UO’s undergraduate legal studies program has successful first year
Approximately 40 of this year’s graduating seniors will be receiving the legal studies minor, a program offered through the University of Oregon Law School for the first time this year.
Although the minor itself is new, undergraduate law course offerings are not. According to Noah Glusman, the program’s manager, the law school has been offering between three and five undergraduate law courses a term for the past four years. However, it’s only this year that students have been able to declare a minor in legal studies.
About the program
The legal studies minor requires 24 credits from three categories. Students must take two out of four core classes: Introduction to American Law, Introduction to Criminal Law, Public International Law and Introduction to Conflict Resolution.
The second category includes law and conflict resolution electives, of which students must take eight credits. The program divides electives into two subheadings, American society courses and global society courses, although students are not required to take classes from both. In the past, these electives have included courses on government secrets, youth movements and law, how to engage in a dialogue and the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The third category consists of campus partner electives, in which students must have at least eight credits. For many students, campus partner electives are already counted toward their major. There are classes from several departments, including political science, journalism, philosophy and sociology.
The law school and campus partners now offer eight to nine courses in total per term, ideally including two core classes, Glusman said.
Why legal studies?
Students who are taking the legal studies minor come from a wide variety of departments, including 24 majors. These range from political science to Spanish to general music, to name a few.
Glusman said the program is made up of three types of students. The first type are students who are interested in or are exploring legal topics. The second type is students who have found a strong interest in the topic and have found that it pairs well with their major.
The third type includes students planning to go to law school. However, both Glusman and program faculty director Michael Musheno emphasize that the legal studies minor is not a pre-law program.
“One of the greatest things about the legal studies minor is that it pairs well with any major on campus,” Glusman said. “I think it’s really important for anyone to have some basic knowledge of how society and laws interact. … You deal with laws on a daily basis. Whether you’re going into education, business, or nonprofits, you’re going to have to know some basic things about the law.”
Even though the program was not designed to prepare students for law school, it can help students during their first year of law school, which is particularly difficult, Glusman said. This is something that junior Audrey Miller, planning to go to law school, considered when she declared the legal studies minor.
“While the minor won’t necessarily prepare me for entering into the field of law, it does allow me to dip my feet into the subject and explore multiple areas of law,” Miller said.
The program has been in the works for two years. In 2015, Musheno was recruited by UO to help build an undergraduate program in the law school. When he arrived, these plans included the development of a major in legal studies.
“I realized very soon that there were a number of programs and departments that had a commitment to educating undergrads in law, and that they were rightfully nervous about the law school getting into the undergraduate business,” Musheno said.
The main concern many departments had was how a major in legal studies would affect their own departments. According to Musheno, budgets for departments were partially determined by the number of undergraduate students in each department.
“That could mean [that], were the law school to try and develop a program on its own, there was concern that that could eat away at some of the students that other departments had, or mean that those departments may object to a legal studies major.”
Musheno conducted meetings with several departments, including political science, philosophy, ethnic studies, and international studies, and soon realized that it would make more sense to partner with these departments. This put other departments’ concerns aside, and gave the departments involved a sense of collaboration, according to Musheno.
“The cooperation has been phenomenal,” he said.
The program’s first year
In the program’s first year, it has achieved an unexpected level of success, especially considering the program’s team hasn’t done much marketing.
“We are all just pleasantly surprised — or shocked — at how popular this program is,” Glusman said. “We expected 30 to 40 [students] by the end of the year and we’re at 250 minors.”
“We went from, ‘Wow, how many students are actually going to take this minor with all the minors that are out there?’ to, ‘Oh my god, how are we going to accommodate all these students?’” Musheno said.
Musheno also appreciates the level of diversity and inclusion the program has brought to the law school. It has brought a wider range of interests, disciplines and diversity in race, ethnicity and gender.
“[It’s] a really rich environment of inclusion that greatly enhances the law school environment,” Musheno said. “So I feel pretty good about that.”
Hopes for the future
Both Musheno and Glusman have many ideas on how they can add to the program in the coming years.
Glusman hopes to put together some career development materials, including information on internships and summer jobs. He also wants to send out a monthly newsletter.
Both Musheno and Glusman emphasized extracurricular programming for legal studies minors. Glusman would like to help develop the Undergraduate Law Society, a newer student group that meets weekly.
Musheno wants to survey and interview current students and those on their way out about what would have enhanced their experience as legal studies minors. He would like to provide extracurricular opportunities for students to come together and collaborate outside of the classroom.
Another one of Musheno’s goals is to make the undergraduate students realize the law school is theirs.
“The undergraduate program is part of what the law school is all about. I’d like to think that students who come as minors feel that the library, all the nooks and crannies, and all the programming, all the speakers that take place here are available to them.”
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