Competing Theories

by ursavoice

Jorge Nicolas Anwandter

As this year’s 1Ls know, competitiveness has recently become a very controversial matter on campus. After fall break, Dean Schroeder spoke to the 1Ls to discuss some developments within our class since August. Her greatest point of contention was that she had received complaints about the competitive nature of our class. This competitiveness has manifested itself in grade comparisons, study-group exclusivity, and a particular arrangement between some study groups to turn class participation into a point- based competition. Dean Schroeder informed us that several students had approached her, so stressed out that they contemplated dropping out. Given the apparent intensity of this competitiveness, Dean Schroeder reiterated UCI Law’s dedication to collaborative learning and expressed great disappointment in our class not living up to the benchmark the inaugural class set.

The student body reacted to this meeting in a variety of ways. Some approached the Dean to thank her for addressing an issue that they were afraid to confront directly. Others, unaware of the apparent competitive nature of our class, questioned which mod, study groups, and students were the “source of the problem.” Some even questioned their own role in the issue. Most students, however, expressed some level of irritation with the reprimand. Competition is a natural element of nearly every aspect of life, and law school is no exception. As long as grades are on a curve, students will compete to achieve the best possible outcome. The student body’s wide range of legal field interests might mitigate the importance of surpassing one’s peers, but nonetheless a level of competition is unavoidable. Furthermore, some competition is healthy to motivate students to produce their best work. Case in point: the study group competition Dean Schroeder spoke about had the low stakes of the losing group having to cook dinner for the winners at the end of the year. As far as competitions go, this arrangement seems benign. And as far as study group exclusivity is concerned, after a certain point the benefit of a study group diminishes as the number of members increases.

I support the goal of avoiding the traditional backstabbing atmosphere of law schools, and I am sure many others who came to UCI Law appreciate it as well. That said, I believe UCI Law still does a fantastic job of balancing competition with collaboration. At other schools, competition has become limitless and obsessive, devouring every moment of students’ time. It prompts them to withhold class notes from classmates who miss class, check out crucial law books for excessive periods, and, of course, cheat. One of my friends went to USC to get his JD/MBA, and within a year dropped out of the law program due to the extreme competitive environment and resulting social anxieties. Thus, the low levels of competition seen at UCI Law are far from the cutthroat behavior at other schools.

Yet, competition is an issue worth some concern at UCI Law, especially if students felt so pressured that they contemplated dropping out. Grade comparisons and similar behaviors facilitate anxiety, and they should be minimized. But given the school’s aversion to competitive behavior, I am perplexed as to why our mailboxes were spammed with ads for the $135 LEEWS test-taking seminar, which claims among other things that “successful law students are merely less inept than classmates … and/or they’ve taken LEEWS.” Additionally, while Dean Schroeder’s discussion of the matter was important, the approach of comparing us to the 2Ls—a comparison we face quite often—frustrated many. Every new class, particularly in the first years, brings a distinct culture, and comparisons such as these seem unfair. A better approach would have been to emphasize, as Professor Fisk did during a discussion we had on the matter, that UCI Law is in a unique position to reduce the need for the best grade. Based on our contributions to the school and community, and the intimate nature of the classrooms, our resumes and glowing letters of recommendation will make every student more than a GPA to employers.