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Public Interest Squabble

By Tara A. Nayak

Vowing to "escalate" their fight to restore the Law School's office for public interest law placement, law students have mobilized over the past weeks in numbers almost unheard-of at the normally complacent graduate school.

Law School Dean Robert C. Clark drew fire from students for eliminating the program--one of his first administrative actions since taking office in July. In the weeks since students returned to classes this fall, the public interest controversy has spurred a petition drive, a new student activist group and a rally which drew hundreds of students and faculty.

On the surface, Clark's move seems innocuous enough. Instead of a full-time advisor, students interested in pursuing public service legal careers must now consult the director of career services and an as-yet-unnamed placement advisor. The reason, according to Clark, was a simple matter of budget-cutting.

The protests, however, have been a sharp contrast to previous episodes of activism at the Law School. Last spring's silent sit-ins calling for minority hiring consistently drew about 50 participants; last week's rally for public service law attracted about 300 students. And this week, Clark was handed a petition signed by 1055 out of about 1600 law students.

As one student says, "You know that when a school of apathetic students protest in these numbers something big is up."

Clark's response--to reiterate his support for public-interest careers and announce a plan for a committee to advise him on the field--has left students saying the new dean's statement address the importance of his decision corporate law scholar, Clark has shown he is out of touch with the school's priorities, according those who criticize him for the move.

Although only about 6 percent of Law School graduates pursue public-interest careers, many more spends summers working for prosecutors and battered women's shelters. Students say a full-time expert on public-interest law is essential because of the difficulty of finding such public service work.

"There's prestige and money associated with large firms," says second-year student Jason Adkins, who has been a leader in the movement. "They come recruit you. For public-interest, you have to have an expert on placement. A few seminars won't do it."

Now, Adkins says, students are "planning to escalate our activities" to communicate to Clark the extent of their concern for the fate of public interest law.

"If you're going against the grain, you really need support," says Adkins. "The problem with public-interest is the support's not really there."

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