Law school revamps academic calendar

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Photo by Ken Yanagisawa.

For years, Yale Law School students have spent their winter breaks in the company of books and papers as they studied for their January final exams.

But this week marks one of the last times that the Law School will ever hold exams for the fall semester in January. Last fall, a committee composed of law students and faculty members put together a proposal to align the Law School calendar with the rest of the University’s. The committee’s proposal — to move final exams to the end of December, in order to grant students a stress-free break and allow them to take classes in other schools and departments at Yale — was approved by a Law School faculty vote on Dec. 4, and the change will be enacted starting in the 2015-’16 academic year.

According to a letter from Law School student representatives, the reforms include moving the start of the fall term to before Labor Day, shortening the term to 13 weeks, holding exams after a one-week reading period in December and starting the spring semester a week earlier.

The decision was approved by a faculty majority and sustained by a poll that found two-thirds of the student body in favor of the decision. In the wake of the change’s approval, students and faculty members interviewed expressed differing opinions on the new calendar.

Rebecca Wexler LAW ’16 said the decision to change the calendar proves that at the Law School, democratic principles are not only taught in books.

“This decision shows that the administration does not want a community that just [observes] ideals of democracy, but one that acts and lives according to those ideals,” Wexler said. “It’s almost like democracy in action.”

Aurelia Chaudhury LAW ’16, a committee representative, said the faculty responded directly to a request students had been expressing for several years. She said that this year could have been decisive because faculty members had more conversations with students and obtained their perspective.

Chaudhury said that the calendar was reformed mostly to “improve the lives of students,” and to better coordinate the Law School’s schedule with the rest of the University.

But not all students feel the new final exam dates will improve their experience.

Wexler said she preferred using winter break to study, so as not to miss out on the events happening on campus during the fall semester.

Whitney Leonard LAW ’15 said the biggest benefit is that the Law School will now be on the same calendar as the rest of the University, making it easier for law students to take classes at other graduate and professional schools, and vice versa.

Law School Professor Akhil Amar said that the syncing of the Law School’s calendar with the rest of Yale will be important for the entire community.

“This move is a wonderful symbol of the increased interconnectivity between the College and the Law School — two of the jewels in Yale’s crown,” Amar said.

But Law School Associate Dean Megan Barnett said there are strengths and weaknesses to both the previous and new calendar. Law School Professor Peter Schuck noted that although coordination between the Law School and University calendars is “desirable,” the Law School still has to deal with other restraints to its calendar that the wider University does not have, such as specific timelines for job recruitment that law students must follow. Because of these differences, Schuck said, there may still be advantages to having a Law School-specific calendar.

This year’s exam period for the Law School students lasted from Jan. 6 to 16.

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