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October 20, 2009: The parts instead of the sum of the parts...
October 20, 2009
The parts instead of the sum of the parts….
As I observe a moment of silence for the Red Sox, I am reminded of the adage, often associated with sports, that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Think-- the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team, or the 2003 Florida Marlins. The notion is that a group of less talented individuals working together within a well thought-out system can defeat a group of more talented players working on their own. There is a system in place at Pace, and I think for the majority of the students who fit into a traditional mold the system probably works very well.
For me, and some other night students, a problem often arises around feeling included. Guest speakers, information sessions, competitions and the like, are usually scheduled during the day in the “soft” hours between day classes. No matter how interested a working, night student is in hearing from, say, Alvin Bronstein, it’s a stretch to take a day off from work to attend the lecture. Similarly, I have found some of the prepared materials dispensed by career services helpful, but many of them don’t address the more specific concerns (read abject fear) I have regarding finding resume experience, much less an eventual real job. In general, course selection, deadlines, exam schedules can feel stacked against part-time students. Yet something I have learned, mostly in law school, is that feelings are not facts. I am taking a simulation class this semester (something I highly recommend) in interviewing, counseling, and negotiation and one of the things that I have been forced to realize is that sometimes there is no “good” answer to a difficult question. It may be easy enough to carp at the fact that a program is slated for 2:00 when I’m at work, but if it were rescheduled to a time when I’m not at work, well, then I’m in class. There is no time that really works. My epiphany, though, has been that the night-school paradigm exists and works despite the fact that it probably shouldn’t. Why does it work for me? The “parts.”
Although I struggle with a “whole” that is designed for someone very different than me, with rare exceptions, every single individual (part) I have come in contact with has been exceptionally accommodating, positive, and helpful. Despite having as long a day as the students, the professors who teach evening classes seem genuinely committed to my education. I have written them dozens of emails asking for clarifications, posing (sometimes ridiculous) hypotheticals, or even just commenting on something I noticed in the news related to what we had discussed in class. Every single one has been answered quickly and addressed specifically what I asked. Recently, a number of us in Advanced Appellate Advocacy (AAA) noticed that the first draft of our brief (really big, really involved, really Nurse-Ratchet--esque) was due on a Friday at 5:00PM. Effectively, for us, that meant 8:00AM on Friday before work. When asked, the professors changed the deadline. No drama, no begging or pleading. Just, “Ok, that makes sense, how about Monday morning.”
When I got accepted onto Law Review (note small caps) I got a notice that the orientation was three consecutive, full days, in August. When I contacted the managing editor and explained it might not be possible for me to take off from work for three consecutive days, her response was to find a way for the orientation to work for me. I have been treated in the same, almost unreasonably accommodating, way by individuals in the offices of the Academic Dean, the Dean of Students, and Career Services. Do I sometimes wish that the world (as embodied in the absurdly narrow focus of law school) was different and that evening students “mattered” more in the organization and planning of things? Sure. Yet it’s hard to hold onto that when I send my resume to Dean Friedman to review and less than 24 hours later I have extensive and detailed suggestions; when Student Services Director Antoinette D’Orazio spend almost an hour during the summer talking me down from the financial aid ledge; when Dean Miller takes the time to recognize my frustration in doing well enough in the 1L moot court to get into AAA only to find it had been scheduled in conflict with a required evening class and then; when Professor Fasulo, in response to the frustration of us evening students, works with the registrar to get the class rescheduled.
I suppose one of the things that I have learned going into this year (other than that the rule against perpetuities exists only to make my head hurt) is that the way in which to deal with my own inability to fit easily into a system that was created without me in mind is to go around the structure to the individuals which can be and are, in fact, more flexible, accessible, and supportive. I’ve learned that, and, I guess, that sometimes teams win when the whole is less than sum of its parts, if the parts are particularly outstanding.