Julia Willis, 2L, was awarded the top prize of the 2017 Howard J. Rudge Competition. Through the generosity of Mr. Rudge, a member of GW Law's Class of 1964 and a retired Senior Vice President of DuPont Corporation, the law school was able to award a cash prize of $5000 to a JD or LLM student for the best paper proposing a creative solution to a serious societal problem in the United States. In addition, for the first time, there was a second place award of $2500 and a third place award of $1000.
Ms. Willis came in first place for her paper, "We Can Work It Out: How States and Regional Accreditors Can Save For-Profit Higher Education," which focuses on resolving issues within the for-profit education industry, due to the mishandling of federal funding to accredited institutions. In December 2016, the Obama Administration stripped the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS), the largest national accrediting organization in the country – and the primary accreditor of for-profit colleges and universities in the U.S. – from its authority to distribute federal aid funds amid rampant accusations of the accreditor allocating millions to institutions that allegedly misrepresented the value of their degrees and falsified job placement rates. This left 300 schools and 600,000 students 18 months to find a new accreditor. Worse still, Ms. Willis explained that the Administration paradoxically continued relying on ACICS determinations of non-compliance to force long-time for-profit giants like ITT Technical Institutes to close down forever.
Due to a few bad practices within the system, Ms. Willis explained that there is this widely conceived notion that for-profits are "greedy, money-hungry institutions that make false promises to individuals of a better tomorrow with an advanced degree." However, she explained that there had to be more to the story, which led to the realization that the for-profit education industry, as a whole, performs a vital service by allowing full-time workers to attend classes at irregular hours to earn a degree.
"The Obama administration mistakenly focused its efforts at destroying this sector because of the transgressions of a few bad eggs in the system," Ms. Willis said.
She found an interest in this topic during her fall 2016 Government Lawyering field placement course while looking for policy paper topics. After reading multiple newspaper articles about the ITT Tech shutdown, she decided there must be a way to eradicate fraud, corruption, and waste within for-profits, and she found that way in 1992 federalist amendments to the Higher Education Act that solved many problems for three years before being mistakenly eliminated. Empowering state governments to work with regional accreditors to oversee the accreditation process, she believes, is the missing key to the puzzle.
Marta Bylica, 2L, came in second place for her paper, "Do All Lives Really Matter?: The Epidemic of Missing and Murdered Native American Women in the USA." Ms. Bylica shared that she first learned about the issue of missing and murdered Native women while she was completing her undergraduate degree in Canada, where the problem had received a lot of attention. However, even though the situation was just as troubling in the United States, she quickly discovered that there is lack of awareness about the problem on this side of the border.
"The situation in the United States is very complex because criminal jurisdiction is fractured among tribal, state, and federal law enforcement, which more often than not results in confusion as to who has jurisdiction over a particular case when a Native woman goes missing or is murdered," Ms. Bylica said. "Taken together with factors such as systemic discrimination, lack of communication between the various jurisdictions, and lack of funding, this trend of violence against Native women and the gap in law enforcement is incredibly alarming. Yet when I talked to friends or colleagues about this issue, it became clear that many have never even heard about it."
Ms. Bylica shared why it was important for her to explore this issue. "To me, this prize represents an encouragement and recognition that issues that are forgotten by the media and sometimes even professors and attorneys are still worth writing about and fighting for," she said. "I am incredibly thankful to every single person involved in the competition, especially Dean Alan Morrison and Mr. Rudge himself."
A team of four that included 3Ls Kyle Zhu, Cooper Littlejohn, Marie Nina Luis, and Jonathan Marvisi, 2L, came in third place for their paper, "Hospital Charge Transparency and Caps: Medicine for an Ailing Healthcare System." Their paper sought to find a solution to the healthcare crisis.
"Currently, healthcare costs continue to rise. This has increased the number of individuals without healthcare because they cannot afford their premiums. Many individuals often blame insurers and sometimes doctors for the rise in healthcare costs. However, our solution follows the money with economic data, and offers a new yet feasible method to remedy an ailing healthcare system by creating transparency in hospital charges and caps on hospital charges. We believe a bill capping hospital charges and with increased transparency would reduce costs to all consumers by hundreds of billions, thereby creating lower health insurance premiums, increased healthy competition amongst healthcare providers, an increased quality of care, and an increased access to care for all Americans."
–– Jonathan Marvisi
For students interested in participating in the competition, Ms. Willis advises a confident approach to new ideas and a reliance on the resources GW Law has to offer. "Many individuals enroll in law school to try to make the world a better place. Then a large number of those individuals become discouraged when they realize how fundamentally flawed the current legal system is, possibly because there are very few opportunities during legal studies to think about practical solutions to the world's current legal issues," she said. "The Rudge Competition offers law students that opportunity, and rewards imaginative and innovative thinking. If you see a problem in today's society that sparks your attention, use the tools GW has given you to propose a solution. You never know - your ideas could change the legal landscape."