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Law school adapts course offerings, policies in response to COVID-19

Friday, April 10, 2020

LAWRENCE – In response to a shift to online learning and changing circumstances created by the coronavirus, the University of Kansas School of Law has added courses to its summer schedule and temporarily changed some academic policies.

Changes include: additional summer course options for upper-level students; changes to the school’s grading policies, scholarship retention and continuing enrollment policies; and increased funding for summer public interest stipends.

“We are in a very different place now than we were when we started the semester,” said Stephen Mazza, dean and professor of law. “Despite that, we have a responsibility to continue to prepare students to practice law, particularly in this time when compassionate and well-trained advocates will be so important.”

The law school has added three upper-level courses during the summer session. Rising second- and third-year students will have three upper-level courses to choose from in each summer session: Evidence, Jurisdiction and Remedies in the first session; and Business Organizations, Professional Responsibility and a seminar in Sexual Orientation and the Law in the second session. Faculty are planning to offer courses in an online format, following an April 2 announcement from the university.

“For students looking to get ahead on credits, or whose summer employment outlook may have changed, the additional courses expand their summer options,” said Uma Outka, William R. Scott Law Professor and associate dean for faculty at KU Law.

Academic policy changes

The law school has also temporarily changed several academic policies to accommodate changes to the learning environment, financial challenges and personal circumstances.

On March 30, Mazza announced a revised grading policy for the spring 2020 semester. Law students will receive either satisfactory or unsatisfactory evaluations for spring 2020 courses. Those ratings will not affect students’ cumulative GPAs. The move was based on feedback from students, faculty and university administration, and was informed by policies adopted at other law schools accredited by the American Bar Association.

“It is now clear that many students face pressures and challenges that did not exist before the move to online classes and the closure of schools and businesses,” Mazza wrote in a letter to the law school community. Those challenges could include childcare responsibilities; caring for family members; financial insecurity; mental and physical health concerns; and summer and post-graduation employment concerns.

“Because these hardships are distributed randomly and unequally across the student body, a significant likelihood exists that a student’s grade this semester will not reflect the student’s abilities under normal circumstances,” Mazza wrote.

More information about the revised spring 2020 grade policy and the school’s decision-making process in setting the policy is available on the KU Law website.

Additional student support

The law school has also increased funding for student support programs, including summer work stipends and scholarship funding.

Since March 30, the law school has:

  • Tripled the amount of funding available through the school’s public interest stipend program. The program helps students offset expenses while they work for public interest organizations, such as nonprofits or government agencies.
  • Suspended GPA requirements for students to maintain scholarships through the end of the fall 2020 semester, in light of the spring 2020 grading policy change. Most scholarships at the School of Law normally require students to maintain a 3.0 minimum cumulative GPA beginning at the end of the student’s first year. Temporarily removing that requirement will result in an estimated $250,000 increase in scholarship allocations. 

“While the virus may lead to some tough choices in terms of our budget, this is not a time to cut back on student support,” Mazza said.

“Our alumni base has been supportive and we’ve stewarded their gifts in a responsible manner. We’re in a position to continue investing in our students and their success, and we plan to continue doing so even in these tough circumstances,” he said.

Additional updates about the KU School of Law’s response to the coronavirus are available at law.ku.edu/coronavirus-information