Deans say law final exam invalid

More than two months after fall semester’s final exams finished, Salmon P. Chase College of Law Torts I students are still talking about their final grades – and so is the entire law school.

After their final exam was deemed invalid by the law school’s deans, students in Edward Brewer’s section of Torts I, a first-year class in the law school, were given one of three options: keep their final grade, retake the exam or take a pass for the course. No students decided to retake the exam.

Dean Dennis R. Honabach labeled the exam invalid after several students from the class complained of misleading instructions and of some students’ unfair advantage with study materials.

According to Associate Dean of Academics Nancy Firak, the professor told his students to answer the two questions on the exam and the instructions stated the same thing. The exam, which was about 25 pages, had “Question 1” with a question next to “Section 1” and another next to “Section 2” on the first page. After several pages of lined paper for responses there was another question next to “Question 2.”

“A lot of people didn’t see the second question,” said Sherry Porter, associate dean of Student Affairs. “Some students didn’t see the hidden question until the exam was almost over. To find an exam question at the very end would not be very good.”

The dean said other fallacies of the exam included an essay question handed out as a sample in a review session, exam questions found verbatim in the study materials for students, and a question not covered in lecture or in the textbook during the semester.

The law students then incorporated the essay and questions into their outlines, which were permitted for the exams.

“All of these things raised questions as to the validity of the exam,” Porter said. “The administration determined this was not a valid test.”

Initially, the professor of the class decided to not include the second exam question in his grading, but the deans of the law school wanted feedback from the students on how to handle the situation.

“We went into a ‘fact-finding mode,'” Porter said. “We found what students thought were important. In our view, the students were not effectively tested on their knowledge.”

Ultimately, the deans gave the 43 Torts I students the three options, which were derived from students’ selections. Several of the students, however, weren’t satisfied with the results.

President of the Black Law Student Association Janaya Trotter said there is tension between the students who were in the two sections of the Torts I class and she “didn’t agree with the pass option.”

Trotter’s main concern with the options was class ranking outcomes being influenced.

“Instead of being graded, some got a ‘P’ and can move on to the next semester,” she said. “The ranking this semester is not indicative to class standing.”

Other students voiced concerns about possible accreditation violations, which were not confirmed by the American Bar Association.

“Everything else we do is in aberration of fulfilling requirements,” Porter said. “Do I believe we violated anything? No. Do I wish it’d never happened? Absolutely.”

Furak said in her 23 years at the law school, she’s never seen an exam mishap like this one.

“It is highly unusual because there was a whole lot of things that went wrong,” she said. “It’s so difficult because you’re trying to do what’s fair.”

Though there is still unrest within the law school, the deans are trying to work with the students regarding the situation.

Brewer is on a sabbatical this semester and Honovach has taken over the teaching role for Torts II, the second half of the class. He is incorporating material from Torts I into the class and has given students in the class the opportunity to sit in on the class in the fall free of charge.

“We did our best to treat everyone as fairly as possible,” Porter said.