During a panel for high school students interested in law, one student asked, “How can we be sure that a law school will provide us with the skills that we need to do the things that we’d like to do?” My response was that although faculty and administrators may help students attain the skills they need, students themselves can, and should, play an active role in their own education. Had I been asked that question one year earlier I may have had a different response. My perspective on the student’s role in law school and higher education generally has been influenced by my involvement in the seminar 64@50: The Civil Rights Act of 1964.
During the Fall semester of 2014, Columbia Law students organized and led a seminar focused on the landmark civil rights legislation enacted a half-century ago. One constant throughout the sessions was the level of student involvement in shaping and leading the discussions. By taking on an increased role in fashioning their own legal education, Columbia Law students were not only studying an important event in the civil rights movement, they were also exhibiting the character that moved young people to challenge the status quo, and impact the institutions of their day, over fifty years ago.
Creating and leading a reading group may not seem like a revolutionary act, but when understood within the context of events that occurred during the Fall semester of 2014, not only at Columbia Law School but around the nation, the potential impact of the seminar is more evident. Continue reading Where the Law(yer) is Made: Campus Activism and Civil Rights Work
Now-faded black-and-white pictures remind us of that famous moment in Selma, Alabama: There marched Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, physically locked together in a common front.
And so goes the histories of many of the nation’s civil-rights movements. While the civil-rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s was undeniably about a long history of oppression for Blacks in America, something more was in the air. Blacks did not just receive their rights through their protests that resulted in their Civil Rights Act of 1964. Instead, they pulled together unions, churches, civic organizations, and students (all comprising many racial groups) to craft an Act that satiated a multiplicity of interests. Similarly, the more recent LGBT-rights movement built momentum by drawing in straight allies, some perhaps on the Supreme Court.
But what happens when the interests of politically disadvantaged groups become misaligned? Continue reading Coalition Building in the Higher-Education Melting Pot
There is a longstanding consensus that teacher quality is a significant – if not determinative factor- in educational quality. Recently, lawsuits challenging tenure statutes in New York, Davids v. New York, and California, Vergara v. California, have reinvigorated discussion about the role of the judiciary in addressing this issue. Many of the legal commentators who have addressed the Vergara case, including Professors Eric Posner, Alexander Volokh, and Jonathan M. Zasloff, have argued that the thinly reasoned decision should be reversed on appeal because the state judiciary should not make the complex policy choices such a case presents. Though it doesn’t address the merits of any of the tenure cases, a recent article in the Harvard Law Review suggests that these cases do not challenge the democratic concerns of judicial competence because, if the complaint is successful, the court need only strike down the statutes. The state legislature can then draft new laws or if the legislature does not act, decision-making about these procedures will devolve to local school districts. Though school district authority is a lower level of government hierarchy, it is not necessarily more democratic. Continue reading More Local, But How Democratic? Questioning Devolution