Bringing the law into student curriculum

By Stephanie Youssef

Given the incessant bickering in Springfield and Washington D.C. that has ensued for the past 200 years, it should come as no surprise that, currently, laws and regulations dominate almost all components of everyday life: Laws to protect our liberties, laws to maintain civility, laws to establish structure and criminal laws.

Beyond just the consequences of getting caught with that fake ID used to get into Red Lion, everything about our current life and even our future careers is overseen by both state and federal governments and agencies. The housing agreement you signed with the University is a binding contract. The employee handbook that you probably never read at work governs your job. The professional licenses that set the standard of responsibility for your future career are subject to regulation by legal organizations.

Students should add a law class to their undergraduate course planner as a means of gaining a general awareness of the legislature that applies to daily life. Knowing about general regulations can also help you more efficiently communicate with others and approach problems as a more productive citizen.

Some may argue that a more in-depth knowledge of laws and regulations isn’t necessary until we are older, but that isn’t true. For example, many undergraduate students at the University have been harassed by lawsuits from our friend Dennis Toeppen at Suburban Express. Additionally, as adults we are beginning to delve into legal matters, like contracts with housing and employment, that our parents aren’t necessarily responsible for.

I’m not saying that it takes being a lawyer and having a Juris Doctor for you to know that the paper you are signing is a sublease agreement and not an arrangement to sell your soul. Rather, there are nuances to contracts and even daily tasks that an introductory law class can make more transparent.

As a current student in General Engineering 400, Engineering Law, I can attest to the importance of taking a structured class on the subject. I previously prided myself on being aware of general legal matters from constantly reading articles on the Internet, but this class brought to light the fact that I knew less than one percent of the legislature that governs my daily life. 

Even if you aren’t doing things as obvious as vandalizing properties and selling illegal substances, there is a category of civil law called tort law that sets a standard for the duty you owe to society as a resident. Legislature concerns matters that happen in our lives on a regular basis, such as the buying and selling of goods and ownership and title, and other details we may encounter such as trespassing, property torts, negligence, the duty of care, intellectual property and the list goes on. 

Everything from how you maintain your property to your actions and intentions toward others is overseen by tort law, something I didn’t know in much detail before taking a law class.

A general knowledge of criminal laws and knowing not to go around robbing banks may be enough to keep you out of trouble with the state, but taking a class to learn about the less obvious aspects of civil law can improve your communication skills and teach you how to productively approach interactions with others.

For example, law knowledge helped me when I was coordinating my living arrangements for next year. My basic knowledge of contract law helped me effectively converse with the sublessor and know, from a legal standpoint, exactly when an offer had been made. Additionally, before I put my signature on my sublease agreement, I was able to understand everything before signing on the dotted line.

After listening to regular lectures taught by a knowledgeable professor, I am now more careful with driving and living arrangements and other aspects of how I interact with people on a daily basis. Conveniently, there is a wide variety of law classes made available by the University to accommodate most colleges and majors. Undergraduates have the option of taking classes such as agricultural law, environmental law, engineering law, and law and economics, among others. 

Taking one of these classes as an undergraduate can help you more efficiently communicate with others, more effectively approach issues and keep you out of trouble. Most students here are focused on their majors and working toward their degrees, yet may have never explicitly considered striving to be well informed citizens that function productively in society as a goal for the future. 

But I mean, think about it — what else would your goal be?

Stephanie is a junior in LAS.

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