Loan forgiviness benefits the poor
Letter to the Editor
I graduated from Notre Dame Law School in 1996 and practice law as an assistant federal public defender in South Texas along the Mexican border. I chose to attend Notre Dame because I wanted a good education and because, as a practicing Catholic, I wanted to attend a school that would allow me to grow spiritually. However, attending Notre Dame has unfortunately made it difficult for me and others to practice law in keeping with our Catholic faith.
As you are undoubtedly aware, attending Notre Dame is expensive. As of this year, it costs approximately $21,000 per year in tuition to attend Notre Dame Law School. Adding living expenses to the total, the typical law student graduates from Notre Dame with a student loan debt of over $90,000.
The price of Notre Dame Law School's tuition is comparable top other top law schools. The tuition they can command is a consequence of the demand from students who compete for the opportunity to attend a good school. It is also a reflection of the salaries its graduates can earn upon graduation. The average annual salary of a Notre Dame Law School graduate going to work for a large law firm, for example, is approximately $90,000. A person earning this income can afford to make his or her student loan payments. If, however, a graduate wanted to practice law as an attorney helping the poor, his or her salary would not be large enough to make his or her student loan payments. As a result, many students are prevented from pursuing a career in public interest law.
In my class alone, approximately 25 percent of the class wanted to practice public interest law, but only approximately seven percent could afford to do so. I chose to try to do so and have faced significant financial difficulties — without a family to support. I am single and have no dependents. Even so, my student loan payments make it difficult for me to pay for rent, utilities and food. After practicing public interest law for almost four years, my student loan payments still consume over one-half of my net take-home pay.
The need for attorneys willing to help the poor is real. People are illegally evicted from their apartments because of their race, refused their rights under contracts, denied basic educational opportunities and taken advantage of in a variety of ways. The poor in our communities are always the most vulnerable. When a person cannot afford to hire an attorney to help them, their rights, the same as yours and mine, go unprotected. As a result, people suffer.
As Catholics, we believe that we have a moral obligation to serve the poor. Jesus called us all to recognize our responsibility to those less fortunate than ourselves. When we appear before him, Jesus said that he will ask us, "When I was thirsty, did you give me something to drink? When I was hungry, did you give me something to eat? When I was alone, did you come to visit me?" If not, we will not be recognized as his followers. Whatever we do, or do not do, for the least among us, we do to Jesus himself.
Some law schools, many of them secular, have recognized their duty to produce law students who are able to help the poor as well as the rich protect their legal rights. they do so by offering loan forgiveness. If a graduate decides to forgo higher paying job opportunities to practice public-interest law, his or her law school will help them make their loan payments. Law schools are able to do so because running a law school is a lucrative business. Law schools, including Notre Dame, make millions of dollars each year from the tuition they charge. In essence, these law schools charge all of their students a high tuition because they will earn large salaries, but set a aside a portion of the tuition for loan forgiveness for those students who are willing to work for the poor and will not be making a large salary.
Working to help its students serve the poor is of course in keeping with Notre Dame's mission as a Catholic university. As one of the most prominent Catholic universities in the country , Notre Dame is in a unique position to take a leadership role in recognizing the responsibility law schools have to the communities they serve. In doing so, Notre Dame will be setting a Christian example for others to follow. As the Bible advises us, they will know we are Christians by our love.
I encourage everyone in the Notre Dame community to support the development of a loan forgiveness program at Notre Dame and to help raise awareness of this need by attending a rally being held by Notre Dame Law School students and professors. It will be held this Friday, April 7 at 12:00 p.m. in front of the Main Building. I understand that the implementation of a loan forgiveness program is a top priority for the dean of the law school and others within the university. Help make it a reality.
Class of '96
April 5, 2000
All Viewpoint Stories for Thursday, April 6, 2000