Author: Sarah Waldeck


Gifts With Strings Attached

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal reported on how Trinity College is facing scrutiny from the Connecticut Attorney General over its plan to use part of a $9 million endowment from the late Shelby Cullom Davis to fund scholarships for international students. Both Davis’s daughter and the professor who holds the Davis chair believe that Trinity’s plan violates the restrictions that Davis placed on his gift.

The Journal article states that “[r]estricted gifts can account for as much as three-quarters of a university’s endowment.” It is true that specific universities or colleges might have an endowment in which three-quarters of the funds are restricted. But data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers shows that 45 percent of endowment funds at private institutions are unrestricted. Furthermore, universities can exert considerable influence over whether gifts are restricted and the precise terms of the gift.

Universities spend lots of time and money cultivating donors and helping shape their giving preferences. This is one of the functions of so-called “named gift opportunities.” The cultivated gifts often pay for expenditures the institution would have made even without a gift, thereby allowing the university to redirect funds to current expenses or into the endowment itself. Research has also shown that corporations, foundations and alumni each favor different sorts of projects. This means that a university can help determine the sorts of gifts it is likely to receive through careful allocation of its development staff.

This is not to suggest that all donors are malleable. Some have very definite ideas. Mr. Davis, for example, said no when Trinity asked whether it could use the endowment as it thought appropriate “as conditions evolved and opportunities arose.” But simply focusing on the amount of restricted funds overstates the extent to which donors tie the hands of universities.


The Debt Calculation

Here’s a recommendation that appeared in a recent New York Times article about the burden of student loans. According to Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of and, “Do not borrow more than your expected starting salary for your entire undergraduate education.” I don’t know the rule of thumb for graduate students, but I imagine it’s something similar. (If anyone does know the recommendation, please comment and pass it along.)

The upshot is that individuals who are deciding where to go to law school should pay very close attention to the amount of debt associated with each of their options. Moreover, as these individuals assess their likely total debt, they should be pessimistic about their future earning potential. The average first year salaries reported by law schools are a snapshot of what graduates were earning before the current crisis, not what graduates are earning now. And many experts are predicting that the current crisis will change the law firm model in ways that may profoundly affect compensation.

Put differently, if you are entering a 1L class in the Fall of 2009, graduation is only 37 months away. How much debt do you think you can manage just three years from now?


Spin Doctors

Like a lot of you, I clicked on Dave’s US News links.

If 40 is the new 30, then 77 must be the new 59.


“Been There, Done That” or “Reflections on the Estate Tax”

I read somewhere that certain magazines publish the same article about once every eighteen months. The text is never identical and there might be a new twist, but it’s pretty much the same old fare. (Think Modern Bride with the headline Pale Ivory This Year’s Color for Summer Brides.) And you really can’t even fault the magazines. Really, what is there to say about a wedding that hasn’t been said already?

This is how I’ve come to feel about the estate tax over the course of the last couple of weeks. The tax is back in the news because President Obama’s proposed budget announced that he would retain the tax with its current rate and exemption levels, rather than allowing the tax to expire in 2010. The House voted to retain the 2009 version of the tax, but the Senate has voted to lower the top rate from 45 to 35 percent and to increase the exemption from $3.5 million to $5 million (and thus from $7 million per couple to $10 million per couple).

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Breastfeeding Backlash

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and other breastfeeding advocates should be very nervous. In the last two months, the Atlantic and the New Yorker have each published articles that are very different from the usual media fare about the benefits of breastfeeding. (You can read CoOp posts about Jill Lepore’s New Yorker piece here and here; Crooked Timber is the one of the sites with an excellent discussion thread about the Atlantic article.) In the New Yorker, Jill Lepore suggests that our zeal for breastfeeding has distracted us from the larger goal of ensuring that mothers are able to spend adequate time with their babies; instead we have become satisfied with policies that make it easier for women to pump milk. In the Atlantic, Hanna Rosin examines the medical literature that underlies the recommendation that women breastfeed. She concludes that while breastmilk is probably best, it is not the magical elixir that one might suspect based on popular accounts. Thus, Rosin argues, depending on a women’s individual circumstances and predilections, she can do a cost-benefit analysis and (more than) rationally conclude not to breastfeed.

“Breast is Best” campaigns have been most effective among educated white women with higher incomes; this is the demographic with the highest breastfeeding rates. It is also a demographic that reads both the New Yorker and the Atlantic. Among this group, a strong social norm affects the decision whether to breastfeed. Rosin aptly captures this dynamic:

One afternoon at the playground last summer, shortly after the birth of my third child, I made the mistake of idly musing about breast-feeding to a group of new mothers I’d just met. This time around, I said, I was considering cutting it off after a month or so. At this remark, the air of insta-friendship we had established cooled into an icy politeness, and the mothers shortly wandered away to chase little Emma or Liam onto the slide. Just to be perverse, over the next few weeks I tried this experiment again several more times. The reaction was always the same: circles were redrawn such that I ended up in the class of mom who, in a pinch, might feed her baby mashed-up Chicken McNuggets.

What remains to be seen is whether the New Yorker and Atlantic articles mark the beginning of a wider disenchantment with breastfeeding, one that will eventually erode the norm that Rosin so aptly documents. I also wonder whether the articles will influence what Rosin labels the “relentlessly cheerful tip culture” that dominates discussions of breastfeeding in popular media and in parenting books.

p.s. As an aside, I’ve always thought breastfeeding advocates should organize a public relations campaign around how breastfeeding, particularly long-term breastfeeding, can make easier for a woman to lose weight. Think of a big hot fudge sundae with the tag line “From you to your baby’s brain.” I guess there’s a reason I pursued law instead of marketing . . .


Law School Field Trips

This morning I accompanied a group of kindergarten students on their field trip to a planetarium. The whole experience left me musing about how at some point in one’s education the field trip just disappears. The quintessential field trip, which is undertaken despite the knowledge that some students will simply goof around on the bus, reflects the belief that even the uninterested are enriched by participating. But by high school, not to mention law school, the general enrichment trip is replaced with targeted opportunities for students with particular interests. (Think clinics and externships.)

So, here’s my question: if you were planning a series of field trips for 1Ls, where would you take them? I’d start with a tour of a prison, which would be bound to leave some sort of impression. I’d also like to arrange for each student to spend a full shift in a squad car, although I’m not sure how to pull that off for an entire first year class. (Also, the Estates and Trusts professor in me would like everyone near Philadelphia to visit the Barnes Foundation and see what all the fuss is about. That, however, may be a bit too targeted for my list, which is aimed at general legal enrichment.)

Suggestions, anyone?


My Laptop Ban

Ever since Eugene Volokh shared the results of his laptop experiment, the blogosphere has been talking more than usual about laptop bans. This is the second semester I’ve banned laptops and at this point I’d describe myself as a ban enthusiast. The reasons for this enthusiasm are nothing new: my class is more engaged, class room discussions have improved, and students are asking better questions. I also hadn’t realized how difficult it is to talk to the back of a laptop screen until I made everyone close them. On this point, I would echo Howard Wasserman: I’m a better teacher when I can actually see my students’ faces. Finally, I think that the process of note-taking on a laptop often short-circuits the learning process. Kevin Yamamoto has summarized some of the research on this point here. A couple of things, however, did catch me by surprise.

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The Grim Reaper

Yesterday’s New York Times had a disturbing article about how successful collection agents “trained in the five stages of grief” are in collecting the debts of the deceased. These agencies aren’t operating through the probate process. Instead, they are collecting from the deceased’s relatives, who have absolutely no legal obligation to pay the debt. It’s true that for some of these relatives, the amount of their inheritance would be reduced by whatever was owed to the creditor. It’s also true that some individuals may believe that they are honoring the memory of the deceased by settling all outstanding obligations. But,

[S]ome of those who pay a dead relative’s debts are unaware they may have no legal obligation.

Scott Weltman of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis, a Cleveland law firm that performs deceased collections, says that if family members ask, “we definitely tell them” they have no legal obligation to pay. “But is it disclosed upfront — ‘Mr. Smith, you definitely don’t owe the money’? It’s not that blunt.”

Well, it should be. And apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so. The Times article is currently number 1 on the “most-emailed “ list and many of the more than 200 reader comments are calling for regulation. You only have to read a couple of accounts of an unemployed son-in-law agreeing to assume credit card debt that is not his own or of a widow struggling to pay $5 a month before deciding that such regulation is already past due.


Distance Education

On Tuesday President Obama announced that by 2020 the United States will have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. This admirable goal will be difficult to deliver. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education recently reported that college tuition and fees rose 439 percent between 1982 – 2007, while median family income rose only 147 percent. The Center’s president commented, “If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education.”

Something has got to give. Yesterday’s Times reported that some colleges are experimenting with three-year programs that enable students to save a year’s tuition. I’ve often thought that the number of freshmen who “go away to college” will shrink dramatically in coming years, because students will be forced to stay closer to home to avoid room and board fees. But something more dramatic will be required to really address the problem of runaway costs.

On-line or distance learning, which reduces labor costs and pretty much eliminates the need for a physical plant, is one way to tackle the problem. I’ve always had a hard time even contemplating on-line learning. But I’m beginning to suspect that this is a failure of imagination on my part.

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Last week the New York Times had an article about the challenges of traveling for breast-feeding mothers. The piece is consistent with the patterns noted in a recent New Yorker, where Jill Lepore observed that companies are increasingly rated as mother-friendly solely because they accommodate breast pumping, instead of because they permit long maternity leaves or otherwise allow mothers to spend time with their babies. (Chimène Keitner blogged about the article here.) The Times article is mostly consistent with this pattern. It discusses, for example, how Ernst & Young provides free kits that enable traveling mothers to ship milk home. Much of the Times piece talked about the perils of getting milk through airport security, because individual Transportation Security Agents determine what constitutes the “reasonable quantity” of milk permitted under TSA rules.

There is a distinction between pumping milk while away from home and transporting milk home so that it can be consumed. Pumping milk while away is essential, both to relieve physical discomfort and to maintain the milk supply. Transporting the milk back home is not essential, at least not if you are willing to supplement breast-milk with formula. This point leads to two larger observations.

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