Record: In a few words, how would you sum up your platform?
Joe Sullivan: We are demanding that the administration release the budget data so we can take a hard look at that budget so we can see what we can cut back and where we can move funding into.
Record: It seems like you guys are running as a one-issue ticket. Would you say that’s accurate?
JS: I would say generally, yes, although that one issue encompasses a lot of the issues at Harvard Law School. When we think about a lot of the issues at Harvard Law School, it’s often about how much does that cost? I think if we don’t know that it’s hard to tackle those issues, so I think of this as a more encompassing platform.
Jin Kim: It is a single-issue platform in the way that we want to get access to the budget data, and look through it, identify unnecessary costs and reallocate that to benefits that students actually want. The word benefits encompasses a lot of things, such as financial aid or mental health services. I know the impediments that a lot of students and I faced when looking to get mental health services.
Record: Can you tell me about some of those impediments?
JK: For example, when you call to make an appointment, there is a huge wait time [on the phone]. Sometimes you just have to leave a message and wait for them to get back to you. Once you get through that, there’s wait time until your first appointment. I waited three weeks until I could see someone. I understand that there’s heightened demand, but the reason people reach out for these services is because they need to talk to someone.
Record: What else motivated you guys to run?
JS: One thing in particular was an article that I saw a little over a month ago on the two former [HLS] administrators who embezzled $110,000. It was shocking to me, and it gets you thinking on not only how $110,000 goes missing, but what else is out there, and who’s keeping track. And if we don’t know how that money is spent, it’s hard to answer that question.
Record: In your platform, you assumed that the average HLS professor makes $200,000 a year. What’s the basis of that assumption?
JS: Well, we don’t know [for certain], but I looked online for what law professors are looking. You can see what professors at public universities make [as that data is publicly available].
Record: Do you think HLS should pay more or less than public university law schools?
JS: I think we’re more-or-less peer institutions and we’re often competing for the same talent, so I’d say somewhere in the same ballpark. If anything I might even say less. Harvard Law School has a heightened platform, and perhaps part of your compensation is the ability to speak from a Harvard Law School platform and that might induce people to work here for less.
Record: Should a university pay less because it can provide those ancillary, non-monetary benefits?
JS: If people are willing to accept wages that are less than at other schools because of other benefits that come with [the job], then yes, I think a law school is entitled to [offer them less].
JK: I worked in management consulting, and we understand that there might be some sensitivity around releasing some of this information, but I think as the leaders of Student Government, what we’re going to do is strike a balance between increasing transparency for students and protecting the sensitivity that’s inherent [in salary data].
Record: I’d like to talk about cost of living. It’s significantly cheaper to live in, say, Ann Arbor, than in Cambridge. Should that factor into HLS salaries?
JS: Just as we see that salaries in big cities are higher than in smaller markets, perhaps Harvard pays more, but it probably [needn’t] fully compensate for the differences in cost of living. For example, New York doesn’t pay twice the salary of [less-expensive cities] because people want to live in New York.
Record: Suppose the average HLS faculty salary was $400,000 instead of $200,000. How would that change your platform?
Joe: That would change how we feel about our platform. But another part is that we don’t know the salaries. And if students were to find out that professors were making that kind of money, I think people would sense that those wages are high, and I think people would be upset.
JK: But we would like to spend more time looking at other cost areas [besides faculty salary]. At the end of the day, people come to Harvard for excellent faculty. We don’t want to get into the weeds of negotiating faculty salaries.
Record: One of your other concerns was financial aid. How would you improve financial aid if you had total control?
JS: First, we’d look at the allocation. For example, I think most people here are surprised to find that the need-based grants that they thought they had are later taken away due to the summer contribution policy. Second, the amount of need-based aid is not keeping up with the increases in tuition. Tuition has been outpacing inflation since 1996, so unless we increase need-based grants [proportionally], the real cost is going to increase.
Record: Now, first-year associate salaries have also increased from about $85,000 to $180,000 in that time period, is that something you’re also concerned with?
JS: First, tuition has actually tripled in nominal dollars, from $21,000 in 1996 to over $60,000 today. Second, I don’t think it’s impossible to grant that [tuition and associate salaries are both increasing] and also question where our money is going. Third, we’re talking about big firms. Public interest and government salaries have more-or-less been flat. Maybe the problem is partially solved for those going on BigLaw salaries, but it’s worse for [those going to] public interest salaries.
Record: Does LIPP solve that problem?
JK: One thing is that when people benchmark our LIPP program to Yale’s, ours is not as generous as [theirs]. I’d love to look more into it and do some benchmark analysis so we can be at least as competitive as our peer schools.
Record: Anything else?
JS: Students here at HLS deserve to know where their $61,650 in tuition is going, and they deserve to have a say in how that’s allocated, and that’s what this campaign is going to do.
Jin and I actually met with the Dean of Students, and we presented them with our proposal. We pointed them to something that Harvard Business School already does: a financial statement they release every year that shows how much they’re taking in and how much they’re spending, and when we did that, they were pretty receptive to our plan. And now we have a meeting that’s being set up with Harvard’s chief financial officer, and we think there’s potential to get some action on this issue.
We’ve made some progress, but we’d love to do more. Student Government has a mechanism to find out what people want and it has access to the administration to get things done.
2017 Student Government Candidate interviews