Transparency, Big and Small

The first semester of law school is supposed to be the hardest. Students are thrown in to sink or swim, though no one knows until late January if they’re actually drowning or if it just feels that way. But I would suggest that second semester presents its own challenges. Like a new relationship after the honeymoon phase, the rush of excitement has worn off, and each party starts to see the annoying habits of the other. Harvard Law School, I’m afraid that the glamour has worn thin.

I have found myself complaining about many things, mostly petty, a few more substantive. On the former end, why did the free coffee in Lewis dry up? Why isn’t the computer lab in Wasserstein open 24 hours? Sometimes, I just don’t have time to hike over to Langdell to get something printed. On the more substantive side, why is on-campus housing so overpriced? Why is SPIF funding so low, and why do 1Ls only get credit for eight weeks when many positions require a ten-week commitment? Finally, we all know that students complain constantly about the quality of instruction. Inevitably, whether large or small, a complaint takes the form of “for $50,000 a year, I should be getting _______.”

The spectacular Student Government election from before spring break got me thinking about budget transparency in general. One candidate’s platform promised to disclose the Student Government’s budget; as students, don’t we have the right to know where our money is going? After all, these officers are our elected representatives.

But the Student Government forms only one small part of Harvard Law School. Wouldn’t you like to know exactly how the Law School as a whole spends its money? The Law School is included in the “Income and Expenses” section of the Harvard University Fact Book, published annually by The Office of the Provost. A two-page fact sheet provides a breakdown of income only for the university as a whole. Expenditures are disaggregated for the individual schools, but each school discloses its spending in eight generic high-level categories, e.g. “Salaries and Wages” or “Equipment and Supplies.” It’s a good start, but more specificity is needed for it to be truly informative.

The analogy between Student Government and the Law School isn’t perfect: the Law School doesn’t purport to represent students’ interests and its officials are not elected by the students (nor should they be). Furthermore, it’s true that consumers of a service have no oversight rights. Just because I pay a subscription to my gym, that doesn’t mean I get to see its balance sheet. But Harvard Law School isn’t just a store that sells education. It’s a community whose strength is derived from its people. We all participate, and we all contribute. This request is not meant to cast any slurs on anyone. Overall, I am very happy and have full faith that things are being done properly. But I am curious. And since Student Government can’t articulate an acceptable reason for concealing its budget, I now wonder what the law school might say.

Geng Chen is a 1L. Her column runs every other Tuesday. 

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

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