Commencement, Law School Deans, Law Schools

Law Dean Complains That School Is Too Poor To Pay For Caps And Gowns

Wait, this isn’t the outfit provided to USC students for graduation?

On the one hand, when your school is charging you $55,084 a year to get a law degree, bitching about having to pony up $100 for your graduation gown is a little ridiculous. It’s not like you see mugging victims complaining that their attacker didn’t wash his hands.

On the other hand, when your school is charging you $55,084 a year to get a law degree… they could freaking rent you the cap and gown for free. How does $55K/year NOT include the cap and gown? For $55K, the school should throw in the cap, the gown, the diploma frame, THE JOB, and the freaking Carfax if you ask for one.

A group of law students are outraged that their school has decided to nickle and dime them for graduation. I can feel their anger. But the time to be concerned about law school expenses is before graduation — approximately three years before graduation….

Students at the USC Gould School of Law are pretty pissed off with a change in the school’s policy over regalia rentals. From a tipster:

USC is charging students $100 to rent graduation regalia and the law school is refusing to subsidize the purchase — unlike in years past — because they’ve reallocated that money to “other uses.” Tuition is over $50k/year, and while $100 is admittedly a drop in the bucket in comparison, students are upset out of principle. I’m lucky to have a job and I was well aware of what I was getting myself into regarding the poor legal market when I entered law school, but many of my classmates are not so lucky and are not happy about one more kick to the nuts on the way out.

Our class president and other 3L leaders are currently working hard to get the administration to the cover the cost. However, unsurprisingly, it doesn’t appear they are willing to budge (and it’s amusing to hear the school cry poor).

Really, check out that last parenthetical again. In response to the students, USC Law dean Robert K. Rasmussen actually tried to argue that somehow USC was too strapped for cash to rent gowns for their graduates, at least in the context of other important “student services” USC wants to provide. Here’s the pertinent part of his response:

When I arrived at Gould in 2007, the longstanding policy had been that each graduates would pay to rent his or her regalia. This practice conformed with the policy at every other school and college at USC. After working with the student leadership at that time, I decided that the Dean’s Office would pay for the rental of the regalia. Each year, I would assess the budget and ascertain whether it made sense to retain this practice. This year, however, after going over the budget, I concluded that the funds would better serve our students if we redirected them to other uses. One such new use is the revised Graduate Volunteer Grant program, which we rolled out last week. There are a number of ways that we can help our students, and I wish we had the resources to fund each and every one of them. In the end, I have to make tradeoffs on how we spend our funds.

You can read his full message on the next page.

For those playing along at home, the Graduate Volunteer Grant program seems to be one of those “fake jobs” programs that law schools use now to pump up their employment stats for the U.S. News rankings. Students who can’t get jobs can apply for grants to “volunteer” somewhere, and USC will foot the bill, arguably until the end of the U.S. News reporting period. This USC PDF describes it as a “great résumé builder and networking opportunity.” So Rasmussen is saying that the school can’t pay for caps and gowns because the school is too busy paying students who can’t find work. Is that a “student service” really, or is it more of a masking agent designed to hide students who have not yet been properly served by the law school?

I’m going to guess that USC is a good enough school that its 3Ls can spot a “false choice” when they see one. Is funding a post-graduate, fake-job scholarship important? Sure. Let’s stipulate that it’s more important than this commencement kerfuffle. But let’s not act like kicking in for graduation rentals would topple the budget of THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA LAW SCHOOL, or require deep cuts in student services.

USC has about 200 students in its graduating class, and another 150 LL.Ms. At $100 a pop, that’s… $35,000! Let’s call it $50,000 to account for the time an administrative monkey has to take to order the gowns and blast out an email saying “come pick up your gown.” That cost is a rounding error WHEN YOU CHARGE $55K PER YEAR! Or maybe just ask your 6th best, tenure-tracked, comparative analysis of the law of Clovis people professor to take a haircut and give your students a goddamn tassel.

On the other hand… students better get used to paying USC more money than it deserves. Some of them are going to be doing it for the rest of their lives.

(Read the Dean’s miserly message on the next page….)

(hidden for your protection)

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