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Expanding Curriculum: Part 2

Part 2: Law is not just for lawyers

The Law School curriculum remained fairly stable until well into the next century. What was changing - and would have a significant effect on curriculum - were views about the scope of the law in society. Some academics, including Professor Underhill Moore 1902, believed the study of law should be integrated with the social sciences, particularly the psychology of human behavior. Prof. Moore, who joined the faculty in 1916, was not only a master of conventional legal analysis, but the creator of the idea of the relation between law and community behavior. He was interested in many academic fields, particularly sociology and psychology. His impetus, in the words of Dean Harlan Fiske Stone 1898, was "to free legal doctrine from...meaningless formalism, and to make the law itself a more useful and efficient instrument of social control."


Underhill Moore


Harlan Fiske Stone

Prof. Moore, who taught with so much passion that his face could turn scarlet and veins pop out on his forehead, was scoffed at by many members of the bar, but there is no question that his broad view of the law gained favor with faculty members. Ideas about economics, sociology, and psychology gradually filtered into many courses.

This trend led to the great debate of the mid-1920s and an eventual schism within the faculty. It began with Professor Herman Oliphant, who came to the Law School in 1922 from the University of Chicago. He did not wait long (1923) to write to Columbia University President Nicholas Murray Butler, outlining ambitious plans for reorganization of the Law School curriculum. The gist of his plan was to transform the Law School into a research institution, with emphasis on the study of the interrelation of law to other social sciences - to the exclusion of preparing students for practice.


Herman Oliphant

Huger W. Jervey, who replaced Stone as dean in 1924, approved of the idea of re-evaluating legal education in general, and committees were formed among faculty members to study Prof. Oliphant's ideas. Many reports were made and presented, but gradually the faculty split into two factions: a small cluster who believed that Columbia should be solely a research institution, and the majority who believed the School could pursue both objectives - legal research and the training of lawyers. 


Huger Jervey

The dialogue came to a full boil when Dean Jervey resigned due to illness and was succeeded by Young B. Smith '12, who favored the dual role for the Law School. Prof. Oliphant and his followers, including Assistant Professor William O. Douglas '25, resigned and assumed teaching positions elsewhere.


Young B. Smith


William O. Douglas

Nevertheless, their influence was felt in the wake of their departure. In classes, professors began to teach their subjects against the background of public law, legal history, and jurisprudence. More concrete was the change in the first-year curriculum: Personal Property was replaced with a course in Legal History. History also informed the foundations in other first-year courses, such as Criminal Law, Procedure, and Property, as well as Legislation, which was designed to show students that law was created through legislation and adjudication. 

Also introduced at this time was a new course in business law called Corporations. It was taught by Professor Adolf Berle. Corporations was an interdisciplinary approach to corporate law that examined social and political forces, as well as the relationship between management and shareholders. Gone from the curriculum was Business Organization, whose focus was largely conceptual. The teaching of corporate law at Columbia now proceeded side by side with the fast-changing business world of the 1920s and '30s. 


Adolf Berle

The Depression and increasing role of government in the nation's public and economic life called for new courses in public law and its expansion into the field of administrative law, led by Professor Walter Gellhorn '31. Criminal law also was updated: A new member of the faculty, Herbert Wechsler '31, provided materials to help students see the problems that confronted judges, law administrators, and the legislature. Finally, new courses also took into account a world that was increasingly international. Roman Law was replaced by Comparative Law. This field of study was further enriched by the newly established Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law.


Herbert Wechsler


Walter Gellhorn


Courses in 1889-90