A mandatory pass/fail system is more equitable than an optional one

Before the world was steeped in a global health crisis, the biggest concern amongst Lewis and Clark Law administration was where our school would appear on the US News and World Report law school ranking list. Test scores, job placement, and acceptance rates are some of the factors used to determine how a school will compare to the rest of the nation’s ABA-accredited institutions. What became abundantly clear as the coronavirus pandemic unfolded was that these same factors continued to be the school’s priority. Law school is unique in that there is incredible diversity in the background of the student body. There are former teachers, bankers, and servers; young adults coming straight from their undergraduate schools; stay-at-home parents who have taken years out of the professional and academic worlds, and all of these people are of different religions, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. This diversity is part of what makes post-graduate studies so enriching, and it is this diversity that requires administrations to provide equitable solutions at every opportunity.

Lewis and Clark Law demonstrated that the faculty and administration prioritize how competitive some students can be in a job market over the health and wellbeing of every student. Law schools across the country, even our closest neighbors, swiftly adopted mandatory pass/fail systems as they saw how quickly individuals would be affected during a time of worldwide distress. At Lewis and Clark, students had to rally amongst themselves before there was any indication that there would be changes made by the administration this semester.

A mandatory pass/fail system is simply the most equitable way to treat students during this time. By allowing students to choose whether or not to accept grades or credit for the semester, the law school is furthering a system that rewards those with the privilege to be fully engaged and punishes those who do not have that ability. Parents are now forced to juggle childcare, teaching their kids from home, and their own homework. Students have had partners lose their jobs and their only household income. Individuals’ mental health, a crucial component to success that is already consistently jeopardized by the pressures of law school, is being challenged in entirely new and devastating ways. This doesn’t even begin to address the fact that by moving classes online, a style of learning that many are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with, a multitude of people will be put at a disadvantage. And yet, our school decided that instead of putting everybody on equal footing at this time, they would encourage competition. They would choose to allow students with privilege to be given another advantage- they will have letter grades while those who prioritized the rest of their life over law school will not.

There are many more inequities present at this time that an optional credit/no credit system will highlight for all to see in the near future. While students who have the privilege to maintain study habits might prefer the opt-out system that the law school created, it is up to the faculty and administration to ensure that all students are treated equitably, and they failed. Lewis and Clark provided a shoddy commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I am thoroughly disappointed.

Thea Donovan, 2L

President of the Education Law Society at the Lewis & Clark Law School

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