Snarky Behavior

In Need of Legal Advice

July 9, 2008 · 3 Comments

Here’s a teaser to all of my law-school friends out there:

I recently found out that I wasn’t selected for a fellowship from my graduate program.  Not only was this a huge bummer, but it was a tremendous source of confusion.

You see, I was operating under the information provided by SIPA’s Financial Aid web-page, which clearly states the following:

Approximately 70% of the second-year class receives a SIPA fellowship award, averaging $18,000 per award.

As I mentioned last week, “if I’m not in the top 70% of my class, I’ll eat my freaking hat.”  In fact, I know for a fact that my GPA (3.59) places me well above the 50th percentile, because SIPA’s Adjunct Teaching Manual states that “grades submitted for SIPA core courses or courses with enrollments over 30 should have an average GPA between 3.2 and 3.4, with the goal being 3.3.”

According to the Career Services Employment Statistics, 389 MIA students and 262 MPA students graduated in 2007, for a total of 651 students.  And according to the e-mail I received notifying me that I was not selected for a fellowship, 285 MIA and 68 MPA students applied for continuing student fellowships, for a total of 353 students.

Now, I’m no math major, but 70% of a class of 651 students is 455 students.  If “Approximately 70% of the second-year class received fellowship funding,” then everyone who applied should have been matched, with 100 fellowships left unfilled.  But I didn’t get one.

WTF?

I called the Student Affairs office with the WTF? question and was told that “70% of eligible second-year students who apply” receive fellowships.”  That sounds like a “50% of the time, it works every time” type of statistic to me.

Moreover, considering the rationale for fellowship selection (in order of importance: 1. academic merit; 2. financial need; and 3. extracurricular activities), I still should’ve been in the top 70% of eligible candidates.  But I didn’t get a dime.  I didn’t even get fucking work study, which is like a $14 hour pittance.

Here’s the frustrating thing: I could’ve gone to George Washington University’s Elliot School on a 3/4 tuition; I could’ve gone to SAIS and competed for a second-year fellowship there.  I chose SIPA on good faith that I would compete for and receive a fellowship, and I made that decision based on the information available to me.

I feel that I have been mislead and intentionally deceived.  Given the false information, do I have legal grounds to sue for fraudulent inducement?

For a two years master’s program, “an average of $18K” is a pretty big fucking carrot to dangle to “70% of the class,” when in actuality only 38% of the class receive that money.

Categories: graduate school
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3 responses so far ↓

  • John // July 9, 2008 at 8:18 pm | Reply

    Knowing a bit about economics, you know that an item is only worth what the market will pay for it. That being said, you paid $50k+ for your degree. On market principle, you should be able to trade that piece of paper (the deed to your education) back to the school for your money. If they are not willing to exchange, ask them what they will give you for your degree. If Columbia says your degree isn’t worth $50k, ask for a sum it is willing to give. Subtract $50K from sum offered, then ask for a refund the overcharge (sort of like a property tax refund on a house that depreciated).

    And if that works, let me know because I’ll try to exchange my degree for the current annual tuition rate.

  • Jon // July 9, 2008 at 8:49 pm | Reply

    A friend of mine in New York responded via e-mail, and I think he’s probably dead-on:

    To begin, I’m very sorry to hear about your plight – it completely sucks. As a caveat I must confess that I don’t do much in the area of contracts, and a lot of this comes from reasoning based on 1st year Contracts class.

    You could probably bring an action – God knows there are lawyers out there who will sue for anything – but I don’t think it’s a winner. I see several problems with an action based on contract principles. They’ll argue that your reliance on receiving a scholarship was not reasonable. They’ll say that their boasting about how many people receive scholarships was just that: boasting (or puffery, I think the old law school professors called it), rather than an offer to be accepted. They’ll say it’s too vague to have been reasonably relied upon. Further, they will argue, it was never “agreed” (a meeting of the minds, if you will) that you, in consideration of attending their school, would be rewarded with a fellowship in the second year. They’ll also say that were only offering the possibility of receiving the scholarship – not telling you that being in the top 70% of the class would guarantee you a fellowship.

    As I said, this isn’t my forte (and I haven’t done any research on the matter) so take what I say with a grain of salt. Your case might be stronger than I think and if you spent enough money on an attorney you’d probably win a decent settlement. Unfortunately, it would take several months, maybe even years to arrive at that settlement. How much such an action would cost in terms of attorney’s fees I don’t know – you might even find someone who would do it fee-contingent w/ a small retainer.

    I really sympathize with your situation. Grad school expenses can last almost a lifetime (believe me I know, I’ll still be paying for law school when I’m 45). I bet if you spoke with someone high up enough (e.g. Dean of Academic Affairs or equivalent) you might be able to get the denial of any aid reconsidered. Explain your decision-making process and the importance of the prospect of aid in deciding to attend SIPA and mention that you may not be able to return without some financial assistance. Hope this helps.

  • X~ // July 10, 2008 at 2:59 am | Reply

    Write Ross Klein. He’ll know what to do.

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