Columbia Law School will let students postpone their final exams if they say they feel traumatized by the polarizing grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
Robert E. Scott, the school’s interim dean, announced the decision via email Saturday, citing policies to help students who feel their performance could suffer after distressing experiences.
“The grand juries’ determinations to return nonindictments in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases have shaken the faith of some in the integrity of the grand jury system and in the law more generally,” the email reads.
“For some law students, particularly, though not only, students of color, this chain of events is all the more profound as it threatens to undermine a sense that the law is a fundamental pillar of society designed to protect fairness, due process and equality.”
Several faculty members and a trauma specialist scheduled special office hours this week for students who would like support or to discuss the implications of the grand juries' decisions.
The conservative Power Line blog, which first picked up the story, apparently found Columbia's email ridiculous enough to alert readers that the news was not satire.
“The video of Garner is certainly disturbing,” the post reads. “But anyone so unstable as to be incapable of preparing for and taking exams due to grand jury proceedings not involving themselves or their families should be given an indefinite leave of absence in which to get better.”
Similarly, a prominent New York-based defense attorney, Benjamin Brafman, told the New York Times that Columbia's decision was “absurd.”
“If law students cannot function with difficult issues like these, maybe they should not try and become lawyers,” he said.
A spokesperson for Columbia Law School confirmed to Yahoo News that a small fraction of its students rescheduled their exams for later this month but feared that this matter could divert attention from the real issue: “how to ensure a criminal justice system that protects fairness, due process, and equality.”
Michael Orey, a spokesperson for NYU School of Law, declined to comment on Columbia’s decision but said the school's students can also request to reschedule exams after traumatic experiences.
“We haven’t made any announcement that’s similar to Columbia’s,” he told Yahoo News. “It’s always been the case that students can request a postponement on a case-by-case basis, and that’s always been true.”