Officials at Antioch Law School are investigating two incidents in which frustrations over financial aid last week led to a smashed window, a lawsuit against the school and a fight between a law student and Antioch's financial aid director.
Thomas Hendershot, attorney for Caroline Mack, the school's financial aid director, said his client was "seriously injured," with two broken bones in her face and a black eye, after an altercation Monday between her and second-year law student Gail Gipson. Gipson said Mack struck her first.
The incident occurred after Mack was handed a summons in connection with a lawsuit that Gipson has filed against Mack and the school, contending she wasn't getting enough financial aid.
On the same day, Arnulfo Chapa, another second-year law student with financial troubles, said he smashed a window in the financial aid office after being told that he did not qualify for the work-study income he said he believed was essential to continuing at Antioch. That incident also will be investigated by the school, officials said.
Both are rather extreme examples of growing frustrations at Antioch and other institutions over continuing tuition increases and more stringent standards for federal financial aid.
"I was so frustrated. I'm talking about my career," said Chapa, who supports a 4-year-old son on $650 in disability income.
Gipson said she supports two sons by herself and that she was entitled to $1,900 in financial aid. Mack said, however, that Gipson was entitled to only $783. Gipson has filed suit in D.C. Superior Court for $10,000. "I have no job, no other income. The financial aid officer is totally insensitive," Gipson said.
Mack had been served with a summons for the lawsuit at the school's financial aid office and encountered Gipson while heading for the registrar's office. Gipson contends that Mack was irate and started the scuffle.
Mack, through her attorney, says that she was distressed by the summons but asserts that Gipson started the scuffle.
Mack said she is being blamed for more stringent federal standards for financial aid that are beyond her control. "You are there to serve the students . . . and you are trying to fulfill the school's mission. Third, you are required to be a steward of the federal government's money," Mack said in an interview. "No financial aid office has as much money as they need. . . . Administering financial aid has turned into a real headache."
"There is a crunch on," said Antioch Law School Dean Isaac Hunt Jr., who will decide on disciplinary action in the two incidents after a fact-finding committee submits a recommendation. "The federal eligibility rights were tightened. There are increasing costs in running the university. The total expenses for the students go up. It's a Catch-22 situation without more money."
Although Antioch, which specializes in large amounts of clinical work and poverty law, is still one of the region's least expensive private schools, tuition rose $550 this year to $6,300 after an increase last year from $5,070 to $5,750.
School officials estimated that 95 percent of Antioch's approximately 450 students require some amount of financial aid. Hunt contends that the tuition increase should come as no surprise to most students returning for fall classes, but some students are disgruntled.
"One would assume that with a tuition increase that you would be provided with better service than you have previously received in the past. That is not the case here," said Jasper Turner Sr., representative for Antioch's class of 1984.