Monday, March 22, 2010

Law Weekly: Giving Frustration

A couple of you wrote in or commented about it was frustrating to be asked for a donation pledge to the Law School Foundation by "Class Agents". I promised to try and make your grievances known, and I wrote a column in Friday's Law Weekly that takes up the issue:
It’s fair to say that—once again—the Class of 2010 is mumbling.
This time it’s not about people boycotting Pong-for-PILA or not having their corporations exams graded quickly enough. This time, the target is the Law School Foundation pledge drive.
Every year in the spring, a group of student volunteers organize a pledge drive for the Law School Foundation; current students are asked to “pledge” that they will give a donation in future years (i.e. after they graduate). To sign up, students simply fill out a “pledge card,” and it’s a done deal. Students can theoretically give any amount they wish.

It has been, historically, an effective process. U.Va. has one of the highest alumni giving rates overall, and has the highest giving rate for students in their first year after graduating (93 percent of the Class of 2009 pledged to give a gift; 88 percent of the Class of 2008 did so). This is good for the Law School Foundation, which uses the money for everything from improvements to the Law School, to scholarships for academically gifted students, to the new Public Interest Fellowship program discussed in these pages a few weeks ago, which will pay otherwise-unemployed graduates up to $2,250 a month to do volunteer legal work.
So why are people upset about being pushed for a pledge? Consider the following conversation with Michael Williams, an amalgamation of the disenchanted with whom I spoke:
AH: “So, Michael, can you tell me why you’re upset?”
Williams: “I’m upset because I’ve done nothing but bleed money to this school. For the past three years, I’ve watched my tuition go way up, the cost of my books go up, my fees go up, and my job prospects go down. And it’s not just the tuition; it’s everything else. The expensive parking I have to pay; the $75 I’ve dropped for a locker and the $55 I’m paying to some committee run by g-d-knows-whom who says I need to pay it to graduate so it can fund events I’m not planning on attending.”
“But as expensive as Law School tuition has become, the Law School Foundation uses money to help keep it from going even higher; a large portion of their funds go to financial aid.”
“Give me a break. Financial aid is used to lure people with high LSATs and other people that the admissions office considers a priority for some reason. Doesn’t affect little old me, who along with hundreds of others has been bleeding the full amount of the tuition, fees, and whatever else into my 6.8–percent–plus loans every year. Let the people who are getting the fat scholarships and the have the six-figure jobs lined up next fall pledge all they want. The only pledge I can keep up with is the one I made to the Bank of American Consolidated Student Loan division.”
“Okay, but surely you agree that giving back is important?“
Giving back is important, but I’d rather give money—if I had any, which I don’t—to people who actually need it: those who are without food, clothes, or medicine; the people who are working to help the less fortunate; to eradicate disease; to make the world a better place. Once I am able to match my donations to them with the $120,000 that I have already given the Law School, then we can talk about my pledge . . .”
And it goes on.
I think that Michael has a point: It’s tough to give blood when you feel like you’re bleeding. I don’t entirely agree with everything he’s saying; the Law School Foundation is a worthy target of donations; their student representatives are working hard to raise funds that will—on the whole—be put to good use, including helping students like Michael who are still looking for work. Moreover, donations, to the extent I can give them, might help keep tuition and other fees (slightly) less outrageous for the next generation of Law School students.
I’m going to pledge, and I think all those people who feel like they can and are comfortable doing so should do the same. But I don’t think that we should hold it against those who choose not to. A lot of people feel that they have given enough, after all, and I’ll be the last one to disagree with them.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The reason the donation rate is so high is because you can give $1 per year and it still counts as a donation.

Anonymous said...

does that say it doesn't matter or does that say you should just give?

Anonymous said...

The shakedown only gets worse.

One thing I would do differently is to pledge $10 a year for the first 10 years. I pledged $100 for the first year I was out, and now I get repeated emails and letters asking why I haven't given this year . . .

LAW 05

Anonymous said...

10:03

It just says the statistic that 90%+ donate doesn't mean much since even a minimal contribution counts.

10:16 - Sucker! :)

Anonymous said...

If a student can't commit to giving ten or fifteen bucks a year to the school, it's to make a statement. I can understand that from a student who despite best efforts did not get any interviews or callbacks. But students who had interviews and callbacks, and especially students who summered at a firm, need to grow up and acknowledge that the school did its part. If you were no-offered at the end of a firm internship, IT"S NOT THE SCHOOL'S FAULT. Blame the economy if you must, but you can't blame the school for your own inability to land the job.

Anonymous said...

Look. I think it's essential to give back later on as settled alumni, and also to help future students with networking opportunities.

But when you're young and in debt, recession or not, the school should focus on strengthening your affinity at the time of your departure so that you WILL come back and do the above later. This can be done through a lot of ways that don't involve asking for money (in fact, asking for money obviously can be counterproductive at this point).

My undergrad did the same thing as UVA... ask you for money as you were graduating and freaking out about the future. It's so much more effective to have special senior (or in this case 3L) events, then have continuing young alumni programs, and THEN solicit donations when you have a well-established (and now devoted) alumni base.