GU Law Loosens Internship Policy

Administrators at the university’s Law Center reversed earlier this month a policy prohibiting funding for students at summer internships at organizations that promote abortion rights, after a widely publicized case in the spring which drew protest from hundreds of students.

Under the new policy, announced by Law Center Dean T. Alexander Aleinikoff in a letter published in the Law Center’s student newspaper, the university will no longer consider the mission of each organization when determining grants provided by a student-run organization to students for summer internships.

The student-run organization, the Equal Justice Foundation, provides money for some students who take unpaid summer internships, and receives funding from the Law Center. In March, the Law Center required that the group deny funding to Jenny Woodson (LAW ’09), who had applied for an internship at Planned Parenthood, a group that supports abortion rights. The Catholic Church opposes abortion rights.

Woodson accepted the internship after members of the Law Center’s administration and faculty helped her raise money through the Women and Law in Public Policy Fellowship.

In a letter published in the Sept. 11 edition of Law Weekly – the weekly, student-run newspaper for the Law Center – and dated Sept. 7, Aleinikoff announced that the policy had been changed.

“In partnership with the Equal Justice Foundation, the Law Center will provide grants to all students who work on law-related issues at a public interest organization or government agency. . The program contributes in important ways to the Law Center’s academic program, both by expanding meaningful opportunities for students to engage in reflective experiential learning and by inculcating a commitment to public service,” he said in the letter.

Aleinikoff could not be reached for comment for this report.

Deborah Epstein, associate dean of clinical education and public interest and community service programs at the Law Center, attributed the decision, at least in part, to the outcry that resulted from the Woodson decision.

“When this issue arose on campus last semester, we began to look at the EJF program in a broader context,” she said.

After the incident became well-known, students from Georgetown’s Law Students for Choice circulated a petition that demanded that the Law Center alter their policy, issue an apology to Woodson and hold an open forum to discuss the issue. According to Joy Welan (LAW ’08), president of Georgetown’s Law Students for Choice, 360 students signed this petition.

Welan said her group and Aleinikoff met several times over the summer to discuss the policy.

“We think that this compromise is fantastic news, for students who are interested in pursuing careers in reproductive rights advocacy, and for all students, who will now be able to pursue public interest internships without worrying about finding funding,” Welan said. “The dean has taken a huge step forward in advancing Georgetown’s commitment to public interest law, and we applaud him for it.”

Daniel Hughes (LAW ’08), president of the Law Center’s Progressive Alliance for Life, a student group that opposes abortion rights, said he was disappointed in the policy reversal.

“Aleinikoff has a radically secular, morally relativistic vision for the Law Center,” Hughes said in an e-mail. “He and other administrators have crafted a dishonest, legalistic `compromise’ that will allow students to gain assured, extensive Georgetown funding for pro-abortion legal work.”

Epstein said law students applying to the EJF for internship funding must now write a paper and meet with a faculty member regarding their choice of an organization.

“The paper will be a short reflective essay, designed to help participants maximize the learning they take away from their summer experiences,” Epstein said. “Students will have the opportunity to meet in groups with faculty members and discuss how their experiences relate to other curricular choices and to their career goals.”

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