Online Pop-Up Course Grapples with Coronavirus Legal Issues in Real Time


By Shanice Harris

Law, Business, Tech Faculty
Professor Daniel B. Rodriguez
Professor Daniel B. Rodriguez

COVID-19 has confined many individuals to their homes, but while plenty of people are keeping themselves entertained with Netflix and catching up on reading, Northwestern Pritzker Law faculty are implementing curriculum to give law students insight into these unprecedented times. 

Daniel B. Rodriguez, Harold Washington Professor of Law, launched his online pop-up class “Law in the Time of Corona” the week of March 23. The course, which runs until April 24, highlights several legal topics revolving around the coronavirus crisis. “With all the rapidly emerging issues growing out of the coronavirus situation, I thought it would be valuable for students to have an opportunity to learn about many of these issues, and to do so in the form of a (hopefully) well-organized online course,” said Rodriguez.  

The course includes topical readings, video interviews with law experts, discussions on the online learning management site Canvas, and weekly live Zoom sessions—the latter drawing nearly 100 participants in its first week. Students have been asked to grapple with questions like ‘what is or is not essential?’ and ‘what should be the states’ approach to cooperation around fighting COVID-19?’  “I have been pleasantly surprised by how engaged students are, in the synchronous sessions and in their study of the assigned materials,” said Rodriguez. “It is a true credit to the students in all of our programs (JD, LLM, and MSL) who are eager to learn and to engage, even during this awful, stressful time.”

Readings have included pieces from consumer magazines like The New Yorker, academic articles from New England Journal of Medicine and Harvard Law Review, and case files that highlight citizens’ rights during this time, like Wong v. Williamson and Siegel v. Shinnick.   

“I have really enjoyed the pace [of the class]—and it sure is quick,” said Hillary Tolson (MSL ’22). “The course is updating and modifying alongside current events, and I appreciate that. Professor Rodriguez is providing us with provocative content, not just headlines. He’s diving into the deep end, digging up the nitty gritty buried beneath the statistics and asking us to think about the current landscape.”

Lawyer JP Schnapper-Casteras during a Zoom interview with Professor Rodriguez
Lawyer JP Schnapper-Casteras during a Zoom interview with Professor Rodriguez

In addition to the readings, forum discussions are taking place on Canvas. Topics include how law fits into decision-making, the role of police power during health-related quarantines, and presidential power under the Defense Production Act. Rodriguez has also recorded interviews with law experts across the country, including J.P. Schnapper-Casteras, a Washington DC lawyer that specializes in constitutional law; Lindsay Wiley, professor of law and director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University; and Andrea Lee, a partner at Honigman law firm.

Tolson said she hopes Rodriguez’ pop up course will inspire other professors to launch their own pop-up classes. “I could certainly see NU and its professors creating more pop-up classes as we head toward major events, such as the upcoming 2020 election. I can only imagine how acute Constitutional challenges will affect us all in the long-term,” she said.

Lindsay Wiley, professor of law and director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University
Lindsay Wiley, professor of law and director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University

Rodriguez echoes the sentiment. “I hope it inspires my colleagues to think of other ideas for online courses, whether in one or more areas covered by this broad course on the law and the coronavirus, or in other aspects,” he said. “Furthermore, I hope that the idea of ‘pop-up’ courses – that is, courses that emerge fairly suddenly, in order to deal with topics of immediate importance in law – will catch on.”

The course is already making waves. The free online learning platform Coursera, founded in 2012 by two Stanford professors, recently picked up “Law in the Time of Corona” for its site. “This will be a [Massive Open Online Course], with content I am currently revising from the law school course, and made available to anyone in the world who registers through Coursera,” Rodriguez said.

“[The issues we are currently facing] are by and large difficult, as a matter of law and of public policy,” said Rodriguez. “And I hope the students will appreciate how tough it will be for courts, legislatures, and all other institutions of government to resolve them in the coming weeks, months, and years.”