Legal studies major added for 2016-17 school year


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

The Center for Legal Studies, 620 Lincoln St., shares a building with Northwestern Career Advancement and Safe Ride. The proposal for a standalone legal studies major — previously only available as an adjunct major — passed at a Weinberg faculty Wednesday.

Erica Snow, Reporter

Legal studies, previously only offered as a minor and adjunct major, was approved Wednesday to be a stand-alone major beginning in the 2016-17 school year.

The major passed at the same Weinberg faculty meeting at which faculty members voted to create the Asian-American studies major. Applications for the inaugural class will close March 4.

A proposal for the major was written in 2015, said legal studies Prof. Joanna Grisinger, who also serves as director of undergraduate studies for the legal studies department. In addition to the new major, the curriculum of legal studies majors and minors will also be changed to allow students more choice in their classes, Grisinger said.

The new stand-alone major requires four core classes and allows students to choose electives in any category defined by the legal studies department, instead of taking at least one course in each of five different categories as the adjunct major requires.

“Instead of struggling to meet all of the internal area category requirements, it’ll allow students to shape the major more specifically toward their own interests,” Grisinger said.

Currently, the legal studies department limits the number of students accepted into the major to keep the class size of the Advanced Research Seminar at about 25 students, Grisinger said. The class, taken junior or senior year, is taught in a two-quarter sequence to allow students to research law within a special context and requires individual attention, she added.

The class, required for both the adjunct and standalone major, will continue to be capped at 25 students, Grisinger said.

Before students take the seminar class, students will now take a new class, Legal Studies 207, which focuses on research methods and is being created by sociology Prof. Robert Nelson. Nelson, who helped create the original version of the Advanced Research Seminar more than a decade ago, said he wants the class to be interdisciplinary, with influences from the social sciences and the humanities.

“Students aren’t just learning a cafe of different methods,” said Nelson, a member of the program’s faculty advisory board, “but at the same time, they’re learning interesting stuff about the law and the unique ways in which these methods can illuminate legal institutions … and lead to a better understanding of the phenomenon they’re trying to understand and analyze.”

The minor’s curriculum will also change with more flexibility in elective choice, Grisinger said. Last year, 25 minors and 35 adjunct majors graduated from the legal studies department, she said, but she said more people may be attracted to the minor as now only six classes, instead of eight, are required to complete it.

Though freshmen and sophomores can choose which structure they prefer to complete the adjunct or standalone major, juniors and seniors in the Legal Studies program are not eligible to take classes within the new structure. The department is transitioning from the adjunct to the standalone major, with students who began in fall 2015 being the last class eligible to pursue the adjunct.

Despite the department being only a small group of students, the learning environment can be very beneficial, said legal studies Prof. Shana Bernstein. The scholarly approach to legal institutions with other intelligent peers allows students and professor to learn from each other, she added.

“When students build trust with each other in a classroom, they become collaborative,” Bernstein said. “One of the most valuable things about going to school at Northwestern is your peer group. Big classes you almost never get to use that and work with that and learn to think in context of these other smart, interesting people.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the date the legal studies standalone major was approved. It was approved at a Weinberg faculty meeting Wednesday.

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