Penn State Law Offers Fee Waiver; Prospective Applicants Jeer

The law-school dean is denying a link between the scandal and an offer to waive the application fee.

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Prospective law-school students received a curious email Wednesday afternoon from the dean of admissions at Penn State’s School of Law.

“Congratulations,” the subject line reads. “Your application fee has been waived.”

“We know you have a lot to think about right now and we hope that Penn State Law is among the top law schools you are considering,” Amanda DiPolvere wrote in the email, a copy of which was obtained by The Daily Beast. Addressing the media frenzy surrounding former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky since a Nov. 4 grand-jury report detailed alleged child sex abuse, she added, “No doubt you have seen recent headlines regarding Penn State University.”

“Penn State’s new president is dedicated to restoring the trust of all people Penn State serves and to a renewed focus on Penn State’s status as one of the world’s preeminent research universities,” she wrote.

Then DiPolvere, whose admissions office last year received more than 5,300 applications, many paying a “$60 nonrefundable application fee,” offered up a carrot for prospective students: “To make it easier for you to apply, we have waived your application fee.”

The reaction among potential applicants, at least those who took to social media to share their feelings, was swift.

“Hahahaha Penn State just sent me a fee waiver to apply to their law school,” one recipient wrote of the letter, adding a thinly veiled hashtag for the school as her answer: “#nothappening.”

Another noted the timing of the letter. “Dear Penn State,” @miss_kGa tweeted, “while I appreciate the law school fee waiver, y’all should probably wait a few days before sending more out. #badtiming”

A third tweeted, “Just got an email from Penn State encouraging me to apply to their law school and giving me an application waver. HAHA. gotta be kidding me.”

The sentiment expressed by the prospective students underscores an ongoing challenge for Penn State, which is hoping to clear its reputation after accusations of a series of mishaps and inaction at the highest executive level in the Sandusky case.

“Obviously the PSU email caught my eye with the scandal being such a current public affair,” said Derek Atwood, a senior at the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. “Some of the schools that have contacted me have extended application waivers, but I would say that PSU is one of the more prominent universities to do so.”

“This waiver, considering the included email, definitely seems to be a response to the allegations,” he added.

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But DiPolvere, who sent the email on behalf of the school, denied that its timing was affected by the scandal. “Our solicitation and fee waiver reflect our standard practice in attempting to recruit applicants within a certain range of LSAT scores,” she told The Daily Beast. “The solicitation is timed to arrive shortly after potential applicants receive the results of the October administration of the LSAT. Because this standard timing practice occurred this year in such close proximity to the recent allegations regarding some Penn State personnel, we thought it best to include reference to the publicity and a statement reflecting our law school’s reaction.”

In recent days, the Penn State community has struggled to cope with the unraveling of the university’s executive management team and the firing of beloved football coach Joe Paterno. “This is like 9/11 for Happy Valley,” Ben Novak, a former member of the Penn State board of trustees, told The Daily Beast last week. “It will affect the community’s consciousness for years.”

In addition to ousting Paterno, the university has dismissed President Graham Spanier and placed Mike McQueary—the graduate student turned assistant coach who said he witnessed one of the Sandusky incidents but failed to call police—on indefinite leave. Experts say the sex-abuse allegations will likely threaten the university’s “rising financial and academic standing” for some time. The school has reportedly enlisted Ketchum for its crisis communications, and is already benefiting from "a few team members" on the ground at Penn State.

But all’s not lost for Penn State Law, at least when it comes to one of Dean DiPolvere’s email recipients.

“I would have to do more research into the PSU law program before saying I would attend,” Atwood said, “but the allegations would not be a deciding factor on whether I would decide against Penn State.”