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December 06, 2006

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» why colleges should embrace a civic mission from Peter Levine
I'm traveling today to Oglethorpe University in Martin Luther King's city of Atlanta. Oglethorpe has begun a major initiative to incorporate service and civic engagement into the whole experience of its students. I'm going to moderate a day of discussi... [Read More]

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Fed Up Student

This argument brushes aside the default rule problem central to this issue. You comment that donors and tuition payers are capable of making their own allocative decisions, but that, of course, is not the heart of the matter. The issue is whether students and donors do in fact make such decisions. You would prefer a default “no donation” rule, allowing donors or students to “opt in.” But, as Sunstein and Thaler and who knows how many others have recognized, this is hardly the only principled option, and it is implausible that it is the best option. Why not instead permit donors and students to “opt out” through restricted giving? Perhaps the answer is that the university disfavors restricted giving in general, and so would like to discourage it wherever possible. But that is not likely to be a politically attractive argument for a university administrator.

If you truly are sympathetic to the work these students are doing (though much of your post implies you are not), why not take the best of both worlds: give generously to students interested in doing such work as a default, and trust in donors and tuition payers who are disinterested to opt out? Far from demonstrating faith in students and donors, your argument suggests a deeply paternalistic skepticism of their capacity to make informed decisions.

Joan A.Conway

Sorry, I am of the opinion that student's need for employment outweighs the contributions made to New Orleans. I have nothing against poor students, but they need honorable work at home, and not to be part of a youth group working for the betterment of a Katrina disaster location. Let the serious work be done by the indigious people, who possess not only the self-interest in doing the work, but they have less of the exploitiveness associated with carpet-bagging in the South.

saul levmore

It is harder than it first seems to design an opt-out system, of the kind contemplated in the first Comment here. Imagine that a non-profit announces that it will engage in X at a cost of $100,000. And now 10% of donors wish to opt out of X. They send in letters that say thank you for asking, and in fact we do not approve of X, so do not use our money for it. Now what is the fiduciary to do? Reduce the previously contemplated expenditure to $90,000? Continue the expenditure plan but imagine using other money for X? There are other possibilities, but it is hardly symmetrical with the idea of having those who approve of X support X directly. If X is part and parcel of the organization's mission, then the problem is not solved. But when X is well outside of the organization's normal mission, as in my example in the original post, then the opt-out plan seems very hard to manage, as above, and the "homemade leverage" approach seems much easier.

Fed Up Student

The “asymmetry” point really begs the question, doesn’t it? I think we can agree that you would have a hard time finding the director of any nonprofit engaged in the sort of work you describe above who would claim they are receiving donations adequate, for example, to defray the travel costs of a group of volunteers. Your argument implicitly explains this phenomenon as follows:

1. Donors who claim they wish to give $Y to charity do in fact give $Y.

2. Nonprofits must therefore have $Y. So, any who claim they do not have the money (for example) to defray the travel costs of a group of student volunteers are either deploying their resources inefficiently or lying.

My argument explains it something like this:

1. Donors who claim they wish to give $Y to charity do not always in fact give $Y.

2. Nonprofits do not have $Y. Those who claim they do not have the money (for example) to defray the travel costs of a group of student volunteers are telling the truth.

I maintain that my explanation is more plausible. You might quibble over whether students should be engaged in this work at all, or whether a nonprofit’s resources are more efficiently spent elsewhere; but then your critique should properly be focused on the entire enterprise of student volunteerism.

Why does an opt-out rule work better? Because the Law School’s payments and donations are relatively assured. Students are required to pay; and donors are much more likely to give to the law school than other nonprofits because they get vastly superior benefits from contributing to a prestigious law school than from contributing to a nonprofit engaged in charity work.

I defer to your experience as an administrator but fail to see why such a system is so challenging to set up. As for the question how best to divvy up limited resources, this seems like exactly the sort of discretionary decision a chief executive (or dean) should be making. If students or donors don’t like the decision, they can ask for a new policy.

Leif

I think we can safely posit, Fed Up, that people who are donating to the Law School do so because they want to promote or associate themselves with the Law School's mission - the furnishing of an excellent legal education to fine minds and the support of important legal research and theoretical development. Paying for students to go build houses in New Orleans is a worthy goal, but it is unrelated to the Law School's mission. People who want to build houses in New Orleans can give to Habitat for Humanity or Lutheran World Relief or any number of other organizations. Your opt-out solution is not viable for the simple reason that money is fungible and the Law School's donors, in particular, are sophisticated. If the Law School "generously" re-gifting donations to Katrina relief instead of using them to promote legal education and scholarship, not only is that money diverted from legal-educative public interest programs like StreetLaw, the total pool of available funds is likely to shrivel as donors decide to re-route funds elsewhere, leaving StreetLaw, the Magic Replenishing Katrina Relief Opt-Out Fund, and the rest of the Law School with less money.

Fed Up Student

Leif:

First, the stickiness of default rules is largely independent of the "sophisticatedness" of implicated parties. I am "sophisticated" under your definition of the word, and can assure you that I am significantly impacted by defaults, as are many (most?) of my peers.

Second, I suggested in my initial post that donors who were "sophisticated" enough to overcome the default would do so through restricted giving. This seems much more likely than simply refusing to give. (Or are you suggesting they would refuse to give out of some animus towards the Law School for having sponsored Katrina relief?) For instance, a donor might insist that his money be used to promote what you call "legal-educative public interest programs." (I love Streetlaw, but think the line between it and, say, Katrina relief in New Orleans is blurrier than you are supposing.) Or a donor might simply request that his funds be used for faculty salaries.

To be clear, I don't think the arguments made by the original poster were intended to be limited to the Katrina example. But suppose they were. In the aftermath of a given disaster, where students have expressed interest in helping in a "non-legal-educative" sense, what is the difficulty in agreeing to use some fractional percentage of annual giving that year to fund these students, subject to an opt-out rule? In the discrete example case, it could be as simple as an email to donors explaining that if they wish their funds not to be used for [the discrete example], please reply. This is no different in principle than the opt-in scenario, will almost certainly obtain more money for a concededly worth cause, and has the side benefit of not stomping on the morale of current students (and future donors.)

I suspect what's really tripping you up is that you feel that opt-out really IS different in principle. It feels like donors who mean to be funding "legal educative" activities are getting tricked into funding something else. If that's what the sticking point is, we should bear in mind the flip side of the coin that all charities face: the "opt-in" scenario in which prospective donors pledge money in good faith - but never get around to writing the check. I believe the two systems are identical in principle, but to the extent they differ, I prefer the consequences of the opt-out.

Leif

Fed Up, several points:
1. Though I didn't address it above, I find it hard to comprehend your baseline assumption - is it your belief that the Law School should sponsor Katrina relief because that's a better use of the money than promoting legal education? Or does it promote the Law School's mission by aligning the Law School itself with the interest of its students, who are a large and important bloc of stakeholders in the Law School's charitable enterprise? Your argument seems to be that people donate money to "do good," and that the allocation of that money among "do-gooders" is unimportant.
2. You ignore the fact that money is fungible. This means that my $50 contribution to the Law School, whether I restrict its use in my donation or not, is essentially a $50 contribution to the general budget. If I direct that money to, say, the L&E Program, then Dean Levmore's response is, "Great, that's $50 allocated to that budget item, freeing up $50 in the general pool to go elsewhere." Restricted giving works only when there is a critical mass of particular restrictions or a particular gift is so large as to affect the Law School's institutional operations - I can plausibly restrict $50,000 to fund the L&E program because that is likely to be a large and noticeable part of the program's (and the Law School's) budget; if the 2006-07 L&E budget doesn't move from the 05-06 budget, I know something's fishy. That monitoring is not possible with the smaller types of gifts that most alumni are capable of giving.
3. I don't see the parallels between donors not funding pledges and donors funding pledges to do something else. What is the parallel between me giving $50 to the Law School and me telling Habitat, "Hey, I'll give you $50," and then not following through? Do you assume that I intended to give Habitat the $50 and then welshed? Is that any different than if the pledge itself was a lie? Either way, why does me giving the Law School $50 mean that Habitat is somehow entitled to that $50 (or a fraction of it)? I assume this has something to do with the relative incomes and endowments of the two charities. Why is Habitat entitled to my money through the Law School just because some other guy didn't donate to Habitat when he said he would? Does that mean that the Law School is entitled to some of the Ford Foundation's money because someone didn't follow through on a pledge to the Law School? That my church is entitled to Habitat money because people didn't follow through on their tithes?
4. There are many more available giving opportunities than there are people giving money to the Law School. If I give to the Law School because I want to fund legal education and scholarship and I see that the Law School is spending money on things unrelated to that goal - building houses in the Louisiana floodplains - why should I not redirect my funds to somewhere where they will be used to further my goal? University of Houston, or University of Texas, or even the local high school's civics department? The tax break for me is the same.
5. Related to (4) and (3) above, alumni donations are not just a method of funding the Law School's mission; they are a way of keeping alumni connected to the school. That builds community across classes and also leads to other opportunities, social and economic, for students and alumni (especially students who are interviewing with alumni favorably disposed to the Law School!). If the Law School deviates from the mission its alumni intend to sponsor, those alumni are less favorably inclined toward the school, less involved with the school, and less likely to donate. Everyone suffers. (Could alumni be more favorably disposed to the Law School because it sponsors Katrina relief? Possibly. But if the next discrete project is something else, we must factor the cumulative effect of distaste and the possibility that more discrete projects irritates - and pleases - more groups of alumni.)
6. Why can't students petition the Chicago Bar Foundation, the Illinois Bar Foundation, or local church or humanitarian groups for sponsorships? Certainly they have funds available (or could try to procure them), and their missions are more closely aligned with Katrina relief than is the Law School's. The Houston Bar and Houston Young Lawyer Foundations and the Houston Bar and Houston Young Lawyer Associations, for instance, sponsored several hurricane relief projects, with cash, in-kind donations, and volunteer hours.
7. I could care less about the morale of Law School students. If they wanted kissy-kissy feel-goodism, they should've gone to Yale.

jam

I am mystified -- and somewhat offended -- by the underlying assumption that providing limited funds to assist students who wish to volunteer for relief efforts in the wake of a national disaster is incongruous with the Law School's goals. I suppose it is all about how we conceive of the Law School's mission. Leif seems to think it is about promoting cutting-edge legal thinking, and I would tend to agree that the Law School does and should do this, though I consider it far too narrow a vision for this or any Law School.

I would suggest that the Law School exists in a broader sense to train and develop outstanding new lawyers. Such a mission includes incubating new ideas and exposing students to them. But it also includes teaching the fundamental skills and topics a competent lawyer needs to know. And it includes contextualizing the practice of law, both by situating legal concepts in ideas from other disciplines and by examining the relation of law and lawyers to the rest of our society.

This latter purpose is met in many ways, including the clinical programs that the Law School offers, the sponsorship of extra-curricular efforts like Street Law, and, I would suggest, through providing support for students who wish to engage in non-partisan community service efforts. The Law School does not support Street Law because it teaches students more about the law; the program is valuable because it provides a service to the community and it exposes students to the community in a way that informs their understandings of the law and the society that law governs. Street Law is but one example of how the Law School's practices suggest that the institution functions in pursuit of a broad mission. If, by contrast, the Law School sought only to develop new ideas and expose students to those ideas, the curriculum would probably look much different: there might be fewer clinics, maybe all students would be required to work as research assistants or on journals, there might be a higher substantial writing requirement, every student might be required to participate in at least one subject-specific workshop course each year, Greenberg seminars might be mandatory rather than elective, students might not be able to use moot court and clinical writing to satisfy the substantial writing requirement, there might be fewer classes offered on practical areas of law and more theoretical seminars, etc.

I do not see a difference in kind between Street Law and students wishing to volunteer rebuilding homes destroyed by hurricane Katrina. Despite all the rhetoric in the prior posts, this is not a conversation about the Law School repackaging donations sent to it and directing them to a relief agency; rather, it is about a student-initiated request that the Law School provide limited funds to students for activities that those students wish to pursue. When, as here, there is educational value to proposed student activities, reasonable funding is related to the Law School's mission. Indeed, some alumni -- myself included -- might be more inclined to support the Law School's capital campaigns if we saw evidence that the Law School saw its educational goals holistically and responded fairly and reasonably to student initiatives within the institution's mission.

The Dean can be clever and contrarian, and he can continue to prefer economic abstractions to reality, but by privileging his values over all others he risks turning the Law School into a parody of some of its virtues. All of us affiliated with the Law School would be better served by an institution more concerned with fulfilling its mission broadly and creatively, providing not only new ideas in the classroom but also new experiences for those who choose to do some of their learning beyond its walls. So focused, the Law School could stimulate its students and continue to explore new terrain as a leader in the legal community.

Cynic

Leif, the last point you make seems to me the most telling.

Why aren't we concerned with law students' morale? Do we truly see it as the Law School's goal to churn out firm lawyer after firm lawyer, without regard for the student's engagement with real life outside of the confines of the ivory tower and/or corporate America? Silly me; I thought Harvard was the only one we could rhetorically accuse of that particular vice.

The fact of the matter is that the Law School's graduates don't graduate into a world of crisp, clear legal thinking in a bubble of pure law and economics. They graduate into a world of cold, hard realities. Institutions like the University of Chicago have a responsibility to their students, period. Just as parents who allow their children to become spoiled brats cannot escape culpability by pointing to the fact that they provided food and shelter, so a well-endowed and socially influential powerhouse like the University of Chicago cannot escape its very real social responsibilities by clapping its hands, like Pontius Pilate, and pretending that its students had every option in the world, and THEY were the selfish ones who opted to make money instead of saving the world. If my parents will only support me if I choose to become a banker, and not if I choose to become global aid worker, my parents cannot pretend that they are not directing me toward a career in banking. Parents and law schools structure incentives with an actual goal in mind. Dean Levmore has made clear the goal he has in mind: more money for the Law School. In fairness, I suppose that's part of his job description. But don't be fooled into thinking that his assessment of the "appropriate" use of donation money has ANYTHING to do with the proper activity of a law school, as supposed by an objective observer.

The fact of the matter is that University of Chicago students Do Not have options that are not opened to them by the school or perhaps by wealthy parents. Chicago's graduates, by and large, leave the Law School under pain of crushingly enormous debt. The social reality is that the only way to relieve themselves of this burden before they're 40 (assuming a median graduate age of 25-27 or so) is to commit some of their most productive and mentally healthy years to toiling away at a large law firm. The Law School cannot make it practically impossible to find realistic public service options, and then shrug its shoulders and say "working at a firm is their choice," when monetary constraints IN FACT do not give many students much of a choice at all. For the Law School to graduate law students with no sense of social responsibility and no desire or means to make the world a better place, is for the Law School to step into the shoes of a neglectful parent.

Have we as a society truly become so calloused that we think our universities and educational institutions immune from the realities of the world? Do we honestly think that schools, which receive quite-substantial sums of money from the government, fulfill their responsibility to the taxpayers by focusing on the bottom line, rather than on the contributions their students make to the real world from whence they came? Is there sincere disagreement that our institutions of higher learning must make themselves valuable to the world in which they exist, rather than merely to the privileged alumni and donors? As someone who has looked up to and admired universities and colleges as a place where well-rounded, life-enhancing education takes place, I find this line of reasoning disheartening, to say the least.

Leif

The problem with the "holistic approach" is that the Law School does not exist to teach everything; indeed, it shouldn't because it would then likely fail at teaching anything. It exists to teach the law. Life experience provides other tools; it is not the Law School's place or mission to teach sympathy, empathy, understanding, or even citizenship. These are life skills and basic building blocks that we should assume one competent and distinguished enough to earn admission to the Law School already possesses.
The Law School is not organized to do some general sort of good. Like all charities, it has a mission; like all charities, it has a moral and, yes, legal obligation to act as a trustee for the donations that are given it to further that mission. The USO does not pay to install computers in underfunded classrooms, even if that's what a bunch of servicemembers would like it to do. Similarly, the Law School's donors intent their funds to further the Law School's mission: Excellence in legal scholarship and education.
Part of that mission, it is true, is building a scholarly community where ideas and debate can flourish, and, in this regard, funding student activities that promote student cooperation and interaction furthers the Law School's mission. The Trivia Contest, for instance, is fairly worthless as a vehicle for educating anyone on anything substantive, but it builds community among the Law School and enhances and creates relationships among a large number of students. Unless things have changed since I graduated, the Law School's policy on "study abroad" is similar - it provides few concrete benefits in actually learning the law and separates the student from the scholarly community that the Law School hopes to build, and the Law School therefore does not allow it as a part of the general curriculum. Everything I've heard about this unfunded Katrina mission (and, yes, I am coming at this from an abstract point of view; I know none of the facts on the ground) emphasizes that it would involve a limited number of students at a great physical remove from the rest of the Law School. That does not build support for the program because of its limited extent; it weakens it by emphasizing that there is no way to involve a significant number of members of the Law School community.
Jeff tries the neat rhetorical trick of characterizing the student request as "limited funds," but that's a red herring; of course no student group asked for the entirety of the Law School's endowment or budget to fund this trip. All requests are limited, just as all resources are limited - we must establish the baseline rule before we can determine the exact contours of the policy and any exceptions. Dean Levmore proposes the baseline policy - we are given this money for a reason, and spending it to rebuild houses ain't exactly promoting the reason we got it. It is possible that funding the Katrina relief trip would've been a de minimis intrusion on the general rule and furnished enough positive p.r. and engendered enough student enthusiasm that an exception would've been allowable. That doesn't change the need or rationale for the baseline rule.
Jeff's own descriptions of Street Law emphasize this point. Street Law builds participation in the community AND student understanding of the law and its uses and effects on the community. Rebuilding houses for Katrina . . . doesn't. It's rebuilding houses. It's a noble goal, but it does not promote legal scholarship or education. The Law School does not exist in a vacuum; it exists for a specific purpose in a universe of other institutions that exist for other special, sometimes complementary, sometimes competitive purposes. Again, other organizations can and do fund these types of trips. Local churches and bar organizations - even fellow students - could have been approached to defray some of these costs. The Law School, because it is a deep pocket, is an easy and unfortunate target.
The "breadth" of the Law School's mission isn't at issue. Katrina relief has zero to do with that mission. I have no idea what the request was for funds - say it was $5000. In my time at the Law School, that would've paid for over two months of paid student effort at one of the clinics over the summer. How many additional supplies would that money have furnished Street Law? How many additional clients could the IJ clinic have assisted with that money? How much additional, potentially case-dispositive and life-saving research could that money have funded at the MacArthur Clinic? These questions do not exist in isolation.
I have frequently disagreed with Dean Levmore in matters scholarly and with regards to the Law School. Not here. Far from "privileging" his point of view to the detriment of the Law School's mission, he has undertaken a clear-headed analysis of the competing factors, stood up to politically- and socially-powerful winds, and made the correct call.

Leif

Cynic, your comments are interesting, but you read too much into a throwaway comment. Student morale is important to the extent that it builds upon and enhances the scholarly community necessary for the Law School's fulfillment of its mission. The Law School itself, however, does not exist to make students feel good about themselves. The only substantive response I have to what you write is that students - independent and mature moral actors - know what they're in for when they show up for the first day of class.

jam

Leif, now you are the one playing rhetorical games. You characterize my post as calling for the Law School to be all things to all people with such a universalist mission as to be unattainable mush. But that is not at all what I said. Indeed, I looked to your initial post in considering how to discuss the Law School's mission.

As you initially posited, the Law School exists for "the furnishing of an excellent legal education to fine minds and the support of important legal research and theoretical development." The question, then, is not whether students building houses in the Gulf area would teach them anything, the question is whether it can fairly be understood as part of "an excellent legal education." I suggest it can. You disagree. That's fine, but don't make a caricature of my perspective, batter its exaggerated features, and then pat yourself on the back for undermining the specifics of my argument.

You also distort what I said about Street Law. As I said, I believe that students do learn from Street Law, but what they learn is not the law. Rather, they learn about law's impact and the way that it is understood by non-lawyers. Analogous lessons are similarly available in the aftermath of Katrina. Whereas Street Law provides context for issues of federal and constitutional law and policy, rebuilding the Gulf would provide context for issues of administrative law, local government law, state and local politics, real estate law, insurance law, health care law, the legal consequences of natural disasters, etc. You characterize the work as nothing more than building houses, as if that itself happens in a vacuum; as if those doing the rebuilding neither see the landscape around them nor interact with the residents and those leading the rebuilding efforts. The only real difference is one of location. It seems provincial to suggest that the Law School -- which rightly considers itself an institution of national scope and stature -- should support only programs within an x-mile radius from the building.

The Law School may be an easy target, but it is not an "unfortunate" one. Students rightly look to the Law School to provide as complete a legal education as possible. Where, as here, students have a reasonable case to make, asking the Law School for money is entirely fair and appropriate.

anon

I agree with jam. The problem is a line-drawing one: what activities are appropriately funded as part of a law school education? Lief tries to draw some kind of line at "educative" activities, but then concedes that activities such as the Trivia Contest do little in that regard (see also Wine Mess). Fairly understood, it seems reasonable to say that activities that help put classroom activities in context (as with Streetlaw, or, I would say, Katrina relief) are properly within the mission of the Law School.

Dean Levmore tries to draw a line with "no money to other 501(c)(3)s." His argument is a polite way of telling other nonprofits to do their own fundraising. But, as Fed Up Student points out above, there are good reasons to think that donors might be much more likely to donate to the law school than to individual charities engaged in activities like Katrina relief. So long as current law school students wish to engage in such activities, and donors don't object, I fail to understand the Dean's concerns.

Leif

Anon, you misconstrue my point - draw the baseline, then establish contours and exceptions. Trivia Bowl can be said to promote the community that the Law School is trying to engender (and, at least when I ran it, the only expense was note cards, for which we were reimbursed the grand total of around $45, which would also qualify under the de minimis exception I stated). Wine Mess - again, at least when I helped run it - runs off of its own profits. The Katrina relief project would do neither of those.
Learning about the law's impact and laymen's understanding of the law are, in fact, learning about the law and how to lawyer. Rebuilding houses would not provide "context" for understanding the law; everyone knows that the Gulf hurricanes were incredibly destructive and that people need relief - more spiritual and physical that legal, but legal, too. No one proposed funding FEMA relief application assistance, or HUD waiver assistance, or issues of property recovery, job retention and unemployment amelioration, or continuation of government benefits receipt. Rebuilding houses is, as I have said, a good and noble goal. It is not lobbying. It is not advocacy. It is not education of the layman. It is not administrative action or relief. It is not legal education.
The only argument I have heard for funding this project is that students want it (arguably permissibly funded, then, if it sufficiently builds community and has a concommitant de minimis effect on Law School funding) and that it "provides context" or "a complete legal education." Knowing that people need shelter is common sense, not legal education and research. Assertion will not make it so.

jam

Leif, you continue to adhere to a belief that when one goes to build a house, one does nothing save for hammer and nail in a vacuum. If that's true, your argument has greater force. But it is almost certainly not true. It is far more likely that, in going to help rebuild houses, students would also converse with locals and those who are working on rebuilding the Gulf area full-time. Those conversations would themselves provide context and educational content. Students would also almost certainly see -- and probably actively explore -- areas of the Gulf other than the specific plots of land on which they were undertaking construction. Their observations, and the questions those observations provoked and the answers that they received, would provide context and educational content. You are correct that the simple geometry and physical labor of building a house is removed from legal education, but to see this project solely in those terms cannot be described as anything but deliberately obtuse.

As you say, we all know that people need shelter; but the questions here are far more complex and, yes, educational. Why don't these people have shelter 15 months after a natural disaster that riveted national attention and triggered a federal government response? What are the obstacles -- legal, political, economic, social -- to rebuilding? What are the roles, the successes, the pitfalls of federal, state, and local efforts thus far? What have non-governmental entities -- charities, religious organizations, businesses, private foundations -- done to help, and what should their role be in a situation like this? What could be done better next time? And what do we learn from this situation about the strengths and weaknesses of our governmental and legal regimes in general? These questions have implications for any student who wants to work at any level of government or to live in any American community that has the risk of suffering from a natural disaster or some sort.

The Law School offers a seminar on the rebuilding of Iraq after the American invasion. Many of the questions that course raises are similar to those begged by Katrina and its aftermath. I don't imagine that there would be much protest if the Law School offered a seminar about the aftermath of Katrina. The reason being that there are lessons to be learned from this. Will students rebuilding learn as much as they would in a seminar? Even assuming arguendo that the answer is a definite no, there is still plenty that they can and will learn, and, in the absence of a classroom alternative for those lessons, there's no reason to deny that this kind of experiential learning can be part of a legal education.

Leif

Jeff, you clearly have a different understanding of how Habitat projects work than I do.

Leif

Whoops, sorry to have left just a fragment of a response.

I have never said that students would be rebuilding houses "in a vacuum," so try for another strawman. What I have said is that building houses is not legal education, and you have presented nothing to challenge that. You have now spun a request for funding to go to New Orleans to build houses into some sort of roving socio-legal research mission, all about "furnishing context" and deriving "educational content" from questions that "observations provoked." I don't know what your experience with Habitat has been, but mine has been that you are there building houses, and your interaction is pretty much with other people building houses. Dedicated Habitat missions like this typically have volunteers working a full day - usually more like 12 to 15 hours - before cutting them loose for the night.

This is not some kind of investigative junket that students are asking for. No one sat down and called Admiral Allen to see who was available from his office for an interview or a panel discussion. No one is talking to the regional FEMA staff, the Louisiana government bureaucrats, or the OIG inspectors. Neither is anyone going to be compiling an oral history of denied claims, misdirected paperwork, or bureaucratic foul-ups. No one is setting up a brief seminar with Catholic Charities, the Bush-Clinton Fund, Habitat, and Toys for Tots to compare notes and research more effective means of delivering relief - and, even if they were, that is a charitable logistics matter, not a matter of law.

These questions can be raised by reading a newspaper. These questions, in fact, have been raised in every reputable paper with which I am familiar. What is rebuilding houses and talking with people from wrecked neighborhoods going to do to enhance students' legal educations? "Raising questions" does not get to answers; if you want the Law School to fund a research mission or a clinical expedition, that's great. But you've now spun a completely hypothetical scenario that - based on Dean Levmore's post and the student responses - we can assume was never considered or presented. Had you proposed such a program to Dean Levmore, perhaps his response would have been different. But floating and taping sheetrock has about as much relevance to legal education as scooping bowls full of soup at a 69th Street mission. Both are worthy and noble endeavors; both are outside the Law School's mission.

"Providing context" is talking about how facts on the ground change the application of the law. The students on the ground will be learning nothing of the law. "There's plenty they can and will learn" - yes, but what of it about the law? You posit that students will come to some grand realizations about the forest of federalism, disaster relief, and socio-political effects of administrative regimes from their experience in repairing a fraction of the bark on one tree.

The Law School is a charity. It holds donations in trust for donees in furtherance of its mission - furnishing an excellent legal education and supporting excellence in legal scholarship. Funding a research endeavor or "on location" legal expedition like the one you have imagined students were going to take? Potentially a wonderful learning experience that can be used to educate students about a variety of topics and their relevance to lives on the ground. Handing cash to students so they can go learn how to frame, level, pour, wire, and plumb - over a Spring Break in New Orleans, no less, which can certainly lead to questions about the true motives for many students who are looking for a handout? Probably a wonderful learning experience for the student who wants to learn how to frame, level, pour, wire, and plumb.

That a thing is good does make it part of the Law School's mission.

Thoughtful

"Whereas Street Law provides context for issues of federal and constitutional law and policy, rebuilding the Gulf would provide context for issues of [big list of bs]. ... The only real difference is one of location."

Unbelievable. Your argument really should be that the law school should subsidize every aspect of your life. I'm sure if I was smoking whatever you are, I could find some "legal" angel for every possible life experience.

I would take the Dean's argument a step further. Why do we bother with wasteful loan forgiveness programs for those students who end up wasting their lives in public interest?

Donors to the law school aren't (or shouldn't be) interested in subsidizing failure (i.e., the inability to command a decent wage). If they are they should donate to those organizations themselves. Students interested in those careers would do us all a favor by attending lower-ranked schools and getting scholarships. By providing the carrot you're creating inefficiencies--lawyers that end up in low value jobs but with high class credentials.

It's time to cut back.

ib

The idea that wages track socially beneficial output is questionable in the first place and unquestionably mistaken when the demanders are under liquidity constraints as substantial as those of many Katrina victims. Presuming you are thoughtful, rather than a classist merely rationalizing your own status, you'll find a course in basic micro gratifying.

Terry

As a Teacher in Australia I referred my students to this discussion. I must admit it became quite lively at times and can assure you each student took away a different perspective to the subject matter.

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