Law students and professors say they are tired but happy to be back in person
New students at Indiana University Maurer School of Law take the oath of professionalism before the start of the 2021-2022 academic year. Photo courtesy of IU Maurer Law School
Having just completed his first week of law school, Griffin O’Gara was spending his day off in what will likely become his second home over the next three years: the Law Library.
The Cincinnati native, who is starting his first year of classes at Indiana University, Robert H. McKinney School of Law, had considered deferring until COVID-19 was no longer a threat. Then he realized, after working a few years before enrolling, that the time had come even though the coronavirus pandemic continues to surge.
O’Gara enters the 2021-2022 school year with a mixture of excitement and worry. While he has expressed concern that the Delta variant may get worse, which could lead to a shift in online courses, he is also delighted to have started his journey into the legal profession. He said he was inspired by his teachers, happy to interact with his classmates face to face and read his homework in the quiet of the library.
Just as many have learned to do in the COVID-19 era, O’Gara has said he’s ready to adjust, rotate and take a deep breath no matter what.
“I was very committed to pursuing my legal studies, then I became a lawyer and practice law,” he said. “I will overcome any challenges and obstacles that come up and try to make the most of them. “
O’Gara’s attitude is common as Indiana law schools begin another academic year.
IU McKinney, Indiana University Maurer School of Law and Notre Dame Law School have all started classes with students, faculty and staff in person and are tentatively planning a semester that looks like it did before the pandemic.
The parent universities of the three law schools require everyone to be vaccinated, with exceptions granted for religious and medical reasons, and have policies of masking indoors.
At IU’s Bloomington and Indianapolis, everyone gathered in buildings for typical opening activities. They attended orientation sessions and took an oath of professionalism, met friends, joined student organizations and attended classes, just as they have done in the past.
“Online education was great in an emergency, but I think everyone agrees… you better be able to have that interaction. You learn more from your classmates, you learn more from your faculty, ”IU Maurer Dean Austen Parrish said of being in person. “And so generally I think people are happy to be back. They missed that experience.
Karen Bravo became Dean of IU McKinney in July 2020. Describing the law school’s plans for the coming year, Bravo explained that she sees this as the start of her second, first year because of the disruption. caused by COVID-19 did not give it a normal onset.
Likewise, returning students have a “different type of second, first year”. The 3Ls saw most of their legal training disrupted by the pandemic, and the 2Ls suffered a truncated first year of online and in-person classes. Now they are learning the intangibles of law school when everyone is physically together.
“I am optimistic that we are moving to normal, whatever the post-pandemic normal is,” Bravo said.
“… I am still optimistic. I think we have to get this under control, and we just have to face the reality that we have to get back to normal. “
Our Lady Dean Marcus Cole was not available for an interview.
The happiness many feel at being able to come together again in the classroom, library and relaxation areas is tempered by continued reminders that the virus could force everyone back to work and learning at home.
Shana Wallace, professor at IU Maurer, receives such a reminder every morning when she, her husband and their three young children take a minute to make sure they have their masks packed. During the 2020-2021 school year, Wallace said she worked hard to create the in-person environment in her online classes by engaging students, meeting small groups of students, having longer office hours and offering a break from Zoom by gathering outside on hot days.
Wallace said she was happy to be in person with her students again, but that she had planned for the worst. She keeps her Zoom links open and her online documents handy in case the courses need to move to a virtual format.
The students, she noted, are nonetheless energized. They are happy to see each other again and have resumed the social and professional activities they enjoyed before the pandemic.
“Even though we’re back in class and still wearing masks, the feeling is different,” Wallace said. “You know we’re mostly vaccinated and people always try to take care of each other, but I haven’t received frequent emails from ‘We need to quarantine’ or ‘I’ yet. have had a diagnosis “and that is very reassuring.
The Concord Law School at Purdue Global University has always been virtual, offering everything only in an online format. It is preparing to welcome a new 1L class of 228 students – 55.3% are women and 46.5% are minorities – in what Dean and Vice President Martin Pritikin call “the new abnormal”.
“We’ve all had enough, but I don’t know what everyone can do,” Pritikin said of the weariness surrounding COVID.
Because many Concord students are adults with families and full-time jobs, law school became flexible with assignment deadlines in 2020. The school wanted to adapt to the disruptions students were experiencing. in their personal lives but, Pritikin said, after about six months, schedules and expectations have returned to what they were before the pandemic.
The Dean stressed the need to stay focused on preparing the next generation of lawyers, even during a public health crisis.
“Especially in law school, I think we owe it to our students to approach difficult issues and make them comfortable with the idea that there is not… one side of the debate,” said declared Pritikin. “… If you close your eyes to the argument on the other side or consider it only some sort of straw man caricature, you are doing your customers a disservice.” I think this is a very important standard that I don’t know if law schools are doing all they can do in this regard.
Sense of community
Parrish and Bravo both said their students have not regressed academically. They learned the material and did well in their exams despite the distractions of the past year.
Yet students and faculty are starting a new year tired from the demands of 2020 and 2021. Deans of IU law schools have said that while people are happy to be back in class, they are tired. and exhausted in addition to still being worried about COVID. A silver lining, said the deans, is the realization that students and faculty are resilient.
“I think because of COVID we have a sense of confidence that we received a huge curve, but we were able to accomplish our mission,” Bravo said. “We have trained students throughout the year. The students completed their studies and graduated and joined the profession.
Heather Gin, 3L and President of the IU Maurer Student Bar Association, focuses on spending her final year nurturing the sense of community at law school that she felt on her first visit. She said she sees the camaraderie and spirit of support manifested in the many times that students at IU Maurer open the doors to their classmates.
To help build a sense of community, the Student Bar Association hosted a back-to-school event on a Friday night. Additionally, Gin said she was determined to resuscitate the field day COVID canceled last spring so students could once again participate in an afternoon of outdoor games.
The Michigan native noted that she and her third-grade classmates know their time in the law school community is fading, so they’re especially keen to take a break and savor the experience.
“We don’t want to start law school all over again, but we just want to enjoy our last year,” Gin said. “We have had so many times that have been taken from us. “•