Improving Student Quality of Life Beyond Bagels


The start of the school year has so far brought even larger piles of free stuff to campus than last year; we now have Monday morning bagels, a Wednesday cart with rotating snacks, and a classic DVD collection to add to our coffee and tea stations, free tampons, and volleyball court/ice skating rink. When Thanksgiving approaches, we will be plied with free pie, and when it’s finals time, we’ll be treated to chair massages and midnight pancakes.

We appreciate each of these touches to try and make law school life less stressful and strange; for those of us thousands of miles away from our mothers, it’s nice to know the Dean of Students office is always at the ready, trying to make us eat just a little bit more. We just hope the Harvard Law administration doesn’t treat these perks as replacements for real reforms in policies that affect students. We don’t really think they will, but given that the Wednesday cart is officially labeled the “construction snack cart,” we wanted to make sure no one in the administration thinks the goodies alleviate the need for good information and mitigation campaigns to reduce the impact of the construction on students, especially the residents of Gropius dorms and Massachusetts Avenue apartments.

For instance, The Record reported last year on a large budget cut at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center that eliminated two kinds of placements and two employees; in getting reactions from students, several mentioned how strange it was to hear about program cuts at all, here in the land of flat-screen TVs and ergonomic library chairs. This year, new clinical professors and courses have been added, and as a whole, we are convinced of the school’s commitment to excellent clinical experiences for students. It’s just important to note that the student body knows the difference between a good class schedule and a comfy seat.

We are also encouraged by the administration’s plans for the millions being raised by the “Setting the Standard” capital campaign due to conclude in 2008. Last week, the Record asked Dean Kagan if any of the money was due to go toward avoiding tuition increases or for need-based financial aid. Free hot dogs are nice, but definitely not worth ever-increasing debt loads. Rising private sector salaries may make it seem like $100,000 in debt is no big deal, but those kind of loan burdens continue to make many students feel like they should put in a few years at a large firm, whether they want to or not, and make even the most steadfastly LIPP-bound feel very shaky looking at their bank statements.

Smaller loan totals as a whole reduce those anxieties. And a few Harvard Law financial aid policies regularly cause students stress. One of our least favorites is the school’s byzantine independence policy, which causes scores of financially independent students to take out high-interest private loans to cover a fictional parental contribution that is calculated, for instance, because a parent claimed the student as a tax dependent four or five years ago.

Admirably, Dean Kagan reported that if the school meets targets, about $100 million would go toward financial aid and loan forgiveness. That’s a real win for the quality of HLS student lives – the ones we’ll have even when we’re far away from donuts, cider, and the smiles of the Dean of Students staff.

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