Thursday, June 17, 2010

Some Dreams Always Die

February 2, 2005, Austin, Texas

In the heart of Austin sits a proud, established law school that perpetually ranks among the US News & World Report’s best, despite the lack of ivy adorning its outer walls. This outstanding institution draws students from around the world, enticing them to faded books and lackluster halls with an impressive academic reputation and social promise that leaves even the most composed young 20-somethings drooling.

Wise students, however, aren’t fooled by word of mouth and conveniently jovial accepted student day; these “skeptics” enter law school with expectations lower than the GPAs they are destined to receive at the close of first semester. Anticipating the worst, they arrive for orientation dressed like slobs, notebooks in hand, and a study schedule prematurely devised. Yet, midway through the first day of orientation, a surprising event occurs. The polluted Texas sky opens for a brief moment, allowing now-dusty brochure images to metamorphose into reality, teasing each new student with a bright picture for the future. Attractive and well-dressed youths glide into the auditorium, smiles flashing, with nothing but a cup of coffee in hand.

“You’re all shining stars,” a cheerful, preppy, and honest-faced Dean assures the room full of 1L students, “You are all going to succeed. We are so very proud to have each and every one of you.” To the continuous surprise of the skeptics, this paternalistic approach continues throughout the first semester. Keg parties at professors’ homes. Candy scattered across student desks during torts class. The incredible absence of Friday class. These rituals, combined with the relaxation of the Socratic Method and the homogenous feel of the first year (not to mention student lockers), splash the entire 1L experience with an elementary-school feel. The quarters may be close, but at least the ill-prepared students feel safe as they down pitchers of Miller Light at the Posse East.

Gossiping, dating, studying, partying, gossiping and complaining. These activities keep the herd occupied until finals in December, at which point the sections undergo a painful fortnight of exam-taking that threatens to annihilate the pleasant sentiments acquired since August.

“Finals suck!” reports a student from Section 1 (names have since been eliminated along with all traces of personal identity), “But at least I had my flask with me during my Civ Pro exam.”

Students utilize the subsequent Christmas vacation to rekindle friendships with non-law school friends, suck up to established legal minds (i.e. fathers), attend job interviews for jobs they will almost certainly forfeit to that one attractive Stanford Law student from Houston, and attempt to reintroduce some element of diversity into their daily lives. Several students accomplish this task by traveling to Europe; others simply prostitute themselves in South Austin.

Against this relaxed backdrop, the dispersed 1L team desperately clings to one common thread: the need to constantly check grades online.

This twitch, and its companion of checking email inboxes for notices from potential employers, brings vacationing 1Ls to the computer at unprecedented frequencies. Some students admit to checking grades and inboxes “as much as possible, even if it means waking up several times during the middle of the night.”

And suddenly, the thunderous skies open again.

But this time, the Texas sky splits, creating what seems like a permanent rift among a prideful class of students. The grades are posted, and the commission of secret interviews commence. The lucky ones thank the library and willing professors for having received their sexual advances. The unlucky ones wonder about the anonymity of the grading system and reconsider whether “law school was for them” or whether, according to their parents’ suggestions, they are better suited for “that opening at McDonald’s.”

Despite the seemingly harsh grade distributions, professors seek to remind their students that they are in fact the cozy parental figures they initially promised to be. In an effort to comfort students, and reinforce their connected status, professors send out emails such as this one:
“I needn’t tell you again that you are, by far, the most diligent and impressive body of students to enter the UT Law School. Despite this fact, I am incredibly disappointed in your performance on the exam. It was shameful. I suppose you can’t all be “shining stars.”

This magnificent gesture is only rivaled by the following institutional mandates:
1. Every first year course will begin at 8:15am, or alternatively, at 8:13am.
2. The vending machines will not, under any circumstances, provide cold beverages.
3. God will cause it to rain every day, and we will not, as an administration, contest this policy.
4. All first year professors will take a mandatory course in circular reasoning & lecturing methods and will continuously use such tactics during lectures.
5. No national holiday will be recognized after MLK Jr. Day, except that we will allow the students a week-long spring break (that must be sufficiently close to final exams so as to deter students from going on vacation).
6. Professors must no longer articulate specific assignment schedules to their students; rather the students must eternally “read ahead.”
7. And any other torture device that a professor sees fit.

This memorandum was distributed to the UT Faculty during the Christmas break and was not intended to reach student hands. Fortunately for all students, the Student Bar Association discovered one of the top-secret leaflets and plans to make use of it as soon as the SBA representatives finish their current project of locking and un-locking the SBA office at all times.

In the meantime, other students may catch wind of the controversy, but circumstances suggest that they may also be too busy (feeling bitter about grades and thinking about “that opening at McDonald’s”) to report grievances to the administration or seek legal relief.

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