Would the one D.C. resident who will be a student at Antioch Law School next year please step forward? I'd like to congratulate you. You may be the recipient of the largest scholarship ever awarded in the history of the District of Columbia: $3 million.
I am referring to the fact that the Education Committee of the D.C. Council has voted to acquire the failing Antioch Law School. The price of this bailout was set at $3 million. Not just a onetime infusion of $3 million. But every year . . . after year . . . after year.
The justification for this action was based on several myths.
The first is that the law school serves low-income District residents, both as students and as recipients of its clinical services.
But how many low-income D.C. residents are students at Antioch? (Not many, I figured, since the tuition is $7,250.) How many D.C. residents of any income level are Antioch students?
The first answer provided at the education committee meeting was 10. But that was later amended -- to one. Out of 328 students, apparently just one D.C. resident (income unknown) will be an Antioch student next year. (The lack of consistency in information provided by Antioch has been a problem all along -- both in discussions with the University of the District of Columbia and the council.)
One would have guessed from the lobbying, the letters and the flood of rhetoric swamping the committee that there were hundreds of deserving D.C. residents receiving a legal education at Antioch. In fact, fewer than 1 percent of Antioch students are D.C. residents. Even in past years the percentage hasn't been more than about 3 percent.
By contrast, let's look at the five other nationally recognized and ABA-accredited law schools in the city: at Georgetown, 22 percent of the students are D.C. residents; at Howard, 11.5 percent; at American, 11 percent; at George Washington, 5 percent; and at Catholic University, 1.7 percent.
The second myth is that, without Antioch, the poor will be denied legal aid. But the other five law schools in the city provide a wide variety of legal services to D.C. residents, as well as providing clinical experiences to their students within the context of more traditional and comprehensive legal education programs.
Howard University's Law Students in the Courts program, Georgetown's Harrison Institute, as well as Juvenile Justice Clinic, the University Legal Services, Neighborhood Legal Services and Legal Services for the Elderly are among the programs providing extensive and valuable services.
*The third myth is that Antioch accepts students the other five law schools don't. However, the American Bar Association expects schools to apply certain criteria. Schools that admit students below those standards jeopardize their accreditation. In fact, part of Antioch's now precarious ABA accreditation is owed to what an ABA committee characterized as "a precipitous decline in admissions credentials."
The legislation voted out by the education committee purports to establish a public law school. It presumes that the taxpayers of the District both feel the need for a public law school and want that school to be Antioch. Not only has there been no substantive discussion of whether D.C. needs a public law school, there has been no substantive examination of what the city would be taking on in the Antioch it would acquire.
The detailed report on Antioch prepared by the University of the District of Columbia administration for the UDC trustees' consideration includes the following statement from the ABA Accreditation Committee:
"The Accreditation Committee, over the years, has consistently observed and reported that the resources and environment provided by the University have not only fallen short of what would be required for more traditional education, but are substantially deficient in meeting the stated objectives of this program. "The mission has been short-changed, not only to the detriment of Antioch itself but to legal education generally. . . ." There are better ways to spend tax money on the education of D.C. students. I proposed, for example, a plan modeled on federal grant programs through which recipients could "pay back" their grants by working in public service programs after graduation. A $3,000 grant for each of the 800 D.C. residents now attending a D.C. law school would cost less than the yearly subsidy proposed for Antioch, and the "pay back" service would greatly increase legal aid for the poor.
I am not "against" Antioch and its survival. I just think the responsibility of the District government is to the whole public -- not to bailing out a limited and troubled private institition.