Law Schools, Money

Open Thread: The State of Law School Giving

As an undergraduate, I worked for the Harvard College Fund. I made calls to alumni of the college and many of the professional schools asking for money. Yes, scum salt-of-the-earth kind of work.

You learn a couple of things doing that job: don’t let women call people who graduated before 1960 and think that girls still belong at Radcliffe. Make sure your accent is “good for all time zones” (mine is). And most importantly, don’t call up graduates of HLS asking for money unless you can handle rejection well. HLS graduates are more likely to cry about their backbreaking work schedules than voluntarily fork over $20.

Granted, I’m not the best person to ask. I try to avoid giving HLS the money that I already owe them — I’m not about to dip into my pocket to give them anything extra. But I think most people would rather give money to their undergraduate institution than to their law school. College is an experience; law school is a trial.

And that was before the recession.

Now that we’re in a situation of salary deflation and job uncertainty, one imagines that law schools are only getting money from the cold dead hands of recent graduates.

Harvard Law School students recently received an email reminding them about the 2010 class gift. When I was there, such reminders were met with annoyance. But this year, students reacted with outright anger. Are Harvard kids alone on the “I’m not giving you a penny” island?

The letter from the HLS class marshals was generally obnoxious (as all of these kinds of requests tend to be), but no more offensive than usual. Well, except for the “P.S.S.” at the end of the message. Warning, you shouldn’t read the end of the email unless you have a bucket or some other sick bag handy:

Dear Classmates:

Today, we kick off our Class Gift Drive! Contrary to popular belief, the Class Gift does not go to enlarge the endowment of the law school or to give perks for faculty and administration; it is for us: the students.

Because of the generous giving of the classes before us (and alumni who donate based on Class Gift), we only pay 40% of the actual cost of tuition. More than 30% is directly covered by the generous giving of others.

Now it’s our turn to pay it forward. We are asking that each student donate $20.10 as a suggested minimum (a pittance of what big donors give based on our rates and a pittance of what we spend on any given weekend here). Although any amount is appreciated.

There are a variety of ways you can make a gift: …

We thank you in advance for your generosity. It means more than you will ever know!

Sincerely,
[Your Class Marshals]

P.S. Each person who gives the suggested minimum of $20.10 BEFORE May 1st will receive a gold pin for graduation regalia (apparently parents and grandparents really love this)!

P.S.S. On a more personal note, I understand that there are a few who feel that their HLS experience was not what they expected and feel slighted by being asked to give. But, you especially should give. This is your opportunity to help make it better for those who will come after us. Let’s not just talk about making a difference — let’s be about it!

You’re saying that if students hated law school, $20 is going to make it better for future generations? Twenty bucks is going to change the way Harvard University operates? You don’t need a fully developed prefrontal cortex to reason your way out of that idiotic argument.

In any event, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the advance thanks was significantly premature. Here’s how one student responded to the class marshals (cc’ing the Dean of Students along the way):

[Redacted],

I find this email offensive and highly annoying for the following reasons.

1. The email doesn’t even tell us where our money is going except to say that it is for the students. Is the point that I’m supposed to give $20.10 to lighten some incoming student’s tuition by $20.10 next year? I hope the school’s investors don’t lose half the money again. Maybe I would be better off just finding an admit I like and just giving him $20 – we could save some money on the transaction costs, and the process of giving would be slightly less dehumanized and feel less like a meaningless, imposed obligation.

2. Congratulations to you, [redacted], that you spend enough money every weekend to make $20 look like a pittance, but some of us don’t try to make it rain at Boston night clubs on a regular basis.

3. You get a special pin for graduation if you give? I’ll consider my lack of a pin a badge of honor, thank you. Oh, and thanks for telling us parents and grandparents really love the gold pins. I will let my parents know about this gold pin business, so that they will be sure to spot all of the suckers at graduation who bought into this nonsense.

4. “Thank you in advance for your generosity. It means more than you will ever know.” So how much do I have to give to be generous? We know that $20 is a pittance, so that can’t count as generosity. And why can’t we ever know? You could just tell us what the money is for. I have never read a line that struck me as less sincere than this one.

5. A man should use exclamation marks only on the rarest occasions, especially in professional situations. You used 4 in one email. Wait, 7 if you can’t the subject line. Maybe you should have left us notes in our Pound Boxes written in marker bubble letters and covered in glitter.

6. As to your P.S.S. – I am one of those people. However, instead of giving to some meaningless class gift where most of the money will surely be wasted, I think the best thing I can do is give nothing so that tuition will be raised and students in the future will be further deterred from spending 3 years here.

I sincerely hope that all of my classmates will join me in rejecting the entire idea of a Class Gift this year. All of the ones I have spoken to about it surely will.

[Redacted]

Preach on, brother Redacted, preach on.

But surely, this can’t just be a Harvard problem. I mean, at least many members of the HLS class of 2010 have jobs. How are law schools across the country getting money out of classes full of soon-to-be-unemployed graduates? Sure, rich donors will always want to get their name on a building or something. But is the average lawyer on the street giving any money to their law school?

If you’ve got some knowledge about how alumni giving is going at your old law school, please share.

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