by Dean Duane Strojny
For every other law school in the country, the academic year is just winding down. Finals are in full swing and graduation is just around the corner. The summer is ready to begin with time to catch up on paperwork, work on a few new projects, and prepare for the next semester that is slated to begin in mid-August.
Of course, that is not my experience for that last 22 years. The WMU Cooley Law School operates year round. There are three fifteen-week semesters. Our students are on break for two weeks and will return to class on May 1. That is all the students except for the few who may opt to take the summer off. We have our full slate of one-credit advanced legal research courses. Florida Legal Research has 16 students enrolled. I am supervising a student extern (all faculty get this opportunity since our students have had an externship or clinical requirement since 1998). Everyone is gearing up for new-student orientation during the last week of April. We will be open seven days a week beginning May 1 except for two holidays (Memorial Day and the 4th of July). The weekend program continues right through the summer months. Our extended hours of 8am to 2am for finals will begin on Monday, July 24.
In our non-stop academic world, planning time is a premium. Don’t get me wrong, I used to work at one of those regular university law schools. Summers were often very full of work but consisted more of shifting collections, planning new programs, and generally catching up on things that laid on the desk most of the traditional academic year.
So, how do we pull it off? Well, first, it requires a very dedicated staff. They are willing to work nights and weekends even if it means missing the weekly summer concert series on the plaza downtown or a few less Saturday fun runs. If there are a few nice weekends in Michigan during a fifteen-week summer semester, you are fortunate. If it happens that you are actually off that weekend, you are even luckier. Second, there has to be a high degree of consistency. For example, Torts I is always offered on Mondays at 9:00 a.m. in the fall semester, Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. in the winter semester, and Tuesdays at 6:00 p.m. in the summer semester. Faculty and staff know this, and it greatly helps with planning.
There are many advantages to a year-round program from the library perspective, and here are some of them:
1. Your skills stay razor sharp. There is no down time and all our courses, including the reading and writing variety, are offered three times a year.
2. Our space is constantly used. Students have their favorite places to study all year long. There is no break in their studying.
3. There are three entering classes per year. This means our programs are offered three times a year. Planning takes place at the same time you’re running a program. Program assessment is ongoing and there is little time for ideas to get stale or projects to languish.
4. There is a strong camaraderie among colleagues. We are in this together. Our enrollment is seeing an increase so we know how to look out two or three terms and predict what our workloads will look like.
Similar to WMU Cooley, many k-12 school districts have taken on the year-round calendar. And there are sound pedagogical reasons for doing so. It makes sense that higher education adopt the approach, too.
With Mitchell/Hamline Law School turning legal education on its side by having a split online/in-person program during a regular higher education academic year, many traditional legal education concepts may be going out the window. My experiences have taught me that there is value in thinking outside the box and sometimes that means going way outside that box. So, as your summer begins, think about how it could be different. What will you be doing May 1 or July 24?