Harvard Law School.
Harvard Law School. (Courtesy photo)

A group of student activists at Harvard Law School is calling for an end to tuition.

Reclaim Harvard, which has been pushing for greater diversity and inclusion at the elite law school, argues that the cost of attendance unfairly impacts minority students because they typically have less family wealth.

“These fees disproportionately burden students of color, not only by creating a barrier to attending [Harvard Law School], but also by constraining the career choices of those who do attend by saddling them with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt,” reads an April 17 message on the group’s website.

Instead of relying upon tuition, the law school should find other means of funding its operations, be it tapping its unrestricted endowment or cutting faculty salaries, Reclaim Harvard argues. This latest demand comes a month after the law school announced the removal of the family crest of donor and slaveholder Isaac Royall Jr., from its shield—one the activist group’s initial goals.

While administrators are “deeply committed to expanding access to a Harvard Law School education for the best students regardless of their backgrounds, and to providing aid to those who need it,” eliminating tuition is unsustainable, said law school spokesman Robb London in a written response to Reclaim Harvard’s latest demand.

Providing a Harvard Law education costs more than the full tuition price of $58,242, London said, and 80 percent of the school’s Juris Doctor students now receive grants or loan assistance.

The school relies upon donations and its endowment to cover the shortfall left by tuition, and its endowment yield is subject to restrictions regarding how it may be spent, London said.

“But even if that weren’t the case, drawing down further on the endowment would ultimately require raising tuition, because as the endowment declined over time the school would become more dependent on tuition to cover annual costs,” he added.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, law school had a nearly $1.9 billion endowment as of June 30, 2015.

Cutting the budget to eliminate tuition would also result in the loss of key programs, such as the law school’s clinics, London said.

But a free education “is a matter of justice,” Reclaim Harvard argues. “The mission statement of this school is, ‘to educate leaders who contribute to the advancement of justice and the well-being of society.’ Yet the enormous amount of debt that students must undertake in order to attend [Harvard Law School] is a direct obstacle to this mission,” reads the group’s latest message.

The law school’s Low Income Protection Program—which helps graduates in public interest law jobs with relatively low salaries repay their student loans—doesn’t go far enough to help alumni who don’t have a financial safety net or who have families to support, according to Reclaim Harvard.

In addition to ditching tuition, Reclaim Harvard is demanding more transparency about the law school’s budget. “We, as concerned alumni and students, refuse to remain complicit in supporting a predatory student debt industry,” the group said.

Reclaim Harvard in December unveiled a list of eight core demands, which include the addition of a critical race program; more recruitment of faculty and staff of color; and the establishment of a diversity committee. Greater affordability was also among its original demands, though it stopped short of calling on an end to tuition at the time.

One of Reclaim Harvard’s original demands—the removal of the family crest of donor and slaveholder Isaac Royall from the law school’s shield—has been met. The school announced in March that it would adopt a new shield, following the recommendation of a committee formed to examine the matter.