A professor at the struggling Charlotte School of Law has started a makeshift food pantry in the school’s commons to help students whose federal loans have been revoked by the U.S. Department of Education amid concerns over the school’s educational quality.
Scott Sigman, who directs the school’s clinical programs, also started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help students pay their living expenses—something federal loans cover for many student borrowers.
“This is the least I can do to help,” Sigman said in an interview Monday. “These students have had the rug pulled out from under them, and people need to understand that [losing federal aid] is not their fault. Nonetheless, these people are showing up to class, doing their work, and trying to put their best foot forward.”
Professor Scott Sigman. (Credit: Adam Whitlow Photography
Students have told Sigman that they’re struggling to pay their rent, utilities and a myriad of expenses beyond just food. He hopes that alumni, attorneys, and others will look beyond the school’s public standoff with the Education Department over federal student loan access to the plight of students, not all of whom have the ability to transfer to other law schools.
A school spokeswoman Victoria Taylor said Monday that enrollment this semester is 268, down from about 700 in the fall. The school laid off more than half its faculty in recent weeks to account for the shrinking student body. Sigman said the school currently houses five clinics, instead of the 11 it had last semester.
It’s still not clear how students are to pay for this semester. The school has credited students with the federal loan amount for which they were previously approved in the hopes that the government will release the funds. It has also said it will provide students with information about alternate funding sources. Thus far, however, the school has not released that information. It is, however, offering students an interest-free emergency loan to help cover living expenses, Taylor said. According to the Charlotte Observer, the $1,000 loans are to be repaid in a year.
Robert Barchiesi, a third-year student who is among a group of students suing the school, said the situation leading to the need for a school food pantry and GoFundMe campaign is “truly incredible.”
“I think it’s a sad situation, when a law school becomes a food pantry for its own students because it failed to meaningfully work with regulators on a solution that could have given students a different option to finish their degree and regain access to federal student aid,” Barchiesi said.
The Education Department on Dec. 19 announced it would pull federal loans from Charlotte students, citing concerns over accreditation shortfalls and misleading information about the school’s bar pass rates. Since then, negotiations to extend the loans broke down, apparently over the department’s insistence that it remain open only through May. School officials have said they are hoping for a more favorable outcome under the new Trump administration.
Sigman said the idea for the food pantry came from him and several other faculty members. On Friday afternoon, he sent an email to all students alerting them that free food donated from faculty and staff was available. But he quickly realized that student needs went beyond just food, and he stared the GoFundMe campaign, which aims to raise $250,000 that would be divided evenly among students who agree to use it for living expenses like rent, food, gas, utilities, and medical expenses. As of Monday morning, the campaign had raised more than $5,000.
“I want to help them,” Sigman wrote on the campaign’s web page. “I can’t imagine how I would have succeeded in law school in the circumstances that [Charlotte School of Law] students face.”
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