put in tight deadlines, you push people to use multiple-choice, which I think is on the whole a disaster for a law school. (There are a few classes where it’s maybe not so bad, at least for part of the exam, mostly code courses, but as a general rule I don’t think abandoning essays would be a good idea at all.)
Unreasonably short deadlines have other costs too, which may be less evident to students. Conferences are very important to the academic life of the faculty. If you have tight deadlines for exams, faculty would have a blackout period for a major piece of the conference season. As a result, they would be less involved in national and international scholarship, would be less able to present their work, and would be less well informed about latest developments. In time, the place would be less attractive to scholars with a national reputation and/or national ambition, and ultimately, both the school’s intellectual sharpness and its rank would undoubtedly slip down. Location is an issue in faculty recruiting, and it’s important to us to assure candidates that the school will do what it takes, in scheduling and travel support, so that they will be able to participate in national activities. Change the schedule to create a blackout period and you’d get fewer teachers as involved in cutting-edge work. Rather than supporting the school’s ambitions to be nationally visible, you’d be shoving it some in the direction of backwater.
Is that worth it?
Other than the agony of not knowing, which I understand is a real issue for many people, what other real-life consequences flow from whether you get your grades in three weeks or even five? (I’m not speaking here of the cases when grades are really late, but just what the ordinary deadline should be.) Most summer jobs are fixed up before exams. The grades are always in before the bar examiners need them. Clerkships work to a wholly different calendar. Permanent jobs are usually either fixed up well before graduation, or — surprisingly commonly in Florida — tend to be offered only after you pass the bar.