Faculty and students express confusion, concern, optimism over new introduction to legal studies minor

Classes for the minor will first be offered in Fall 2024, but details for the program are still being developed.
The entrance sign for Vanderbilt Law School, as photographed on Jan. 25, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Anjali Chanda)
The entrance sign for Vanderbilt Law School, as photographed on Jan. 25, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Anjali Chanda)
Anjali Chanda

Students and faculty expressed mixed reactions to the new undergraduate introduction to legal studies minor, sharing confusion, concern and hope over the yet-fully-developed program. Multiple faculty members expressed concerns over professional retribution for publicly speaking negatively about the minor. 

Vanderbilt Law School, which will house the minor, will begin offering undergraduate courses for the program in Fall 2024. 

Dr. Sean Seymore, director of undergraduate studies for the new minor, declined to meet with The Hustler about the minor until the Fall 2024 semester. VLS Dean Chris Guthrie did not directly respond to The Hustler’s request for an interview about the minor.

Confusion surrounding minor

Dr. Emily Greble, chair of the Department of History, stated that the vision for the new minor seems “unclear.” Likewise, Director of Undergraduate Studies for Law, History and Society Dr. Thomas Schwartz expressed confusion about the goals of the minor. A history professor also doubted the need for the new minor, pointing to Vanderbilt’s No. 1 rank on Niche’s 2024 Top Colleges for Legal Studies in America list and the success of Vanderbilt students in law school admissions. This professor is being kept anonymous for protection from professional retribution. 

“It seems like the law school has not fully formulated what it wants to do with this program,” Schwartz said.  

Dr. Ari Bryen, associate professor in history, and the anonymous history professor emphasized that “not much is known” about the minor, making it difficult to determine its value.

“The way you build a program is from the bottom up when you are actually invested in undergraduate education,” the anonymous history professor said. “We don’t know anything about it, and nobody can give any answers.”

Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Tiffiny Tung and VLS Dean Chris Guthrie said VLS is still developing future courses and “details” for the minor. Guthrie added that more information about the minor will be available before the Fall 2024 semester, during which the first undergraduate VLS classes will begin. 

“There’s a lot of unknown,” Greble said. “But there is a lot of enthusiasm and energy from the law school to teach undergraduates.” 

Senior Amalie Johnson, president of Women in Government, stated that she was unaware of the new minor until The Hustler contacted her about it. 

“I wish that there had been more information shared with students about the fact that it was going to exist,” Johnson said. 

Concerns with minor

The anonymous history professor stated that many professors, including themselves, have “deep concern” about the new minor, which an anonymous political science professor called a “money-maker.” This political science professor is being kept anonymous for protection from professional retribution. The anonymous history professor said administrators “forcefully” established the minor.

The anonymous history professor emphasized that the pedagogy of undergraduate and professional education differ, with undergraduate education being more exploratory. They questioned the credentials of the future professors teaching VLS undergraduate courses, given that they were hired for professional educational purposes. Bryen echoed these points. 

“Undergraduate teaching is an important part of what you’re trained to do when you get a Ph.D., and that is not necessarily the case when you get a professional degree,” Bryen said. “The colleges that serve undergrads think a lot about how undergraduates learn and think and grow and develop and how best to develop their talents.”

Due to these pedagogical differences, Schwartz said undergraduate students taking law school courses may be in for a “rude awakening.” On the other hand, senior Keyonte’ Doughty — president of the undergraduate National Black Law Student Association —  said he is not concerned about VLS professors teaching undergraduate courses, stating that they will “learn to accommodate” undergraduates. 

“I just caution them [students] that there might be very different standards,” Schwartz said. “In principle, I’m not opposed to professional schools making things available [to undergraduates]. I just hope it’s going to be done in a thoughtful and careful manner.”

Bryen stated that the specific, professional focus of the minor could be disadvantageous to undergraduates. 

“I think the most important thing for undergraduates is to have a sense of how big the world around them is, not to narrowly specialize in a professional field at age 18,” Bryen said. “To the extent that a program remains narrow and a copy of professional school, I think it’d be less successful than a program that’s broadly comparative.”

Given their concerns with the new minor and its development, another history professor, who is being kept anonymous for protection from retribution, said they will be purposely refraining from teaching courses that could count for the new minor. 

Doughty and Johnson also expressed frustration that the VLS-taught courses for the minor are being offered at the 1000 level, which Vanderbilt labels as “lower-level undergraduate” courses. 

“I would love to do the pre-law minor, but because a lot of the classes are only 1000-level, they don’t really do anything for [my portfolio],” Doughty said. 

Johnson also questioned the difficulty and value of the VLS undergraduate courses. 

“As a senior, I won’t be taking them [VLS undergraduate courses], [especially when] Russell teaches classes like constitutional law at the 2000-level,” Johnson said.  

Optimism about minor

Dr. Alan Wiseman, chair of the Department of Political Science, emphasized the unique value the new minor offers students among peer institutions.   

“Most universities silo off the professional schools and don’t even let them touch the undergraduates,” Wiseman said. 

Senior Molly Finlay said she is considering adding the legal studies minor. 

“The required classes attempting to mirror what law school would look like at Vanderbilt would definitely help students determine if law school would be the right fit for them,” Finlay said. 

Doughty and Johnson stated that the minor is a beneficial resource for younger students exploring the option of law school. However, Johnson — who plans to attend law school — said the minor is repetitive with her future education. 

“I personally would not be super interested in this minor because I really want to take all the time that I can in undergrad to study things that maybe aren’t law but are related to law,” Johnson said. “Having the legal studies minor and those classes available will be a nice precursor to law school for a lot of students who maybe aren’t sure that they want to make that 3-year and [expensive] commitment.” 

Doughty stated that, given its benefits, he wished the minor had been available earlier in his undergraduate career. 

“Vanderbilt [students] place really well into law school, but I felt like it can be very classist regarding available resources,” Doughty said. “So it’s nice that it’s [becoming] more financially inclusive because everyone can take these classes and benefit from those resources as well.”

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About the Contributors
Rachael Perrotta
Rachael Perrotta, Former Editor-in-Chief
Rachael Perrotta ('24) is from Cranston, R.I., and majored in cognitive studies, political science and communication of science and technology and minored in gender and sexuality studies in Peabody College. She was also previously Senior Advisor and News Editor. If she's not pressing you for a comment, she's probably trying to convince you that she's over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
Anjali Chanda
Anjali Chanda, Former Staff Photographer
Anjali Chanda (’23) is from Beverly, Massachusetts. She majored in sociology and English with a focus in creative writing. In the past, she wrote for the Arts and Society Section of the Greyhound Newspaper at Loyola University Maryland. In her free time, she can be found painting, writing stories or rewatching New Girl. She can be reached at [email protected].
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