OpEd: GW Law Reverses Course on Numbers Boosting Stipend Program, But Is the Real Damage Already Done?

My alma mater has been in the news the past few days, first for reducing the stipend for an under-employed graduates program, then for restoring the funding in response to student complaints (and probably some not-so-gentle prodding from Above the Law). While there are many good arguments both for and against providing a stipend program, under which schools work with employers to fund temporary jobs for those students who have been unable to find full employment, the way this situation was handled by the school's administration almost beggars belief.

The reason for Dean Paul Schiff Berman's initial decision to reduce the Pathways to Practice stipend from $15 per hour to $10 per hour was noted in the ATL article noted above. From that post:

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.

Putting aside the reason why this program is in place (boosting employment numbers for the US New Rankings) and any legitimate arguments for why this program shouldn't be seen as a guarantee by participants, putting aside whether or not the program is generous (some evidence suggests that it is), even putting aside the fact that the program was restored, suggesting that recent graduates are turning down any realistic job opportunities to stay in a $15 per hour program is ludicrous and extremely patronizing. I graduated from the school in 2011, and while I have taken what has been, at times, a wildly untraditional approach to law school and subsequent employment issues, I think I can speak for my fellow graduates when I say that there is nothing many of them would like better than a full-time job.

I personally don't know of anyone who has turned down full-time employment for any reason, never mind to keep a $15 per hour, 30 hour week stipend from a University which can run into multiples of hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend. The people I graduated with were hard-working, diligent and intelligent. They certainly won't take kindly to being told that they are bypassing opportunities or not trying hard enough to find jobs while they live on the dole. As the donations of tomorrow will come from these graduates of today, Dean Berman should reevaluate exactly what 'incentives' he is trying to align. 

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