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Students help with tax prep; lecture discusses colleges' decisions

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Law School Briefs

Law School Briefs is Indiana Lawyer’s section highlighting news from law schools in Indiana. While IL has always covered law school news and continues to keep up with law school websites and press releases for updates, we gladly accept submissions for this section from law students, professors, alumni, and others who want to share law school-related news. If you’d like to submit news or a photo from an event, please send it to Rebecca Berfanger at rberfanger@ibj.com, along with contact information for any follow-up questions at least two weeks in advance of the issue date.

Students help withtax preparation

Students from the four Indiana law schools are participating in the Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteers in Tax Assistance program during the 2011 tax season. The requirements to participate in the programs vary, and some programs may require agencies to refer clients to them. All four programs have students working directly with clients under supervision of their professors and tax attorneys. Clients must be low- to moderate-income, generally earning $49,000 or less per year.

In Bloomington, Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law and Kelley School of Business are teaming up for the VITA program. Walk-in clients can get advice at the law school, 211 S. Indiana Ave., Room 121, on Monday and Thursday evenings through March 10. Service is provided from 5 to 8 p.m.

Valparaiso University School of Law’s VITA program will provide tax assistance on Saturdays through April 9 at the law school’s student lounge, located at 656 S. Greenwich St., Valparaiso. More information and a form to schedule an appointment is on the school’s website at http://www.valpo.edu/law/vita/index.php.

Students at Notre Dame Law School volunteer in the United Way of St. Joseph County’s VITA program, according to professor Judith Fox, who teaches in that school’s legal aid clinic. Clients can make an appointment by calling the 211 helpline.

Indiana University School of Law - Indianapolis students have also volunteered for the IRS’ VITA program to offer tax preparation assistance to low- and moderate-income residents. Their supervisor, law professor Carrie Anne Hagan, said several students are volunteering at VITA sites in the Indianapolis area this year.

Lecture focuses oncolleges’ decisions

Most decisions made by colleges and universities tend to be secretive, unless they rise to the level of public outcry and end up being reported by the media or if a lawsuit is filed making the information public record.

This has made it somewhat difficult for Michael A. Olivas, a law professor and director of the Institute of Higher Education Law and Governance at the University of Houston, to do research on the topic of “Governing Badly: Theory and Practice of Bad Ideas in College Decisionmaking.” This was the subject of the annual Jerome Hall Lecture at Indiana University Maurer School of Law on Feb. 7, and the findings will be published in a future edition of Indiana Law Journal.

Olivas, president of the American Association of Law Schools, raised some interesting points about why he thinks that not only good policies, but also bad policies and bad decisions, should be explained. Doing so would provide a better understanding of how to make things better, he said.

He joked that bad decisions are difficult to find because one can’t simply do an Internet search for “bad decisions,” and there is no such thing as “baddecisions.com” to cite precedent for bad decisions in higher education.

Olivas focused his lecture on why he disagrees with legacy admissions, also known as the alumni provision, at public universities; examples of professors who wrongly lost their jobs when programs or courses were cut due to budget issues; and why studying poor decisions can ultimately help colleges make better decisions.

As for legacy admissions, he said that because a parent has gone to college, the applicant already has an advantage – even if the student’s parents didn’t go to that specific college – over other applicants who don’t have college-educated parents. College-educated parents may be better equipped to help their children in the application process and in other areas of college preparation, such as which classes to take in high school and SAT preparation.

Parents who did go to the college where their children want to apply might also have an “in” with contacts at the school’s department of admissions if they want to call for more information as to what the school is seeking in its potential students.

He didn’t say this advantage to students of college-educated parents was a bad thing, but that for public schools to weigh the legacy question heavily, which can sometimes make a big difference to a student who is applying, just doesn’t make sense.

An audience member asked if this was fair because of the idea that if an alumnus’ child is accepted, that alumnus may be more likely to donate funds to the school, especially when there is less funding from the state. Olivas said that still wasn’t enough of a reason for schools to favor those applicants.

Another issue he discussed involved schools firing professors because their programs were cut. He said these situations might not be cut-and-dry, but if a tenure-track professor was fired due to budget reasons, and then someone else was hired to teach similar or the same classes but with different names, that’s a bad decision.

He also said transparency is key in general to decisions made by colleges and universities. If everything is openly discussed, he’d have less of an issue with these decisions. In turn, the courts would likely have less of an issue when decisions led to court filings because judges and lawyers would know that the decisions were examined and made with good judgment.

At the time a bad decision is made, the decision maker likely doesn’t know he is making a bad decision, Olivas concluded. But to avoid similar bad decisions in the future, he added, they should be studied more.•

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