We still have no transparency at HLS

BY MATT HUTCHINS

I am not upset at all about the loss of certain fringe benefits around campus. I can do just fine without the extra sugar delivered weekly by the snack cart, and as a board member of an organization supported entirely by law firm funding, I have no doubt that the dearth of recruiting funds will force sacrifices to be made. While these adjustments seem to be a natural part of budgetary discipline, I suspect that the law school and all of Harvard’s colleges are facing deeper, fundamental challenges. Despite the rumors that have abounded in the press, there remain no clear explanations available as to how the quality of our education will be maintained in the face of the economic crisis.

I knew when I came to Harvard that there was a significant amount of funding from the endowment going to augment my tuition. In fact, this was one of the primary reasons I chose HLS; I knew that I would be getting the best bang for my buck. At the same time, I am paying a significant amount of money to attend this school and expect that I will be provided with the best legal education available. When I chose Harvard, I declined offers of merit-based financial aid and submitted myself to the rather draconian need-based calculus, which determined that I was ineligible for grant funding. I feel confident that I am getting a fantastic value for the money I spend, but I cannot dispel a lingering concern that it is difficult to judge the degree to which my dollars continue to be augmented by endowment funds.

The simple fact is that Harvard Law School, as a business, should be absolutely recession-proof. No matter how bad the economy gets, there will always be a full class of students ready to pay whatever tuition is demanded. Even if the repayment of the resulting debt load were slavishly onerous, there are would be students lined up out the door ready to fill every seat available. Given that HLS should by all rights be a cash cow, why is it that the endowment’s fluctuation should affect the school’s finances to such an extent that the library’s lights must burn for fewer hours in the week?

I will honestly say that I have almost no understanding of how the law school’s budgetary process works, but I don’t think that makes me unique. And even though I don’t anticipate receiving funding, I would be totally against any reduction in public interest funding or need-based financial aid. Yet it is a simple fact that there is a finite amount of money available from student tuition, and the remainder of the law school’s budget must be provided for by endowment funds. I think we deserve some reassurance, in more than just kind words, that the cost reduction measures taken by the HLS administration have closed the gap between what is needed and what is available.

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