Witsies react to change of awarding Law supplementary exams

Early Preparation: First week of the second semester and already  Michael Fellington is studying. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

Early Preparation: First week of the second semester and already Michael Fellington is studying. Photo: Nqobile Dludla

Law students have mixed reactions to an announcement that they will no longer be able to write supplementary exams, provided that they are in their final year.

The thought of repeating a year if you fail an exam has left some Law students worried about the length of their degree.

Sanele Maluleke, 4th year LLB, said: “I don’t think it’s fair because the degree itself is hard to attain. In first year you get students who’d get 48% and 49% and need the supp to qualify for the next year. So this has an impact on the duration of when you finish your degree. I mean supps are what actually saves most students because not every student can be an A student”.

In May, an e-mail was sent to all students at the School of Law announcing that “from 2014, after the June exams, going forward the School of Law will only award supplementary exams to final year students in the LLB degree”.

Final year students will be allowed to write a supplementary examination in one course they have failed with a mark of 40%- 49%. If a student fails more than one course, he/she will have to repeat that course the following year.

First to third year students who achieve less than 50% will have to repeat the course the following year.

Zinzile Ndziba, 4th year LLB, complained that the decision “was just thrown at everyone”.

“There was no substantiating [it], it’s just something people have to accept,” Ndziba said.

“It’s not fair,” said 3rd year LLB student Anastasia Thomaids. “Supplementary exams give you pretty much a second chance when you get into an exam and fail it. Not getting that supplementary exam means that you not only don’t get a second chance to write the exam but it means that you have to repeat the course the next year and have to pay extra.”

Quality over quantity?

Other students, however, endorsed the decision based on quality over quantity.

“[I’m] Totally okay with it. That’s why we are at this institution, we’re number one now so I’m cool with it. To meet standards,” said Moswaredi Matabane, 3rd year LLB.

In the same breath, 3rd year LLB student Lis Ndlovu said: “I do think that in the long run it will produce a better quality of students. Essentially, you will work harder instead of working towards getting that 47% or 49% in the hopes of a supplementary exam. It may seem unfair but I understand the benefit that it has for the Law School and the calibre of students that the Law School sends out into the world.”

While the quality over quantity debate seems attractive to some students, Maluleke begs to differ. “I know that there’s a thing for keeping up the standard but I don’t think that it should be at the expense of the students that are in the very university that is putting them on the map,” said Maluleke

Deputy head of school, Prof. Mtende Mhango, said the decision was based on research and recommendations made by the faculty.

Assistant Dean of Commerce, Law and Management, Linda Spark is the main person behind the research conducted for the Senate Teaching and Learning Committee.

“I have presented it [research] to SET who sent it back to faculties and is still being considered. This research is part of a university wide investigation into supps and is still work in progress”, said Spark

Law Student Council (LSC) academic officer Mfundo Mdluli said: “We are engaged with talks with management. We are waiting for feedback which we are expecting by the end of the week.” Asked what kind of talks the LSC is having with management, Mdluli said he’d rather “wait until all is done and there is progress” before he discloses what the LSC is doing regarding the outcry.

Current LLB students will not be affected by canning of degree at Wits

A throughput rate of only 30% is the primary reason for the discontinuation of the four-year LLB undergraduate degree at Wits.

The Wits School of Law announced earlier today that it will be dropping the degree from 2015 and introducing a postgraduate LLB at the same time.

Wits Vuvuzela spoke to Professor Vinodh Jaichand, head of the Wits School of Law, about the decision.

According to Jaichand, only about 30% of students finish their law degree in four years and even fewer become successful lawyers.

Jaichand said graduates of the degree need be able to practice in society with more than just textbook knowledge and added that it is an experiential issue.

He also said: “the students who leave Wits Law School are very good but they might well be a little bit short on life skills.” He added that, for example, while graduates might be able to litigate a divorce according to a textbook, they may “have difficulty in fully understanding the nuances of a divorce.”

LAWS OF LIFE: Professor Vinodh Jaichand explained that students do not have enough experienxe to enter the law profession with their undergraduate degrees. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

LAWS OF LIFE: Professor Vinodh Jaichand explained that students do not have enough experience to enter the law profession with their undergraduate degrees. Photo: Bongiwe Tutu

He said the changes in the School of Law will help students to complete their degrees within the minimum required time, and assist with the mounting costs of additional years of study due to a high failure rate.

Jaichand also said that students who do the postgraduate LLB with an undergraduate degree in fields other than law will open more doors to a variety of career opportunities ensuring that students who study law can work “beyond the courtroom.”

Witsies who are currently enrolled in the four-year undergraduate LLB will not be affected by the change. From next year only students with a prior undergraduate degree will be able to enrol for the Bachelor of Laws degree. The BA Law and BComm Law degree remain unaffected by the change.

Jaichand also said there will be no retrenchments within the School with the implementation of the new system.

 

Law School loses its head

The Wits School of Law has begun its search for a new head of school following the recent resignation of Prof Jonathan Klaaren at the end of last quarter.

After serving as the acting head of school from August 2010, Klaaren took up the permanent position in July 2011.

Klaaren’s resignation was allegedly motivated by a vote of no confidence lodged against him by six professors at the school.

A fellow professor and law lecturer confirmed she and several of her colleagues had laid a complaint against Klaaren. Speaking about the reasons behind the vote she said: “I can’t say much except to tell you that the complaint against Professor Klaaren was more concerning his management style.” She said the vote was not motivated by allegations of anything illegal.

Klaaren said he preferred not to comment on the claims as the matter is still the subject of an official university process.

In an interview with the Wits Vuvuzela, the Dean of Commerce, Law and Management, Professor Nqosa Mahao, said that a process of mediation was attempted following the vote. “The mediation process didn’t work.  Professor Klaaren’s offer to resign was accepted by the dean and that’s what happened.”

 

 

According to a vacancy post issued by the university, the position of head of school is offered to the successful candidate for a period of up to five years.

Following Klaaren’s resignation, the School of Law will seek to appoint its third head of school since 2008.

 

 

Since 2008, each successive head of school has served shorter and shorter periods in the job.

Prof Glenda Fick served as head of school from 2003 to 2007. Her position was followed by Prof Angelo Pantazis, who served from 2008 to 2010. Klaaren served a little less than two years as the head of school.

Mahao said he recognises high turnover as a problem that extends beyond the School of Law, even affecting the position of the dean in the faculty. He said the university was aware of a wider issue of high turnover and was considering conducting a review to find an explanation.

In addition to Klaaren’s resignation, two other heads of school in the faculty have resigned; in the schools of Accountancy and Economic & Business Sciences.

“We need to really look into this matter and see what is happening,” Mahao said.

Speaking about the effect of the changes on the school’s development, Mahao said in any situation where constant change occurs there would be a loss of institutional memory and continuity that would ultimately affect the institution.

Professor Mtende Mhango is currently the acting head of school until a permanent candidate is appointed. Klaaren maintains his position as a full professor at the School of Law.