The conceit of every Republican administration of my lifetime has been that poor people wouldn’t be so poor if they just “worked harder.” The dismantling of the welfare state was fueled by the notion that certain people needed more incentive to find work — as if being on public assistance somehow needs to be more hardscrabble and humiliating in order to really help people.

Now, it seems the same kind of flawed and sheltered logic will be coming to a law school near you. But the kicker is that it’s the students employed by the school, in programs designed to help the school game the U.S. News rankings and fleece the next generation of paying 1Ls, who are being told that they need more of an incentive to find employment.

We’ve got a school scolding students for being too comfortable in the post-graduate employment program the school itself designed to avoid telling the truth to U.S. News….

The letter from Dean Paul Schiff Berman of George Washington University Law School to students enrolled in the school’s Pathways to Practice Program is incredibly tone-deaf and downright mean-spirited, given that it comes right in the middle of bar prep time for GW’s most recent graduating class. The memo also lays bare that Dean Berman’s Pathways program is nothing more than a bald attempt to game the employment statistics in a way that makes GW look good for U.S. News. Nothing more.

Pathways to Practice is one of those initiatives you see popping up at law schools all across the country. Students who are not able to secure post-graduate legal employment can be employed by the law school doing some nominal task for 35 hours a week, but their main job is getting a real job. The programs last for a year: 35 hours a week for a year is just enough to call the position “full-time” and “long-term,” and this satisfies the U.S. News boxes for “employed upon graduation” and “employed nine months after graduation.”

Making things right with U.S. News is what the school cares about — trust me, if the school really cared about the students, the clock would start ticking on their year not from when they graduated, but from when the bar results were available in their states — that’s the year after graduation during which unemployed recent graduates have a shot at getting a job. If you couldn’t get a job as a 3L, you’re not going to be able to get a job as a 4L studying for the bar, and everybody knows that. But the schools aren’t trying to make these programs work in reality, they’re trying to make these programs aid their place in the rankings.

Anyway, the deadline to file for George Washington’s particular version of this program was last month. Importantly, all of the paperwork had to be in before GW’s graduation. That should come as no surprise — again, getting everything done before graduation allows these people to be counted as employed upon graduation.

Now, only a month later, George Washington Law is changing how much money it’s actually going to pay the students who signed up. Kids that spent a bunch of time figuring out how they’re going to live on the nominal stipend that GW was paying will now have to figure out how to make it happen on a third less. Here’s the pertinent part of Dean Berman’s letter, which again I’ll remind you hit inboxes about six weeks before the bar exam (note how he manages to insult them while cutting their funding):

Also, I have now heard several anecdotal reports of graduates turning down paying work so that they can remain in the Pathways Program and hopefully find more desirable work later. This is not how the Program is intended to be used. You should jump at any paying legal work opportunity, and if it’s not your ideal position, then use it as a launchpad for your next search. In order to make sure both that the incentives are properly aligned and that we can continue to fund the Program for the many students who have enrolled, we will be adjusting the payments from $15 per hour to $10 per hour beginning December 1. The new funding amount will remain in place from December 1 until you have been in the Program for a full year, at which time your enrollment in the Program will end.

UPDATE (6/20/2012): Hours after this post went up, Dean Berman changed his mind and restored funding to the original level of $15 an hour. Click here for additional coverage.

Anecdotal reports? Anecdotal? You are going to cut people’s funding not a month after they signed up for this thing based on anecdotal freaking evidence?

I’m sorry, but I think you should give your students the respect of coming to them with hard evidence. Actual studies. Statistically significant data that has persuaded you to reach the (wholly nonsensical) conclusion that $10 an hour will HELP students gets a job better than $15 an hour. For a proposition that’s covered in intellectual dishonesty as much as this one, you should at least come up with some data points.

But your students don’t just have anecdotal evidence, they’ve got real hard numbers that show for some of them, their degrees are barely worth the paper they’re printed on. According to LST, only 81.3% of graduates in the class of 2011 were known to be employed in long-term, full-time legal jobs. A full 15.6% of those graduates had to be “employed” in school-funded jobs. THAT’S NOT AN ANECDOTE! That’s a fact.

So tell us, Dean Berman, are things shaping up better for the class of 2012? Have you done any follow-up with the class of 2011 — you know, the ones that were conveniently kicked out of the program just as soon as U.S. News stopped caring about their employment outcomes?

Not surprisingly, the recent graduates from George Washington are pretty pissed at the dean and his decision. Here’s some, you know, anecdotal evidence that Dean Berman is being an incredibly callous administrator who cares more about a magazine than his graduated students….


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