Are tickets to law school commencement like organs? Or babies?

They’re not as necessary as organs, and they’re not as adorable as babies. But are graduation tickets, like organs and babies, so sacred that we should not allow them to be distributed through the free market?

(Some folks, like certain Chicago School law-and-economics types, think that we should be allowed to sell organs and/or babies. For better or worse, however, the rest of society hasn’t gone along with them.)

Let’s take a look at the commencement controversy brewing at one noteworthy law school….

The institution in question is NYU Law School. Here’s the original email that went out over their list-serv (a list-serv named, ironically enough, “Coase’s List” — as in Ronald Coase, the law-and-econ giant):

From: CAPITALISM-HATIN’ LADY
Date: Thu, May 5, 2011 at 5:34 PM
Subject: WTComplain about People Selling Convocation Tickets for Money I Don’t Have
To: Coase’s List

Hi Coase’s,

I just want to put it out there: it is ridiculous to try to make money off your extra convocation tickets.

Just because you don’t have two 90-something grandparents (who insist on flying out from California), a husband, two parents, and a brother +1 who all want to watch you walk across a stage in a ridiculous purple robe, doesn’t mean you should make a profit off the fact that 1) you requested more tickets than you actually need from Student Affairs, and 2) you know there are others out there who are terrified at the prospect of having to tell Gramps to sit it out in the hotel room because there’s no room for him.

As someone who has almost exhausted my $12,000 living budget for the school year (yes, that includes 9 months’ rent), I am loath to use money I desperately need for moving, buying food, etc. to purchase from you something that didn’t cost you anything to begin with (other than the effort it took you to RSVP online for more guests than you were planning to bring to graduation).

It looks like the going rate for a JD Convocation ticket is $50. Well, I don’t have $100 to spare. So I’m stuck waiting until the 4/19 reception (the day before graduation), when Student Affairs is going to hand out whatever extra tickets it has to try to get the two additional tickets I need. Unfortunately, that number may be very small (who knows?), because rather than charitably returning their extra tickets to Student Affairs for redistribution, people are greedily selling them.

In other news, good luck on finals, everyone!

– [CAPITALISM-HATIN' LADY]

The writer, whom we’ve dubbed CAPITALISM-HATIN’ LADY, got outflanked on the virtue front by a subsequent poster:

Subject: Re: WTComplain about People Selling Convocation Tickets for Money I Don’t Have
From: HOLIER THAN THOU
Date: Thu, 05 May 2011 19:09:42 -0400

[CAPITALISM-HATIN' LADY],

I sold some of my tickets and donated the money to charity.

Might I suggest, though, that redistributing them through the Student Affairs office is not that fair a mechanism either? There has to be some way to distribute the extra tickets, and while I understand that not everyone comes from a similar financial bargaining position, surely the free market is more accurate at pairing the tickets with those that want them most, rather than the Student Affairs office randomly picking some students to get extra tickets.

I do think it seems crass to profit off of family desires, which is why I think asking the sellers to donate their proceeds manages to both honor the namesake of this mailing list while avoiding any issues of unjust enrichment.

– [HOLIER THAN THOU]

Of course, CAPITALISM-HATIN’ LADY wasn’t going to let HOLIER THAN THOU have the last word:

Subject: Re: WTComplain about People Selling Convocation Tickets for Money I Don’t Have
From: [CAPITALISM-HATIN' LADY]
Date: Thu, 5 May 2011 19:24:42 -0400

I do agree that it would be possible to engineer some kind of system that would distribute extra tickets more efficiently. However, for such a system to be fair, there would have to be a way to level the playing field. A measly $10 might be a lot to me, but is nothing to someone who has a firm job or a trust fund or whatever the hell else people have to give them money.

I donate hundreds of dollars to charities per year. Unfortunately, at this time of year, my charity coffers are empty. My inability to purchase a ticket (or donate money, if you must) has nothing to do with how much I want the extra tickets – I want them very much. I haven’t even invited my mother-in-law, who lives alone in New Jersey, because I’m afraid I won’t have a ticket for her.

I actually think handing out the extra tickets at the 5/19 reception is more fair than auctioning them off to the highest bidder. According to Student Affairs, extras will be distributed on a first-come-first-served basis on 5/19. People who want the tickets the most can just camp out earlier. Camping out early for something is like bidding for it in labor/time, rather than in money.

We suspect that the issue of equitable distribution of commencement tickets arises at many law schools other than NYU. Readers, what do you think? Argue it out in the comments, propose alternative solutions if you have any, and take our reader poll:

Should law students be allowed to sell extra commencement tickets for money?

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