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Budget crunch details emerge

Layoffs, clinical cuts topped off by free coffee reduction

9/10/09
Harvard Law Record

The fragile state of the global economy has continued to impact the Harvard Law School budget, leading to slashes in clinical services and layoffs, in addition to cuts to some of the school's most conspicuous and controversial luxuries.

On September 4, an email by Dean of Students Ellen Cosgrove detailed the reduction in perks students would begin to notice at HLS, where, under the tenure of former Dean (and now Solicitor General) Elena Kagan '86, free food for events and even some classes had become common, free coffee abounded from morning until noon, and a logo-emblazoned skating rink animated Jarvis Field during the cold winter months.

The lifestyle changes students face are not stark: the free coffee has not been completely cut, as was rumored, but will be served in fewer locations, and is expected to last only until 10:15. A survey later sent to the student body by Cosgrove asked whether students would share in cost-cutting efforts by providing their own mugs rather than relying on the paper cups the school now buys. Likewise, free food will be rarer at events, and the hours of the dining facilities at Harkness Commons will be reduced depending on demand.

More problematic may be reductions in financial support for events and conferences, many of which were sponsored by now-struggling law firms. Cosgrove wrote that less support for events may ensure that the remainder are "robustly attended," but several journals are now concerned about their ability to win competitive funding for traditional activities, such as their symposia. Also impacting intellectual life may be shortened library hours.

Cosgrove's email did not mention several of the cost-cutting moves made by the school in the past few months, including layoffs of twelve employees last spring, in response to a university request that the law school trim its overall budget by 10%, and a recently-reported 37% reduction in the budget of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain. The latter move has forced both its own layoffs - three workers were let go from the center - as well as the move of four of its thirteen clinics from the Boston neighborhood to HLS' Cambridge campus, further from their current client base, but potentially more accessible to other low income clients.

In the Harvard Crimson, HLS spokesman Robb London defended the clinical budget cut by noting that the Legal Services Center budget was out of proportion to the number of students who worked there, and that some money would be redistributed to Cambridge clinics and the Legal Services Bureau, which aim to serve the same types of clients. Critics still charge that the student experience would not be the same as when working in the commu