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Undergraduates Given Unique Opportunities After Law Class

Heights Editor

Published: Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a unique  class offered at Boston College, "Environmental Law and Policy." This class does not fit the mold of a typical college class. It offers  a unique class setting and subsequent opportunities to continue the exploration of law electives without the attachment of a law major or pre-law label.

Each year, Zygmunt Jan Broel Plater, the BC law professor who sponsors the undergraduate spring course, weeds through applications from senior law students from the BC, Harvard, and Boston University law schools to assemble and train an extremely bright and dedicated group of teachers for the undergraduate class. The course is unique in its trust in student teachers to run the classroom, which so far, Plater says, has been a huge success.

 "The teachers work in teams," Plater said, "and the results have been quite remarkable. Thus far, more than 2,000 BC undergraduates have taken the course."

The class presumes no legal knowledge or training, which allows a diverse crop of students to enroll. Plater stresses that the course is not designed simply for students destined for law school. Rather, it is designed to give students of all majors and levels of intellect a basic understanding of law. This, Plater says, is pertinent as a citizen of the United States.  

Because environmental law is a legal structure that is built little by little, everyone can see it as a clear, coherent process. This is why the course has been so successful thus far—it is all-encompassing, appealing to those interested in environmental law and those simply interested in the basic structure of our legal system or who desire to learn enough to get them through life with some knowledge about the law.

Plater hopes to attract some chemistry students this semester.

"Their explanations and understanding of scientific principle could enrich the class as we discuss how the scientific questions are applicable to the courtroom," Plater said.

The class, Plater said, is "not the scary kind of teaching." Rather, it is the relaxed and small environment commonly found  in modern law schools, which encourages students to ask daring questions as they learn.

"It was a great course that laid the foundations of environmental law by exploring our country's most significant environmental statutes and historical cases," Zack Rokos, A&S '13, said. "We also did many hypothetical cases that pertained to the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, RCRA, CERCLA, and many more."

The most notable aspect of the course is that for the past five years, undergraduates who perform satisfactorily in this course, UN256, are eligible to take upper-level land and environment electives at BC Law School. As a result, certain students from the undergraduate class are able to register for dozens of law electives through the BC Law School.

"Since many students are freshmen, sophomores, and juniors," Plater said, "this opportunity is as practicable as it is unique. The law professors of those courses note with pleasure the participation and performance of these undergraduates in their classes. Needless to say there is no other program in the nation that provides this option for undergraduates."

The teachers of each section are able to adapt the course however they want and tailor it to the specific interests of the students. There are still slots available for this semester.     

"The law is too important to leave it up to lawyers," Plater said. "Every citizen needs to know enough about the legal system to use it and not be used by it."

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