Is the Unpaid Internship Defensible?

Dear Commons Community,

Peter D’Amato, a master’s candidate in global journalism and Latin American studies at New York University, has a blog posting in The Chronicle of Higher Education today calling for an end to unpaid internships.  He makes several good points:

“As a master’s candidate in New York University’s journalism program, I’ve been concerned about how the school advertises internships to students. Not only are the positions listed often unpaid; they don’t always seem to have been thoroughly vetted. Ads for a summer internship at The Savvy Explorer, a travel website, came down, but only after students repeatedly expressed concerns about its Web traffic and online presence. It was run by an NYU alumnus but the full-time editorial department turned out to be smaller than expected.

This is not to take a swipe at smaller online outlets. Not every student can expect to intern at Esquire or Vogue, which also offered unpaid positions. But when we question the utility and legality of an unpaid internship at Condé Nast, what value does working for free at these smaller outlets provide?

Though it will intervene in outstanding circumstances, NYU fully supports unpaid internships, to the point of calling for less government oversight. In 2010 presidents from 13 universities, including NYU’s John Sexton, sent a letter to then-Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, saying they were “troubled by the Department of Labor’s apparent recent shift toward the regulation of internships.” This view is supported by the belief that internships are important for “experiential learning,” without addressing lingering questions over their value in students’ careers.”

As the Executive Offcer for a Ph.D. program here at the CUNY Graduate Center, I often receive solicitations from organizations and colleagues asking to advertise unpaid internships and other types of unpaid positions. I have sometimes been conflicted as to whether these are worthwhile activities for the students especially since many of them need to work to make ends meet.  However, students also could use real-life experiences and maybe can make contacts in the professional world that might be helpful when they start applying for full-time positions.  In my opinion, this is a slippery slope but the sentiments in Mr. D’Amato’s posting should be respected and considered.




  1. Tony, Thank you for brining this issue to the commons. I believe that Unpaid Internships are highly abusive and take advantage of students. I am firmly against colleges posting them and making them available to students. It is a practice that should be stopped via a coordinated effort of colleges and academics.