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Credit Where Credit’s Due—Journal Staff Face Cuts

Submitted by on March 5 – 20135 Comments

The Administration’s recent decision to significantly amend the allotment of credit for participation on journals has taken Fordham Law and the Garden Level by storm. Under current credit distribution practices, journal staff members receive a single credit in their spring semester for their work, while the editorial staff receives three credits, each semester, for their contributions. The 2012-2013 academic year will mark the final chapter of this policy. Under the plan that has been adopted for the upcoming year, there will no longer be a second-year Staff credit, and Editors in their third year will receive two credits a semester, rather than the three currently provided.

While most seemed content with the current credit appropriations provided to these institutions, the Administration has espoused several factors leading to next year’s paradigm shift. Speaking on the motives behind Fordham Law’s change of course for the 2013-2014 academic year, Professor Sean J. Griffith stated that, “prior to undertaking this policy change, we did a study of what other law schools do with their student journals and the awarding of credits. In doing so, we realized we were an outlier. The amount of credits that students could get through journal participation at Fordham was significantly higher than it was at any of our peer institutions. And, within the top-50 schools that we looked at, I think there are only one or two schools that were like us; in terms of the quantity of credits we were willing to award journal editors. As always, we’re trying to be competitive with our peer institutions,”

Audrey Glassman, Registrar, relates that the Administration was also troubled by a penchant for students writing Notes to ‘game the system’ as a way to receive additional credits for their publication efforts. “Sometimes, when people would try to publish a note, they would sign up for a two-credit independent study, and use that as a platform for writing their note with the supervision of a faculty member. So there, all of a sudden, they’re receiving not only the journal credits, but also the one credit for the note, and two credits for the independent study. It was a situation where the number of credits a student could receive was going up-and-up significantly. So, all of those credits will change now in the fall of 2013.”

According to Glassman, the new system is, “in essence, the closing of a loophole … students preparing to write a note for publication, if accepted, will have to choose whether they want their transcript to reflect the one credit we offer for note publication, or two credits they would receive for an independent study. They will no longer be able to receive credit for both.”

The system currently employed by the Law School traces its roots to former Dean, and current namesake of the School’s Center for Social Justice, Professor John Feerick. While one might assume that this practice originated as a form of compensation for the volume of time and energy expended in producing each publication, the genesis of the process was actually founded as a response to the financial realities of the University at the time. Feerick, who became Dean of Fordham’s law school in July of 1982, recalls being deeply troubled by the lack of funding available for students in need of financial assistance. “I was worried that there were students who deserved help [in actualizing their dreams of a legal education], Feerick explained, “so, one of the first commitments I made as Dean was creating the financial aid office. After which, I spent a large amount of time fund-raising.” The crusade championed by Feerick marked the first of its kind in the history of Fordham Law.

Although equipped with a new department, attitudinal changes, and considerable contributions from distinguished Fordham Law graduates (perhaps, most notably, Benjamin Javits), Feerick faced an obstacle familiar to contemporary Fordham Law students: the competing interests and demands associated with the construction of new facilities. While much of his time was spent scrutinizing the details of the building campaign – from which the current atrium, amphitheater, and library emanated – Feerick’s concerns over the development of the financial aid office did not relent.

In a zero-sum game where building initiatives defeat financial aid issues ten-out-of-ten times, Feerick got creative. “I went down to meet with the Law Review,” he recalled. “All of the Law Review Editors had scholarships, and the [amalgamation of those monies] constituted a very significant portion of the financial aid budget of the Law School. This raised a moral issue for me because the Law Review editors, [by virtue of their positions and academic standing], were going to be able to get clerkships and jobs at big firms. Meanwhile, there remained a far greater number of students who might be slightly less marketable in certain respects, and I felt it was the school’s duty to provide assistance to a more significant portion of the student body. The idea was that by dispersing the concentration of these scholarship funds, there would be more going into the financial aid pool.”

As a former Editor-in-Chief of the Fordham Law Review, Feerick knew the move would likely be met with resistance, but chose to persevere. “The name that always sticks with me [from these early dialogues] is William Whelan. I detailed the moral issues I had with the University’s scholarship practices to William, and he agreed with me,” Feerick explained. “His student leadership was invaluable. Had there been an adverse reaction, I can’t imagine that we would have gone forward.”

Subsequent conversations between Feerick and the Law Review staff would serve as the stepping-stones for the development of the credit system as it is known it today. In one such meeting, the group reached a consensus that providing academic credit to journal editors might offer the necessary compromise they sought. “It reflected the notion that their scholarship, and the work that they did as writers, editors, and supervisors, was so substantive academically, that [providing] credits for the Editors as part of a package seemed to resonate amongst those participating in the discussion.” Further, since they were essentially revoking editors’ scholarships, Feerick noted, “we created a system under which, if any of the editors was in need of financial assistance, they were given priority.”

While the stars seemed to align for Feerick’s initiative, he was adamant that the decision not be made hastily or unilaterally. “There was some literature out there in the academic community on the practice of giving credits to journal members, but we chose to take our own approach. We made sure we included other students; specifically, the editors of the Urban and International Law Journals, and we made sure that the whole package that we had come up with was approved by a faculty vote. I had a strong commitment to faculty governance during my tenure.”

The history of providing credit for the scholastic, extra-curricular, endeavors of Fordham students has been a dynamic one; an evolutionary process that has continued to acclimatize to the needs of the ever-changing landscape of the Law School community. “As time went along, presentations were made by others seeking to receive credit for their contributions. Three more journals came along during my tenure as Dean,” Feerick remarked, “and Professor Marcus started to raise the issue for Moot Court, as compensation for all of the work that they did in preparing for competitions. It was always tied to academic scholarship, and the nature of what students were doing.”

Professor Feerick’s retirement in 2002 did not mark the end of the era of augmentation to these practices. Glassman notes that change to the system continued. “As time went on, there were some third-years who didn’t want to, or couldn’t, devote as much time as a true editor, but wanted to stay on board as a member of the journal; so faculty moderators then began to approve the third year people to get one credit in the spring semester of their third year, continuing on as a staff member as opposed to getting the editor credits.”

While student reactions concerning the new changes for 2013-2014 have been overwhelmingly negative, opinions have run the gamut. Mickey Alterman, a second-year student and member of the Law Review, posited that, “it seems it would be in the school’s benefit to encourage the sort of learning provided through the experience of being on a journal, and would seek to give credit for it. The fact that they would take that away just doesn’t make sense to me.”

An editor of one of Fordham’s student-edited publications, requesting anonymity in providing comments for this article, offered a similar bewilderment over the Administration’s planned changes. “I think it’s pretty absurd that they’re taking credits away from us,” the editor professed. “If you walk around the halls late at night you see that some of the only people here in school are journal or Law Review editors. We work so hard to create a product, with Fordham’s name on it mind you, to bring positive recognition to the school; and to thank us for these efforts, they’re taking away credits? If anything, based on the sheer amount of hours put in by the editors and staff, we should be given more hours.”

“Furthermore,” the editor continued, “staffers, the very individuals that really make journals run, are going to be given zero credits. Aside from writing a note, there’s really no incentive for them to be good members of the Journal. From personal experience, editors spend around 60 hours a week on journal-related duties alone; so the three credit-hours they currently allot already feel insignificant. The fact that they are reducing that number is truly an insult. It’s as if the school is saying, ‘we don’t care how hard you are working or what you are doing for this school—and it’s reputation, and we’re actually going to slight you even further!’ It’s another instance of this school’s administration acting against us instead of in support. It’s really disheartening and makes me think that the administration doesn’t understand, or care to understand, what journals really do.”

Dan Bardzell, a third-year student, and an NA for the International Law Journal, asserted concerns over the restraints the new credit restriction would place on those seeking to become editors. “[Being an editor] is definitely helpful for your resume, but I think that if I had to do an extra class each semester on top of the work that I do for the journal, it would make holding my position on the journal much less feasible.” Bardzell continued, “I think I could probably knock the actual editing out in about three weekends, but there’s so much more to it than that. Taking a position on a journal really is like taking a class; if I had a full schedule, plus that, it really becomes a whole different balancing of whether or not it’s worth the time.”

Marissa Carro, a member of Fordham’s Journal of Corporate and Financial Law, expressed uncertainty over the change. “I think at the end of the day, most people do it, not for the credit, but because they have something else they want to get out of it, outside of the credit. However, I think it’s unfortunate, because one of the big issues with law school is balancing your time, and when it comes down to that, getting all of the required credits in to ensure you can graduate on time becomes a little difficult.”

After a moment, Mickey Alterman conceded that he could understand the administration’s logic. “It’s an imperfect situation,” Alterman stated, “but I suppose in five years no one is going to be thinking about this. If Fordham is truly an outlier in giving such substantial credit for journal participation, then it’s understandable to me that the school would look to make this move.”

Regardless of the variance in student opinion and the propensity that such a move may affect the quality and level of participation in Fordham’s student organizations, there appears to be no looking back. In what some have likened to a Darwinian experiment, the administration will ask students to adapt.

–Michael Smaila, staff writer

5 Comments »

  • Will Fullwood says:

    I can respect the administration’s decision, but I disagree with it. Reducing the number of credits for journal editors is truly a slap in their faces. The number of hours they spend on journal work more than justifies the three credits they currently receive.

    Despite my concern for the disconnect between the administration and the student body that this decision highlights, I can understand the rationale behind reducing editor credit-earning potential from three to two (although I question the validity of a credit comparison between “like” schools without a comparison of journal culture and prestige). However, the decision to eliminate the single credit offered to journal staff members is near indefensible. The administration is intimating that journal staff members do not complete one credit worth of work in an academic school year. The choice to eliminate that credit shows a blatant disregard for the staff members’ efforts, the role of the journals in the school community, and the status of the journals in the greater legal community.

    The Registrar’s comments in this article are extremely troubling to me, also. “‘Gaming the system’”? ‘Closing a loophole’? If these are truly the thoughts of the administration, then they need to take a page out of Professor Feerick’s book and consult the student body before making such a decision. Current journal editors, who are unaffected by these changes, could have given the administration some insight into the realities of a journal staff member’s work that seems clearly lacking.

    In defense of the current system and a better alternative, this so-called “loophole” is supposedly caused when a student takes an independent study, gets journal credit(s), and also gets one credit for writing a note. The journal credit(s) and the note-writing/independent study credits are distinct because the work is distinct. The comments in the article belie a lack of understanding of the differences between completing an independent study and publishing a note in a journal. Further, this “issue” could have been solved by creating a rule that if a student chooses to both take an independent study and publish a student note, then the issues for the pieces must be distinct. That way no one is breaking the university’s credit piggy bank and staffers and editors can continue to be shown the respect they deserve for their hard work.

    There is a time to follow suit, and there is a time to blaze one’s own path. Here, the decision to walk in the footsteps of other institutions was not thoroughly or respectfully investigated, and thus a mistake.

  • Anonymous says:

    In terms of the editors losing one of their three credits each semester, all that this really does is require their non-journal course load to return to the status quo. Prior to this academic year, all students had to take ten credits worth of “in the classroom” courses (e.g. lectures, seminars, clinics). This meant that an editor earning three credits from the journal had to take at least thirteen credits a semester (three credits for the journal and ten in-class credits). The removal of the ten credit requirement this past summer made this year the first where an editor could take less than ten hours of in-class courses because of journal participation. This new rule of two credits rather than three merely returns students to the status quo of having to take ten hours of in-class course work in addition to their journal efforts.

    In light of this fact, I don’t think the drop from three credits to two credits is much of a problem. Removing the one credit for 2L journal work, on the other hand, is a completely different story.

  • Anonymous says:

    In terms of the editors losing one of their three credits each semester, all that this really does is require their non-journal course load to return to the status quo. Prior to this academic year, all students had to take ten credits worth of “in the classroom” courses (e.g. lectures, seminars, clinics). This meant that an editor earning three credits from the journal had to take at least thirteen credits a semester (three credits for the journal and ten in-class credits). The removal of the ten credit requirement this past summer made this year the first where an editor could take less than ten hours of in-class courses because of journal participation. This new rule of two credits rather than three merely returns students to the status quo of having to take ten hours of in-class course work in addition to their journal efforts.

    In light of this fact, I don’t think the drop from three credits to two credits is much of a problem. Removing the one credit for 2L journal work, on the other hand, is a completely different story.

  • axnjaxn says:

    Excellent article Mr. Smaila- well done.

  • Anonymous says:

    There are three big issues: (1) there is no “loophole”; (2) the school’s reasoning is flawed; and (3) the repercussions of the credit-reduction plan will greatly outweigh any possible benefits.

    1. There is no “loophole.” How is it a problem that a student earns credit for doing journal work and credit for writing a note? Both roles involve completely different tasks. Students in those situations are not earning double credits for the same work, so I fail to see where the issue lies. Writing a note for a two-credit course or independent study requires the student to work on his/her note. Journal work requires research and editing others’ notes or articles. Where is the duplicity here? Where is the loophole? Is it a well-established and accepted economic and political concept that resolutions should be tailored to fix the specific problem. If “closing up” this supposed “loophole” is the issue, then the resolution should fix this supposed problem without punishing those who do not seek to jump through this loophole. It is also a well-established and accepted principle to not fix what’s not broken.

    2. The school’s reasoning and justification for its decision seems indefensible.
    a. Since when did Fordham Law decide to become a follower instead of a leader? I understood Fordham to be a pioneer of its time by focusing on the “service of others.” Today, our school decides to base its policies off of those of other schools. What a shame! Fordham is a great school in its own right because of what it has achieved, improved, and pioneered, not because of what it has mimicked. Since when was someone else doing something a justification for doing it ourselves? I never thought that it would be necessary to appeal to the rhetorical question that most people learn by the age of seven: “If you saw someone jump off a bridge, would you do it?” Why should we compare ourselves to other schools? Let them compare themselves to us. (1) Our school believed that three credits were deserved for all the hours put in for journal participation; (2) the hours put in for journal work has not lessened; (3) therefore, the credits should remain the same.
    b. The school assumes that our journal students have the same time demands as those of other schools. If the school is that concerned about earning allegedly undeserved credits, it should at the least make somewhat of an effort to compare the rigors. Maybe other school journals have much larger staffs such that each person does less work. Maybe our journals publish larger issues or issues more often. Perhaps other schools have their articles handed to them while we go our searching for and reading articles and then debating on which ones to choose. There are many factors involved, and I am willing to bet that Fordham didn’t bother to consider any of them.

    3. Bad Repercussions
    a. The decreased interest in journal participation and running for position has already become evident in light of the school’s proposal.
    b. Journal editors will unquestionably dedicate less hours to their positions if they will not get the credit that they deserve because they would gain more from dedicating that time to their classes for which they earn grades. Journal credits are ungraded. Consequently, the caliber of our school’s journals will necessarily fall and along with it, our school’s reputation. Giving one extra credit to journal participants will not make our break the school’s reputation, but a lack of regard for the school’s journals due to decreased quality will.
    c. Students are extremely discontent with the school administration, which detracts from potential donations. Before this credit-reduction plan was even announced, we have been dissatisfied with the school’s apparent complete disinterest in the student body’s interests. Journal editors already do not earn the credits that they deserve. The school’s policies consistently display a primary interest in itself before its paying students, without whom, the school would not exist. Let’s see how many donations Fordham Law will get from current students and its future graduates if they decide to stick with this plan. What is worse: not only will the school get less money, but donation amounts factor into school rankings, so say goodbye to your pride placement among other law schools.

    Simply put, the school, by seeking to fix what is not broken, is breaking something: student morale, journal quality, donations, school rankings, and its reputation as a pioneer.

    Fordham Law administration, it’s not too late to change you mind. Please correct this well-intended mistake.

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