Friday, April 06, 2007

Summer Funding Restrictions Courtesy the Catholic Church

A very distressing story has been developing at Georgetown University Law Center over the past week or so. Like many other law schools, Georgetown does not guarantee summer funding for public interest work by 1L students, but has a competitive process for awarding some grants to some students led by its Equal Justice Foundation (similar to Columbia’s PILF). Some of the funds are directly raised by the student group, and some kicked in through the administration’s fundraising efforts. When a 1L student sought funding for work at Planned Parenthood, the student group selected her to receive funding, but Dean Alex Alenikoff vetoed that decision, saying (full story here: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2007/04/06/georgetown)

There are a number of highly troubling issues here. One basic one is that it seems pretty unfair to spring this policy decision on a student in the spring, when most employment decisions are made. (Though, presumably the Public Interest office was able to help the student in question receive outside funding.) It also seems to come completely and entirely out of the blue. Like many avowed pro-choice liberals, I applied to Georgetown Law, and strongly considered attending it. One of the reasons was that it actually is a place where liberal ideals of public service are actively fostered. The Law Center employs some top progressive legal thinkers, including Lawrence Gostin, David Vladeck and Chai Feldblum (and until his recent passing, Father Robert Drinan- former Congressman, Roman Catholic priest, and pro-choice). At no point would a student have any reason to think that their career options would be vetted by the “Jesuit heritage” of the school. I was actually just at Georgetown Law last week, where the school’s Outlaws group hosted a luncheon for law students lobbying against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. This school does not give the impression of one concerned with adhering to the Catholic Church’s teachings as much as supporting a new generation of lawyers in their pursuit of justice.

The second major concern is how far does this seemingly new “policy” go. If GULC prohibits its students from funding work in reproductive rights, will it prohibit funding of gay rights work as well? Though Alenikoff refers to abortion as part of the institutions “core identity”, abortion is mentioned fewer times in the bible than homosexuality is. Further, Georgetown hosts several outstanding clinical programs. Will the school force them to turn down all cases not in line with Catholic Church teachings? The school employs some very passionate pro-choice scholars- will they be limited in what they can say in the classroom? In their scholarship?

In the end, I can’t think that this decision would do anything to help Georgetown Law in the long-run. When career choices are effectively censored because of religious dogma, that censorship permeates the entire academic institution. The majority of Georgetown Law students, from my own informal but detailed knowledge, are pro-choice, and pro- a lot of other things the Catholic Church might disagree with. Georgetown Law’s reputation as a top law school has little to do with dogma, and a lot to do with its historical emphasis on public service. Actions like this may deprive Georgetown of dedicated, bright students with an eye on changing the world. Hopefully, they will be supported elsewhere.

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