Focus on law students, not nat’l rankings

By Tim Robertson

The University of Louisville has long balanced its competitive academic standards with efforts to ensure as many prospective students as possible have the opportunity to sit in its classrooms.

This is a great service to our community, and as a native of Louisville, one in which I take great pride.

But faculty in the Brandeis School of Law and above are exploring, if not bent on the idea, of ending evening classes. As it works now, there are two programs at the law school, a traditional day program and an evening program that appeals largely to students working and studying at the same time.

Full time students enrolled in the day program receive their law degrees in three years. In the evening section, students work on a four-year track while often balancing full time jobs or other responsibilities during the day.

True, most law students attend classes during the day. But it’s important to note that some students who applied to the day program are forced to take night classes because of the split allocation of resources between the day and evening sections. In that regard, maintaining night classes may be a burden, but for the many who have other responsibilities – parenting, working or other committments that prevent them from becoming the typical full-time student for four years – it is a blessing.

The rationale behind the move to eliminate the evening program comes form slumping U.S. News rankings of American law schools, as well as Brandeis not being a member of the Order of the Coif, an honor society for law schools. Furthermore, day students, who make up the majority of Brandeis pupils, could have more specialized classes if the faculty could focus on plan curricula for a single group of students rather than dividing their resources among two programs. Theoretically, faculty members would also have more time for research, upping the school’s national rankings and adding to its prestige.

But the truth is being ranked just outside of the U.S. News “top 100″ will have little effect on the enrollment at Brandeis, as would being ranked just inside of it. As a prospective law student, I can say that the statistical rankings, after the first 40 or so, mean little to me and many other applicants.

Of course, there is a difference between Yale (#1) and Brandeis, but can you really make a case to say the law programs at schools like Mercer (#87), Hawaii (#93), and Pacific (#97) are better than Brandeis? I can differentiate them in one way. Brandeis is dedicated to extending the opportunity of a good law education to anyone who wants one and qualifies, regardless of their personal or financial situation. At least for now.

Graduates of the evening law section at Brandeis include Irv Maze, who, as Jefferson County Attorney, has fought successfully against DUIs, truancy and deadbeat dads, among other things. They also include Jefferson Circuit Judge Steve Mershon, who ruled against the university (specifically the McConnell Center) in a prominent case in 2003.

Of course this has nothing to do with the current deliberations on the future of Brandeis, but is it really more important to be a “higher ranked” law school than to enable people to reach such positions?

Probably not.

Everyone deserves as much education as they are willing to work to achieve. I take pride in the fact that the University of Louisville provides opportunities to “non-traditional” students, and I believe that factor keeps Brandeis ahead of a lot of its peers, regardless of what U.S. News says.

Tim Robertson is a graduate student in the Department of Political Science. E-mail him at opinion@louisivllecardinal.com.

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