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February 14, 2013


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What about the professor who is teaching the 200 students? He stepped up. I agree a 200 person class isn't great, but I think 100 also has a factory feel.

Eric Muller

The professor teaching the 200 students was already committed to teach Constitutional Law to a large section. It's kind of him to take on 100 more, for sure. That's a lot more exam grading! But my point is that nobody seems to have volunteered to pick up the section so that it could be maintained as an individual section. I do think there's a big difference for a student between being in a class of 100 and a class of 200.



James Grimmelmann

Columbia's website lists eleven experts in constitutional law (at ). I guess they were all busy.


A similar thing happened to me with a major course at my law school a number of years ago, when I ended up teaching in a single section to everyone a course taught normally in three different sections.

It is a result of hiring specialists who feel they are too important to teach what they often refer to as mere "service" courses.

Suzanna Sherry

And this is one of the many reasons I love Vanderbilt. One faculty member suffered a serious injury the first day of classes some years ago that knocked that person out of teaching for the whole semester. Not only did another faculty member in the field step up to teach the 100-person 1L class using the original professor's syllabus and textbook (not the substitute's usual textbook), but people not in the field offered to teach it, others offered to take on additional courses in their own fields to free up teachers in the field, etc. There were at least 10 offers (on a faculty of about 30 at the time)to take on additional courses so the students wouldn't suffer.

Orin Kerr

Do we really know enough about what happened to state that Columbia could not "find a single tenured member of the faculty willing to step in and pick up the course for the balance of the semester?" Maybe that's true, but it seems to be based on sheer speculation.


This happened during my time at Columbia with 1L Torts. A professor became ill, and another professor, with little practice or teaching experience in the class, ended up teaching 200 students spread out over two sections.

I'll also say that my year then Prof Burnett and a few other 1L ConLaw professors gave substantially the same essay exam between their various sections.

As a student, I would not have cared very much- in fact I would have welcomed a lower shot of being cold-called. Something's amiss when a few professors shoulder such a large number of students, especially given that nice low student:teacher ratio the school reports each year.

Avery Katz

In response to Orin, we could certainly have recruited another colleague to teach the affected section if keeping the class size at 100 were the dominant consideration, but there were numerous pedagogical considerations that cut in favor of the approach we are trying to implement. As our dean's office states in a memo recently posted on Above the Law: "Professor [Trevor] Morrison is an experienced and beloved member of the faculty, voted best teacher in 2011 by the students. Faculty teach Constitutional Law in different ways and with different emphases, and we focused on the fact that Professor Morrison’s approach is quite similar to that of Professor Ponsa, and this was considered a priority in evaluating what was best pedagogically for our students. In addition, both teach con law from the same book, and [had previously] collaborated in preparation for their courses. Students will find the most seamless transition in Professor Morrison’s class." I would add that while it has only been two days since the situation came to a head and we are still closely monitoring the situation and consulting with the students, it appears that most of the affected students approve of this chosen approach as the least bad response to a bad situation.

In response to James Grimmelman, three of the eleven colleagues on the list he cites are spending the semester in full-time residence at institutions in other cities [two on other continents], three teach upper-level courses in specialized areas of con law and have not taught the basic course in recent years if at all, one is on parental leave, and one is a first-year assistant professor. Of the remaining three, one is already teaching an overload of seven points, one is currently teaching Federal Courts for the first time, and one is Professor Morrison.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Avery Katz

Sorry, that should be "let him who is without sin." My bad.

James Grimmelmann

Like I said, they were all busy.


Seven credits is an overload? * sucks to be at NYU * ...

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