Undergraduate students approach professors with research labs all the time about getting "experience" they think they need for something or other. Typically for med school application in the biological science areas. I think it is bogus to let them in without either 1) academic credit through enrollment in the appropriate course descriptor or 2) being paid an hourly wage, preferably minimum wage or above.
Making them Allowing them to work for nothing other than a recommendation letter, even if they are willing to do so, is exploitation pure and simple.
That's how I see it anyway.
I was reading these interesting comments at The First Excited State blog recently. The author was responding to some idiocy from a Mark Cuban who of course would not possibly be where he is today be exploiting other people's labor, would he? The First Excited State blogger sums it up succinctly:
So, let's recap Cuban's argument in favor of unpaid interns:
* Isn't it great that so many talented people are unemployed? Maybe I can use this for my gain!
* Perhaps they will work for free in the name of gaining experience.
* They can also do the dirty work that would normally be done by "The Assistant to the Secretary's Secretary."
* They don't complain, so it must be okay. Oppressed people always speak up, right? Or maybe they know we'll blacklist them...
Cuban's logic is basically that of the pre-worker-protection robber baron. If you can find someone desperate enough to work long hours, under unsafe and dehumanizing conditions for minimal compensation then you should be allowed to exploit them right? No? Than why is it okay to exploit the relatively well-off middle class college kid / recent grad who can afford to intern for free so that you can avoid paying a worker for the work you are receiving?
Don't be a Cuban.