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Law & Inequality

LES 404

This course satisfies the Legal Studies Program requirement of a law-related interdisciplinary liberal arts course.

It is also cross-listed in SOA, WMS, and POS.

Questions? Contact me

Course Syllabus


Course Objectives


Group Project

30% of course grade

Three Papers


Class Participation & Attendance


Self-Evaluation Paper

Ungraded but Required

Grading: All assignments must be completed to receive course credit!

Graduate Student Requirements

Tentative Course Outline

Course Objectives

Our primary focus in this interdisciplinary legal studies course is the persistence in the United States of inequality based on class, race, and gender. We examine the legal system from a critical perspective, incorporating material from law, history, sociology, and other disciplines. This is not a "how to do it" technical course. Instead, Law and Inequality is designed to increase your ability to critically analyze issues related to inequality and to present your views clearly, logically, and systematically, supporting your conclusions through reasoned analysis.

Much of the material we will read and discuss is controversial. It is designed to present empirical evidence and value-based arguments that challenge our ordinary views of American law and society. What is the nature and extent of inequality in the United States today? How and why has the legal system historically favored the rich and discriminated against poor and working people, racial minorities, and women? To what extent can the legal system be used to achieve social change? And--an increasingly important question today--why do so many people insist that inequality is no longer a problem?

Make sure you understand the requirements in this syllabus and in related handouts. The class format, requirements, topics, and grading system are somewhat flexible. Suggestions, comments, and general discussion about the course or other matters are welcome during my office hours or at other times.


Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study (3rd ed.). Paula S. Rothenberg. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.

The Affirmative Action Debate. George E. Curry (Ed.). Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1996.

Additional articles on library reserve.

Daily newspaper.

General Expectations and Class Participation

Class discussion is the heart of this course, both in small groups and in the larger class. You should come to class prepared to ask questions about what you have read, to evaluate the material, and to express your own reasoned views on controversial issues. Your participation should demonstrate that you have carefully read the material and thought about its implications.

Many of the controversial value questions we discuss have no "right" or "wrong" answers. The personal views you express in class or in papers do not affect your grades, so please feel free to say what you really think and to disagree with the books, with me, and with other students. However: it is important to support your views thoughtfully, demonstrating an understanding of the issues. Rather than simply dismissing viewpoints that conflict with your own, you should evaluate such viewpoints and analyze the issues they raise. Listen to what others have to say and try to understand their perspective.

General class participation counts 15% of your grade. If you find it difficult to get a word in or if you are not used to participating, talk to the instructor. Perhaps we can structure things so that you're more comfortable. If you tend to dominate discussions, please give others a chance. Although participation is important, quantity is less important than quality.

You cannot participate if you are not in class. Regular attendance is required to enable productive discussions. Repeated absence results in a lower grade for participation. Frequent absence results in a failing grade for the course. Regular attendance with minimal participation in discussion receives a C for participation. You are responsible for all material and schedule changes discussed in class.

College students generally are expected to work about two hours outside class for every hour in class. Thus, you should plan to average eight hours a week on outside assignments for this four-credit course.

Group Project

Each student will take part in a group project focused on economic class and ideology; racism; and/or sexism. The project culminates in a class presentation at the end of the semester. Your group has a great deal of leeway in how to approach this. For example, you might produce a written report identifying a problem and advocating a solution, or model legislation, a broadcast-quality video, or an Internet World Wide Web site. Your focus can be either national (e.g., "Racial Issues in the Presidential Campaign") or local (e.g., "Sexism at UIS" or "The Consequences of Class Differences in Springfield").

The class will be divided into three or four groups early in the semester. Each group will decide how to approach its issue, taking into account course readings, current events locally and nationally, and your own interests. Each group will meet with me to finalize its plans. I expect you to meet with your group outside class throughout the semester, do library and other research, coordinate your work with others in your group, present a clear position in class, and respond to questions and critiques raised by others.

The group will provide occasional progress reports in class throughout the semester. By September 30, each group will submit a brief outline showing how you are organizing your work (what you intend to do, who is responsible for what, etc.).

After your class presentation, each group member will complete a Group Project Peer Evaluation Form to evaluate the work of the other group members.

Each student in the class will complete a Presentation Evaluation Form, evaluating the presentation as a whole.

The project counts 30% of the course grade. Half your grade is based on your own work on the group project, and half on your group's efforts as a whole: for example, were major topics covered, without obvious gaps or excessive overlap? Was the outside research comprehensive? Did group members succeed in working together? Was the presentation interesting?

If you do not have
the time, interest, or patience
to work outside class on a group project with other students,
you should not take this course.


You will write three substantive papers throughout the semester. In addition to the instructions here, follow the General Guidelines For Papers handout for content and form.

Class Inequality and Sexism Papers

Write two brief papers (between 500 and 750 words) reacting to, and analyzing, material in Rothenberg's text. Topics:

  • Class Inequality Due no later than September 30 (15%)
  • Sexism Due no later than November 25 (20%)

Clearly identify the reading(s) you are analyzing. The paper should demonstrate or prove a main point explicitly indicated in your first paragraph. Do not summarize the readings, merely express agreement or disagreement, or comment superficially on a variety of topics. Instead, develop a single theme as you analyze issues that relate to the course, express and justify your own views, and explain why alternative views are wrong.

For example, do not simply agree with an author that inequality is bad, or say that people should teach children not to discriminate, or claim that an author's article is either brilliant or ridiculous. Instead, pinpoint the controversy; this often relates to the author's ideological perspective on the underlying problem's origins and possible solutions.

The ideal paper is an analytical, persuasive, and personal discussion of a single controversial point in the readings. I am not asking you to be "objective"--I want to know what you think--but you do have to be fair in presenting and analyzing alternative perspectives as you reflect upon, and justify, your own. Make sure, also, that you do not simply repeat comments made in class.

Although these papers are brief, they are not easy to do. They typically require that you revise several drafts in order to narrow your focus.

Racism/Affirmative Action Paper

Due October 28. 20% of course grade.

Write an essay (between 5 and 8 pages) in which you analyze the issue of affirmative action as portrayed in George Curry's Affirmative Action Debate. In assessing this book, you should also take into account related material in Rothenberg, class discussion, and current news coverage of race-related issues.

In terms of the paper's focus, follow the General Guidelines for Papers and the instructions listed above for the Class Inequality and Sexism papers--but assess the Curry book as a whole, not just a single reading in it.

Graduate Students

Graduate students are expected to meet all regular requirements at a graduate level of competence. In addition, graduate students must write a research paper or complete an alternative project, which you should discuss early in the semester with the instructor. Other course modifications may be made as appropriate.

Self-Evaluation Paper

Your self-evaluation paper, due December 16, provides an opportunity for you to assess your work in this course and to reflect on what you have learned about the subject matter and about yourself. The typed paper should be at least 500 words.

Evaluate your learning with respect to the course as a whole and each course component: attendance, class participation, assigned reading, papers, and group project. You should (a) reflect on what you have learned, critically examining your strengths and weaknesses in each area using specific examples; (b) give yourself a grade using the criteria described below; and (c) explain the reasons for your grade. Although I will not grade the evaluation, it is required. A thoughtful, thorough, honest self-evaluation can make the difference in the case of borderline grades.


Teachers at UIS are required to assign grades. This is a difficult, frustrating, and sometimes destructive task. I am glad to provide evaluative feedback in the form of written comments and one-to-one conferences, but reducing a subjective evaluation to a single letter is a gross oversimplification.

Grading fosters excessive competition at the expense of real learning, and makes distinctions among you for the benefit of social institutions over which you have little control. Although the significance of any single grade is often minimal, I know that worrying is inevitable when your overall GPA affects graduation honors, admission to postgraduate education, and careers.

To reduce your anxiety, I strongly encourage you to take the course on a Credit/No Credit basis. If you do so, instead of a grade your transcript will indicate Credit (for undergraduates receiving at least a C and for graduate students getting at least a B) or No Credit. Remember, though, that in order to receive a C, all work must be completed in satisfactory fashion, with regular attendance.

For those of you who want me to grade you instead, I take the task seriously and try to avoid grade inflation. Grades on assignments reflect my honest appraisal of your work so that you can assess your progress. I use the grading system described in the UIS catalog, modified by pluses and minuses:

A = Excellent B = Good C = Fair D = Marginal But Passing U = Unsatisfactory

Final course grades are based on the weighted average of all assignments, though I may give less weight to a single grade that is much lower than your others. Students who work hard to meet all course expectations, read carefully, attend class and participate regularly, and routinely produce good work normally receive a B.

If you have questions or concerns about your grades, please see me.

Tentative Course Outline

R: Chapters in Rothenberg's Race, Class, and Gender in the United States
AA: Chapters in Curry's Affirmative Action Debate


Course Introduction


Law, Inequality, and Justice

R: Book Introduction
Part III/#1
Part V/Introduction
Bring today's newspaper




VIDEO: Paula Rothenberg Lecture: The Politics of Difference and the Pedagogy of Inclusion

R:Part II/Introduction
Part VI/Introduction





R:Part III/Introduction, #2,7
Part VI/#7


Ideology and Class

R: Part I/Introduction, #7,8
Part VI/#1
AA: Chapter 7


VIDEO: Roger And Me


Property, Rights, Responsibility

Library Reserve: Local 1330 vs. US Steel


Poverty and the Law

Library Reserve: The Poor and the Supreme Court






R: Part I/#2
Part IV/Introduction, #1-7,9-11,19-22


Prejudice, Discrimination, Stereotypes, Language

R:Part I/#1
Part II/#1,3,4,5
Part VI/#2,8


VIDEO: Ethnic Notions


Law and History

R: Part V/#1-5,8-12,15-17,19,20


Race and Economics
The Affirmative Action Debate

R:Part III/#5,6
AA: Chapters 1,2


Continue discussion

AA:Chapters 3,4,5


Continue discussion

AA:Chapters 6,8






R: Part I/#3,4,5,6
Part II/#2,6,7


Sexism and Economics

R:Part III/#3,4


Sexism and Law

R: Part V/#6,7,13,14,18,21,22


Sex Roles, Stereotypes, and
Violence Against Women

VIDEO: Dreamworlds

R:Part IV/#8,12,13,14,15,17
Part VI/#3,4,5,8,9



R:Part VII/#4,5,7


Continue discussion


Sexual Orientation and the Law

R: Part IV/#13,16,18
Part V/#23,24
Part VI/#6
Part VII/#6


Continue discussion













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Page updated September 30, 2007