Editorial: Law loan fund a pillow for budget cuts
Imagine if something positive came out of the legislative budget threats hanging over Arizona's law schools. It could happen.
The man who first threatened the University of Arizona and Arizona State University's law college with a state funding cut last month recently proposed a carrot to go with his stick. Sen. Randall Gnant, R-Scottsdale, introduced legislation last Monday that would create a "Law Student Loan Fund," that would allow in-state students to trade a free education for several years practicing in an underserved part of the state or as a public defender for several years. Call SB 1154 the Southwest exposure plan, if you will.
While Gnant has been roundly decried for his very public call for a phase out of the $10 million the state spends on the law colleges, his new proposal is worthy of praise.
Taken with the funding cut, one tends to agree with UA James E. Rogers College of Law dean Joel Seligman's assessment that the fund is "at best a partial response to the injury he proposed to the law school." The idea, taken on its face, is a plan students, administrators and faculty might do well to get behind, if only for the irony of its passage without accompanying budget cuts.
Think about it, though the number of students who could see their tuition paid by the "Law Student Loan Fund" has not been determined, 75 percent of UA law students are Arizona residents and therefore could be eligible, providing an ample supply of lawyers for the rural parts of the state. The medical field is relatively famed for this kind of program. The University of Arizona College of Medicine's Arizona Medical Student Loan Program, for example, provides loans to students who agree to serve in medically underserved parts of the state.
Not only would the law, if passed, extend further opportunities for students to access the UA's top flight law college, it would make Arizona, for once, appear to be forward thinking about higher education. Counterintuitively, Gnant has taken the lead in trying to give the state's higher education reputation a black eye by proposing the decimation of the law colleges. But hey, that's politics.