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In support of the strict C: a year later

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Nov 12, 2011 in Randomness

Waaayyyyy back during the halcyon days following 1L year, I wrote this entry explaining why I supported the “strict C” curve we use at the North Carolina Central University School of Law. “Setting the middle grade in the middle of the grading scale,” I wrote back then, “provides law professors with a full range of options to give you — and gives you the student a full range of feedback so you know where you’re weak and need to improve.”

In the subsequent comments I expanded on that theme a smidge more, but basically my philosophy on the curve was/is this: we’re attending law school to become proficient in the law (not simply to become employed as lawyers), grades are the best opportunity for professors to give feedback to students on where they’re strong or weak, and anything short of what we use at NCCU Law encourages “innovation”/inflation in grading to the point where that feedback becomes functionally useless.

Nothing I’ve seen or experienced in the 17 months since writing that post has prompted me to change my mind or otherwise reconsider my position.

Well now the faculty are contemplating some tweaks to the curve — whether or not to explicitly codify it in a new publicly-distributed document and, if so, whether to inflate where it’s centered — and I’m in a bit of a pickle as SBA President as a result. Literally 100% of the classmates I’ve spoken to about the issue over the past 2 years have expressed unconditional hostility toward our grading system…

…and I still think they’re all wrong :beatup:

The main argument given to me is that inflating the curve will make our people more competitive in the job market, especially with bigger employers who don’t bother to read the paragraph of text atop our transcripts explaining we use a C curve.

It’s an understandable theory, but (to the extent people pay attention to rankings or “brand name”) we’re still a regional Tier IV law school that simply cannot expand much beyond where we are without spending a ridiculous amount of money. Consider: Campbell Law‘s tuition and fees ($33,910.00) are downright obscene compared to what NCCU Law charges ($5,207.49) and they’ve only just now broken from Tier IV to the very bottom of Tier III — still only regional in reach, with graduates still facing the same challenges as us Legal Eagles if they try to venture beyond the borders of North Carolina.

Then there’s my personal suspicion that NCCU Law just plain doesn’t tell it’s story very well. Judging by the search queries and the emails I get, apparently law:/dev/null is one of the main sources of information for prospective students looking to attend the institution. Now as much as I love (love love love) the attention and visitors, it’s downright crazy that a one-man blawg can have any marketing reach at all relative to an established law school with decades of alumni. If you’re concerned about employability of the portion of our graduates going to other states, let’s get our branding and outreach up to par before we start tinkering with the grading system.

While the potential benefits to re-centering the curve are hypothetical at best, I’d argue the things we lose as a result are far more concrete.

The family atmosphere at the law school (see #4 on why NCCU Law was my first choice) is rooted on the shared experience of trying to overcome such a gruesome curve; being one of the survivors of 1L year is A Big Deal™. And our graduates are practice-ready on Day 1 because we don’t sugarcoat incompetence — if you do something poorly, the curve let’s you know you do something poorly. I can’t help but feel a little nauseous every time I hear Jack Boger (Dean at UNCCH Law) talk about all the “innovative” things they’re doing to make UNCCH Law grads practice-ready — stuff NCCU Law has been doing literally for years through our clinical programs, rigorous grading, and willingness to kick out people who come up short.

Is it worth sacrificing our identity as a no-bullsh*t law school just for a boost to some folks’ GPAs? Sacrificing graduates who are practice-ready on Day 1? Sacrificing the “we’re in this together” mentality?

Personally I vote no.

I know I’ve got a roughly 0% chance of convincing my colleagues to concur though, so I’ll just have to grab a bag of popcorn and see what happens next :beatup:

Good night folks! :)

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