Harvard Law School To Reduce Public Service Funding

Public Service Initiative suspended, loan repayment program expanded

The latest round of financial readjustments hit Harvard Law School yesterday when Law School Dean Martha Minow announced a mix of cuts and expansions to programs that assist students interested in pursuing public interest careers.

In an e-mail to the student body, Minow announced the suspension of the Public Service Initiative, a program launched in 2008 that waives third-year tuition for students if they commit to five years of public service after graduation. The school also plans to decrease the amount of per-student funding for summer public interest work but will further expand loan repayment assistance for graduates.

In her e-mail, Minow wrote that all current students will be able to participate in the Public Service Initiative. However, it is unlikely that the program will be offered to future incoming classes, including students admitted this fall, Minow wrote.

Despite Minow’s announcement, Alexa Shabecoff, the Law School’s assistant dean for public service, said yesterday that the school is committed to having a program that incentivizes public service work. A committee has been formed to review the Public Service Initiative and will suggest a successor to the program in March of next year.

When the program was launched last fall, administrators were unsure how much student interest to expect. Yet, last year, over 110 first-year students indicated their interest in the program—50 percent more than the targeted number—according to then-Law School Dean Elena Kagan.

“It’s a new type of program, so we didn’t know how many people would want to take advantage of it,” said Kenneth H. Lafler, director of Student Financial Services at the Law

School, in an interview last fall. “We know how many have done it in the past, but quite honestly it was pure speculation on our part how many would enter this program.”

This year, 58 third-year students signed up for the initiative, which has a budget of $3 million per year for a five-year period ending in 2012, according to Lafler. About 50 to 60 students entered public service after graduation in previous years before the start of the tuition waiver.

In the past, administrators have expressed hope that the Public Service Initiative would encourage students to pursue their interest in government or non-profit jobs by relieving the financial pressure that might otherwise drive them to take lucrative corporate positions.

While the Law School is suspending the Public Service Initiative, it plans to expand the Low Income Protection Plan, a loan repayment assistance program currently offered to graduates working in paid positions. The plan will now be extended to graduates who have taken unpaid public service positions before they begin working at a firm.

Minow also announced that the school will allocate an additional $2.7 million to cover financial aid costs, despite Harvard’s 27 percent endowment investment loss during the 2008 fiscal year, which resulted in a $2.5 million drop in financial aid funding from the endowment going to the Law School.

Changes in the legal job market have pushed more students towards pursuing public service positions, and the Law School’s Summer Public Interest Funding for students who wish to engage in such work during the summer has been stretched to meet the demand. In the summer of 2008, about 375 students received funding, whereas last summer 495 received funds. Administrators expect over 600 students to request funding next year.

As a result, the Law School will reduce the length for which it funds student summer public interest work, guaranteeing eight instead of ten weeks of pay for students who choose to work in public interest law during the summer months.

The new program allocates fewer resources to each student but ensures that all interested students will have access to public interest funding, Shabecoff said.

In the weeks leading up this announcement, dire rumours had circulated among Law School students that cuts to the school’s public interest programs were forthcoming.

“I’m relieved because the worst of the rumours did not come to fruition,” said Brian T. Aune, the president of the Law School’s student government.

The announced changes come on the heels of the University’s first ever Public Service Week last month, during which University President Drew G. Faust urged the Harvard community to redouble its efforts to engage in public service, even while cautioning that the University would have difficulty committing additional funds to service-related initiatives given the current financial constraints.

—Staff writer Elias J. Groll can be reached at egroll@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Athena Y. Jiang can be reached at ajiang@fas.harvard.edu.

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