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The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt Law School to offer undergraduate introduction to legal studies minor beginning Fall 2024

VLS will join a small group of law schools to offer undergraduate degree programs.
Alex Venero
Vanderbilt Law School, as photographed on Nov. 2, 2021. (Hustler Multimedia/Alex Venero)

Beginning in Fall 2024, Vanderbilt Law School will offer a 15-credit-hour undergraduate introduction to legal studies minor, joining a small group of law schools to host undergraduate academic programs.  

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, instead expressing excitement about the new minor in an email.

“By offering courses taught by law professors, we think the minor will help our undergraduates decide whether they want to pursue law school and a legal career,” Guthrie said. “Students will be able to make an informed judgment about pursuing law school and/or a legal career, gain knowledge and skills that will give them a leg up in law school or non-legal career paths and graduate with a better understanding of how the law shapes our society.”

Program structure

The transdisciplinary minor requires ULAW 1000: Introduction to American Law and four undergraduate VLS electives, at least one of which will be offered each semester. One non-VLS course from a VLS-approved list may substitute an elective for the minor. Sixteen VLS electives are listed on the minor’s website, including ULAW 1380: Criminal Law and Procedure, which will be offered in Fall 2024.

So far, Director of Pre-Law Advising Carrie Russell said CLAS 3150: Roman Law, PSCI 3260: Introduction to American Law and PSCI 2208: Law, Politics and Justice have been approved as elective substitutes. It is currently unclear whether PSCI 3260: Introduction to American Law — which she said she designed to model a typical 1L course structure — can substitute ULAW 1000: Introduction to American Law course. Russell said the courses are inherently the same. 

Russell stated that other undergraduate law-oriented classes that she regularly teaches — such as constitutional law — have not yet been approved to count as electives for the minor. However, she emphasized the relevance and value of these courses and said she will continue teaching them as long as students retain interest in them.

“Not all students interested in attending law school or seeking a major or minor in political science will necessarily want to seek the legal studies minor. Similarly, understanding the United States Constitution, especially at this moment in history, is of paramount importance,” Russell said.

Russell and Guthrie shared that the minor’s curriculum is modified for members of the Class of 2025 and those taking undergraduate VLS courses in Fall 2024. All students will be eligible to take ULAW 1380: Criminal Law and Procedure in Fall 2024 without having taken the pre-/co-requisite of ULAW 1000: Introduction to American Law. Additionally, members of the Class of 2025 can count up to nine credit hours of non-VLS courses toward the minor instead of three. 

The minor’s website describes that pre-law programming will be offered for students pursuing the minor, including discussions on career paths, law school admissions and graduate student life. 

Program development

VLS professor Christopher Slobogin, director of the VLS Criminal Justice Program, stated that the new minor was developed to cater to what he said is a large number of undergraduate students interested in the law. 

“The law school decided to develop a minor in part because the central administration wanted such a minor. And we also thought it was a good idea,” Slobogin said. “[VLS] thought we could provide a good taste of some of the more important legal issues of the day and some of the ways the law tries to resolve difficult societal problems.”

Carolyn Roberts, senior director of the Office of Experiential Learning and Immersion Vanderbilt, did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment about whether the new minor is connected to the Law Immersion Vanderbilt program. This program similarly allows undergraduate students to take select classes at VLS. 

Dr. Alan Wiseman and Dr. Emily Greble, chairs of the Departments of Political Science and Department of History, respectively, stated that their departments were not “active players” in establishing the minor despite offering law-related courses. Wiseman explained that he was asked about potential concerns with the minor after the program was developed, amounting to “a very limited discussion.” He added that Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Science Timothy McNamara was more involved in the minor’s development than other faculty members. 

Comparatively, Director of the Business Minor Program Gary Kimball said the transdisciplinary business minor was developed alongside faculty members and deans from all four undergraduate schools, among others. Similarly, Dr. Charreau Bell, director of the transdisciplinary data science minor, said many faculty members and other stakeholders were consulted in developing the data science minor. 

Director of Undergraduate Studies for Law, History and Society Dr. Thomas Schwartz said more active involvement of LHS faculty members in developing the minor would have been “helpful” for both programs. He stated that VLS was not interested in these discussions.

“It’s never a good thing in a collaborative university community when one part of it simply moves ahead on a program where there are clearly other interests involved,” Schwartz said. 

Fall 2024 course preview

Slobogin will teach an undergraduate criminal law and procedure course in Fall 2024. ULAW 1000: Introduction to American Law has not publicly been assigned to a professor as of publication. Slobogin said he taught one undergraduate class in the past at the University of Virginia during the 1988-89 school year and is looking forward to doing so again this fall. 

“Undergraduates are not committed to a particular career path and are more open to exploring options [compared to law students],” Slobogin said. “I’m also thinking that, in some ways, they’ll be more willing to participate more enthusiastically than some law students, especially those in their second and third year.”

Despite being offered in VLS, Slobogin said his course will be “quite different” from a typical law school course. He said the case method — the primary method of law school education — will be used in his course “to some extent.” Slobogin added that he is unsure of the grading system for undergraduate law classes and future undergraduate law course offerings. 

“There will be nowhere near as much focus on dissecting legal cases or interpreting statutes, which is the bread and butter of a law school class. The course will be much more policy-oriented. There also will be much more intra-class interaction,” Slobogin said. “[Students] certainly will get a very solid grounding in criminal law and procedure, juvenile justice and, to some extent, mental disability law.”

Collaboration and overlap between departments

Wiseman said the new minor is “complementary” to existing political science program offerings rather than duplicative or “adversarial.” 

“There’s some overlap, but not as much as you might think. We really have very few offerings [in the law],” Wiseman said. “Unlike some departments in other parts of the country, we’re not in a situation where the department is tied directly to legal studies.”

Greble similarly stated that the LHS curriculum will differ from the new minor by being more historical and global. She added that the faculty-student interactions within the LHS major will likely be more personal and hands-on than the minor. 

“We train students on how to think about law from antiquity to the present — the ways laws have changed, its relationship to other aspects of how politics and economy and environments work,” Greble said. “A pre-professional minor, by nature, will be different.”

Dr. Ari Bryen, associate professor in history, and a political science professor stated that they expect fewer students to major and minor in political science and LHS in the wake of the new minor. This political science professor is being kept anonymous for protection from professional retribution. 

However, Wiseman said he isn’t worried that future pre-law students could gravitate toward the VLS minor instead of political science offerings. Greble and Schwartz added that they believe the political science and LHS majors will continue to be “hubs” for pre-law students, given that VLS is not offering a major in legal studies. 

“If students ultimately are drawn to this [the minor’s] curriculum, and because of that, they don’t necessarily want to take political science curriculum, I think that’s great for them,” Wiseman said.

Greble said she contacted VLS about potential classroom and programming collaborations between the LHS program and the new minor but has not received a response. The anonymous political science professor said this lack of communication between VLS and A&S has led to confusion about the minor. 

Bryen also emphasized the importance of “one Vanderbilt” in providing quality undergraduate education. Schwartz asserted that collaboration between VLS and the LHS program is necessary for both programs to thrive and adequately serve students. 

“We’d like to collaborate and work together. But that collaboration has to go both ways,” Schwartz said. “We don’t want it [LHS program] to be hurt by the minor.”

Greble said she is currently unsure which VLS undergraduate courses — if any — will be eligible to count toward the LHS major. Students will have to earn approval for counting these courses for the major like all other requests for changes to the LHS degree program.

Zarrin Zahid contributed reporting to this piece. 

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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].
Alex Venero
Alex Venero, Former Multimedia Director
Alex Venero (‘23) is from Rumson, NJ. She is majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in World Politics. When not shooting for The Hustler, she can be found at almost any Vanderbilt Athletics event or exploring the food and coffee of Nashville. She can be reached at [email protected].    
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