Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fighting for our students

I was at AALS last week. In my seven years in the academic success community, I have never experienced anything quite like last week's conference. There were two messages coming from AALS, and both messages are important for everyone in legal education: law school is too expensive, and law schools are not doing enough to increase diversity. I will discuss both messages, and the implications for ASP, in turn.

1) Law school is too expensive.

I listened to more than one speaker claim that "services"--one speaker singled out ASP--are the cause of tuition hikes. At the vast majority of schools, there is only one person in ASP (and maybe not even full-time). To isolate ASP as the cause of tuition increases is disingenuous at best, and deceitful at worst. We are paid a fraction of the salary of one tenured faculty member, but most of us work long hours to help our students succeed.

Attacking ASP and other service providers is easy; few of us have tenure, even fewer have voting rights, many of us are at-will employees, and therefore, it's difficult for us to defend our roles without threatening our employment. Staying quiet is easy, but ultimately, self-defeating. If we don't start defending what we do, and our cost-effectiveness, we will be easy to cut. Kudos to Herb Ramy who addressed this at his presentation at AALS--we keep students in school, and we earn our keep. Threatening ASP means more students will fail out of law school and fewer students will be paying tuition.

There is still the problem of escalating law school tuition at a time when our students are finding it hard to find jobs. Whether we like it or not, that is our problem, too. None of us have control over law school tuition hikes, but we do have the power to help our students. I have always considered a part of my job to help my students find jobs. Every year I meet with students who want to know how to work in education. I consider it a part of my duty as a member of a law school to brainstorm employment options with my students, write recommendations, and call in favors, when I can, to help students find employment.  I don't pretend to be in career services, but if I know someone who is looking for an academic counselor, I will pass along the resume of one of my students. This is a lesson I learned at my alma mater, where it was not uncommon for professors to help students with their job search.

2) Law schools are not doing enough to increase diversity.

Attacking ASP while lamenting the lack of diversity in the law makes no sense. ASP was born out of efforts to diversify the legal profession and help all students, regardless of ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic status, succeed in law school and as lawyers. Many of us are in ASP because we are committed to the success of underrepresented populations. At our core, ASP is about helping the neediest students, students who have no "family money" to rely on once they get out of law school, students who may be the first in their family to graduate from high school--let alone professional school, students who may be supporting their family while in law school.

This is about fighting for our students. It's about helping the neediest students make it through law school, after they have acquired debt to finance their first semester or year of law school.  It's about making law school a safe, healthy place for all students, of all backgrounds. It's about making diversity a priority. We need to fight for ASP because it is about helping students, not ourselves. We have a duty to our students, to help them achieve their personal best and to help them find their place in the profession. Helping our students means we need to start speaking up for ourselves. The time to wish for an economic miracle has passed; we need to get fired up for our students and for ourselves. (RCF)

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