Reclaim Harvard Law School

Month: April, 2016

Fees Must Fall

Dear Dean Minow and Members of the Harvard Corporation,

It has been 134 days since we presented you with our demands at the Community Meeting on December 4, 2015. Although we appreciate your efforts in effectuating symbolic change with the removal of the Royall family crest, our concerns regarding substantive institutional change at Harvard Law School have gone unaddressed. One of these concerns is the financial burden imposed on students in order to attend law school here.

The tuition at Harvard Law School (“HLS”) has been steadily increasing annually well above the rate of inflation. When the current 3Ls matriculated, tuition was $52,350. When the next crop of 1Ls start, tuition will be $59,550. HLS’ class of 2015 graduated with an average of $149,754 in debt.  Given the current trends, this figure is likely to continue increase in the years to come.

We were not the first to point out these outrageous prices (Bill Barlow, JD ‘16), nor were we the latest (Pete Davis, JD ’18). According to the Record’s latest poll, an overwhelming majority of the student body supports improving financial access and affordability for students.

The mission statement of this school is, “to educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.” Yet the enormous amount of debt that students must undertake in order to attend HLS is a direct obstacle to this mission.  As a matter of justice, education should be free.

The effects of HLS’ astronomical tuition fees are racially biased. Due to the legacy of centuries of white supremacy and plunder, people of color are less likely to have amassed wealth in the United States. Therefore, these fees disproportionately burden students of color, not only by creating a barrier to attending HLS, but also by constraining the career choices of those who do attend by saddling them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.  How can Harvard Law graduates be expected to advance justice or the well-being of society when they are forced to make career decisions based on paying off this burdensome debt?

We write to demand an end to tuition at Harvard Law.  The financial aid consists of very little grant funding and pales in comparison to the model of inclusive financial access set forth by undergraduate programs across the country, including Harvard College.  The Low Income Protection Program (“LIPP”) is an attempt at humanizing a system that is fundamentally unjust. It lacks imagination and fails to adequately remove the barriers to tertiary education. It is especially not enough for students who do not have a safety net to fall back on or who have families to support.  The bottom line is that LIPP does not advance access to tertiary education and fails even to provide a bare minimum of adequate financial security.

Here is where the administration, like it has for our other demands, asks “but how would we get this done? What will we cut?” Of course, answering this is the very job we are paying extraordinary amounts of money for them to do. However, this time we cannot do their job – they will not even open the books.

As with many of the school’s other policies and practices, the secrecy of the school has hamstrung discussion of how to make improvements. For this reason, we demand transparency — inform us how you are spending our money.

Along with the elimination of tuition at HLS, we demand transparency in all the information related to the budget and the measures the administration is taking to end tuition. The information and plan of action should be clear and accessible to all current and prospective students.  We, as concerned alumni and students, refuse to remain complicit in supporting a predatory student debt industry. HLS can – and must – find other ways to replace the source of revenue that comes from tuition fees, whether by using the unrestricted endowment, sacrificing other unnecessary costs, curtailing faculty salary increases, reducing faculty salaries entirely, or a combination of these and other financial sources, Harvard Law School should be committed to creating an environment that is inclusive of students of color and students from low-income backgrounds who want to study here.  Enough is enough; fees must fall.


Update on Surveillance of Students of Color Fighting Racism in Belinda Hall

The recent incident of surveillance has only strengthened our commitment to ending racial oppression at Harvard Law School.

Aside from one cursory exchange on Friday, the police have not approached Reclaim Harvard Law for any information or evidence. Still, we have and will continue to consult counsel as the investigation progresses—a right we have been taught as law students, particularly unprotected students of color, to exercise in all dealings with the police.

With that said, second-year student Simmi Kaur explained, “We find it hard to trust the Harvard University Police Department charged with the investigation given their close relationship with the administration.” Third-year student, Sam Koplewicz added, “Not only was the administration present when the HUPD first addressed students on Friday, but they also initially misled the community about the existence of an additional recording device. If there is an investigation, it should be an independent one.”

At least one additional recording device was found subsequent to our press advisory on Friday and turned in to the administration. There were also reports that Velcro, which was used to adhere the first recorder found in Belinda Hall, was seen under desks in multiple classrooms. Yet, the administration released a statement yesterday morning stating simply that no other devices have been found.

With the administration’s integrity at issue, we quickly did our own preliminary sweep of Belinda Hall, which revealed three tables with Velcro adhesives underneath them. Then, at the request of the administration, the HUPD did a more thorough search of Belinda Hall in the afternoon and found additional instances of Velcro. Only after requests for transparency from Reclaim Harvard Law did the administration issue another statement acknowledging the second recorder and the multiple Velcro discoveries late last night.

We will not be shaken by these events and remain committed to fighting racism at our institution.

First Black Tape, Then Illegal Surveillance of Black Students – Have Things at Harvard Gone Too Far?

Cambridge, MA — Early Tuesday, April 5, four Harvard Law School students found a voice-activated recording device in Belinda Hall. The device appears to have been used to spy on a group of students on campus for several days.

According to Keaton Allen-Gessesse, a third-year student, “In this time frame, Belinda Hall hosted admitted students engaging in personal conversation, a sexual assault bystander training complete with survivor narratives, and tenants from the Greater Boston area sharing their stories of eviction.”

“Someone went out of their way to buy an expensive, sophisticated piece of equipment,” said third-year student Rena Karefa-Johnson. She added, “given the criminal nature of the act, we have spent the last few days consulting with counsel to ensure the protection of all potentially harmed parties.”

“We think that this was an intentional effort to surveil our movement,” said third-year student Bianca Harlow. “Recording oral communication without the consent of all involved parties is a violation of our community standards and Massachusetts law.”

“Surveillance as a tactic to suppress movements is not new – it has been used historically by the government, institutions, and individuals to dismantle racial justice movements by pre-empting action planning, publicly distorting internal dialogues, and chilling speech,” said second-year student Titilayo Rasaki.

Second-year student Simmi Kaur stated, “It’s a threat: no space is yours.”

Contact Information
Phone: 413-345-5194