Thursday, April 5, 2012

Disappearing Class: A Law School Scandal

Baylor Law made legal news today by releasing private information about each student admitted to the fall incoming class to every student admitted to the incoming class. Assistant Dean Leah Jackson issued an apology. Somebody sent the data to the website Above the Law. The site released a redacted version of the file with a write-up of the event.

*sigh*. Welcome to Datagate.

There are three problems here. I'll address the most obvious one first.

What great galloping idiot of a would-be lawyer sent the data list to Above the Law? Which attorney wanna-be was that opportunistic and utterly devoid of class? The instant you saw what you had in your hands you should have deleted it. It was hot, it was wrong, and you knew it.

In the apology e-mail from Baylor Law, Associate Dean Leah Jackson made the following statement: “Due to the sensitive nature of the information that was contained in the attachment, we ask you to treat the document as confidential, just as you would as a lawyer, and delete the information.”

Perhaps you sent out the information before you received the apology from Associate Dean Jackson. Maybe you sent it out after. It really doesn't matter. You should have done the right thing without having to be told. If you do go on to become a lawyer, God help your clients.

The second problem was caused by Above the Law. You said in your article that “we're not going to compound Baylor's mistake by outing all of these innocent students who did nothing other than get admitted to a law school.” You then went on to PUBLISH THE LIST. It doesn't matter that you removed the students' names. By including the names of the undergraduate schools they attended, you published enough information to make those potential students vulnerable. If any of them do matriculate to Baylor in the fall, the upper classes will be able to figure out who is who. So will classes that follow. And you did it because you saw “some newsworthiness” in Baylor's mistake. Honor and class sacrificed for your perceived journalistic glory.

And now to the third problem, the big problem: Baylor Law.

Oh, Baylor Law. What were you thinking.

Yes, one person made the mistake by sending out the e-mail with the attachment. But it reflects on the whole school. It was an act that said very clearly, “We don't care about prospective students.” And the apology e-mail, while it is unequivocal, is hardly the start of real reparations.

The saddest part is the reaction of alumni. We aren't surprised. Ashamed, yes. Surprised, no. Too many things happened during law school that said, very clearly, “We don't care about students.” Why would you care about prospective students? You didn't care about the people inside the building, so why would you care about people waiting to get in?

I'm not talking about the professors. Some of them do truly care about the students. I'm certainly not talking about the library staff, who cared for me and the other library workers like we were family. I'm not talking about the other staff members who did what they could to make sure the students were still eating and getting by. I'm talking about the administration.

The first thing I thought about when I learned of Datagate was Promgate.

It was Spring 2006. We were all in a frenzy, prepping for final exams. And then we were told the the law school library would be off limits, commandeered by the Dean so that his high school offspring and friends could have a private, catered, pre-prom dinner, on the library's second floor. Our best study location became the private playground of outsiders. After outrage from the student body and involvement of the local media, the edict was adjusted. We were allowed to use the library, but not the second floor.

Was there ever an apology? Barely. Was there comprehension on the part of the administration as to the reason for our anger? No. The administration continued to schedule events during the hell weeks that preceded exams, with no regard for the students. CLE courses were regularly scheduled during peak study times, with attorneys pushing students out of classrooms and even seating areas in the hallways. Study groups built barricades around tables in a vain attempt to carve out some space to sit and review. The message from the administration was clear: outside attorneys matter; students don't.

For alumni who remember Promgate, Datagate is not a surprise. It's just the next level of what we all experienced first hand.

Again, I do recognize that Datagate was caused by one person. But tone comes from the top. The very fact that it was the Associate Dean who sent out the apology and not the Dean himself, says a lot.

The source of all three Datagate problems is the same: a lack of class. In Baylor Law's case, it may well cost them a class. It may cost them good calibre students for many classes to come.

Prove me wrong, Baylor Law. No one wants to think ill of their alma mater. If only you wouldn't make it so damn easy.