Fees Must Fall

by reclaimharvardlaw

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.