Protests are continuing in New York and across the country in the wake of the grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. And the decisions—both resulting in no indictments for police officers killing unarmed black men—have left many outraged at the justice system... which Columbia Law School is apparently keenly aware of, because they are allowing students to postpone their finals if they feel "sufficiently impaired due to the effects of these recent events."

Interim dean of the law school, Robert Scott, sent this email to students:

Dear Members of the Columbia Law School Community:

The grand juries’ determinations to return non-indictments 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. 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.

For these reasons, after consultation with students in the law school and with colleagues on the law faculty and in the administration, I am taking the following steps to assure our responsiveness and involvement in this particular moment:

- In recognition of the traumatic effects these events have had on some of the members of our community, Dean Greenberg-Kobrin and Yadira Ramos-Herbert, Director, Academic Counseling, have arranged to have Dr. Shirley Matthews, a trauma specialist, hold sessions next Monday and Wednesday for anyone interested in participating to discuss the trauma that recent events may have caused .

- Several members of the faculty have agreed to schedule special office hours next week to be available for students who would like support and/or would like to talk about the implications of the Brown and Garner non-indictments. These office hours will include:

Conrad Johnson - Monday, 12:00 - 2:00, Room 833
Olati Johnson - Monday, 12:00 - 4:00, Room 630
Susan Sturm - Wednesday, 2:15 - 3:15, Room 617
Katherine Franke - Monday, 1:00 - 3:00, Thursday, 9:00 - 11:00, Room 637

- I support the idea of an open community dialogue to discuss the concerns of students in the wake of recent events, and to share diverse and collective notions of injustice that these cases raise. I will encourage all members of our community to attend.

- The law school has a policy and set of procedures for students who experience trauma during exam period. In accordance with these procedures and policy, students who feel that their performance on examinations will be sufficiently impaired due to the effects of these recent events may petition Dean Alice Rigas to have an examination rescheduled.

- Several members of the faculty have agreed to work with students to develop a reading group, speaker series, and/or longitudinal teach-in next semester in which the group would explore a series of sessions where we educate ourselves and formulate a response to the implications, including racial meanings, of these non-indictments. In an effort to include the larger community in which we live and study, this work may include a collaboration with Columbia’s Center for Justice and with the Schomberg Center.

In closing let me just add my hope that through these and other efforts all members of the Columbia Law School community can can come to have a greater sense of mutual support and trust.

Bob Scott

A second-year student told the Post, "I understand how friends and family and acquaintances of those [victims’] families would need a lot of time to heal. But this decision seems like a cop-out to me. I feel like it’s because there are some people who would rather go out and protest in the streets than study this week." Here's the suggested language for the email to petition for postponement:

Dear Students,

We are writing with information about how to go about postponing your exams, in the event that you choose to do so, due to trauma in the wake of recent national events. Exam postponement will be granted on an individual, “opt-out” basis. In order to postpone your exam(s), please email Dean Alice Rigas in the Registrar’s Office. The email need not be extensive and each person’s language may be the same. We are providing sample language for your email request below.

Subject: Emergency Action: Request for Exam Extension
Dear Dean Rigas,

In light of recent traumatic events, I would like to request a(n) exam extension for the following exam(s):


NYUC law professor Stephen Gillers said to the NY Times, "It shows a remarkable degree of empathy. Students cannot expect that from their boss in practice, nor I imagine would they ask for it. And they certainly can’t expect it from a judge when papers are due. But you know, academic institutions are worlds of their own."

Celebrity defense lawyer Benjamin Brafman was more blunt in his assessment, calling it "absurd... Despite the genuine trauma that law students may honestly feel about the Ferguson and Garner decisions, as lawyers, they are going to be dealing with tragedies many times worse. If law students cannot function with difficult issues like these, maybe they should not try and become lawyers."

Apparently only a "fraction" of students took the reprieve. One Latino student told the Times, "The word ‘trauma’ is sort of being misunderstood. It’s not a trauma that somebody has if they’ve been exposed to the war. It’s not being able to focus, it’s worrying about your family members. It’s worrying about your future as a lawyer. It’s an existential worry. Then having to apply the very law that’s being used to oppress us."