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‘Unable to focus and highly emotional’: Columbia Law students want exams canceled due to police crackdown

‘They have been educated in systems that have fostered the sense of victimization or trauma from opposing views.’

Columbia University law students are asking administrators to cancel final exams and give them all passing grades due to the stress they went through watching police break up a recent protest on campus after students violently took over a building and illegally occupied it in support of the Palestinian cause.

A letter written by editors at the Columbia Law Review and cosigned by several other law journal editors calls on campus leaders to ax final exams because, the law students claim, they have been “irrevocably shaken.”

“Videos have circulated of police clad in riot gear mocking and brutalizing our students,” reads the letter, a copy of which was published by Above the Law. “The events of last night left us, and many of our peers, unable to focus and highly emotional during this tumultuous time.”

“…We believe that canceling exams would be a proportionate response to the level of distress our peers have been feeling.”

While Columbia has hosted aggressive anti-Israel occupation-style encampment protests since late April, at issue is a recent incident earlier this week in which protesters took over a building, Hamilton Hall, smashing windows, breaking through doors, and refusing to leave. The action forced police to intervene to secure the venue.

“More than 100 protesters were taken into custody during the crackdown,” NBC news reported, which added: “Law school final exams are typically grueling, often lasting three or four hours at a time, according to JD Advising. A student’s performance on exams in their first year of law school is critical to their future success, as it often has major implications on job prospects.”

Weighing in on the issue, George Washington University law Professor Jonathan Turley argued the students should not get the exemption.

” 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,” Turley wrote on his blog, who noted the “law school has postponed exams due to the protests but has not cancelled the exams.”

According to Reuters: “All the law school’s final exams are proceeding remotely instead of in-person, according to a Wednesday message to students from law dean Gillian Lester. Students may opt to have any or all of their exams graded on a pass or fail basis.”

Turley wrote that law students claiming trauma does not bode well for the profession — especially coming from a top law school:

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.

This request is not the first time students have asked to be excused from finals, citing stressful protests. In the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020, students made similar requests at campuses across the nation.

MORE: Columbia on lock down after pro-Palestinian protesters take over building

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.