Convocation Speaker Adds Insult to Injury

Former Dean Daniels to Receive Honorary Degree at 2014 Convocation

Former Dean Ron Daniels

The man largely responsible for our high tuition is coming back to pick up a free degree. Oh, the irony.

It is (almost) fitting that former Dean Ron Daniels should speak at convocation this year. After all, his vision for UofT Law has affected our lives so much that he might as well be the one to kick us out the door. For those who don’t know, Daniels was the dean before Dean Moran took over. After the provincial government deregulated tuition for professional programs in 1998, he started us on the path that our school has been on ever since. Immediately after deregulation, he increased tuition 320 percent – from $3808 to $16,000 – in 5 years, after which tuition was frozen for 3 years by the new provincial government. Basically, he is one of the primary reasons you write that $28,000+ cheque that crushes your soul at the beginning of every school year.

Daniels believed that his vision to transform UofT Law into a world class institution could only be achieved by increasing tuition enough so that professors could be paid competitively to their counterparts at the world’s top 10 law schools. It was said that without significant tuition increases, our best professors would leave for higher paying American schools and we would be unable to attract the best. In hindsight, one can’t help but wonder if the fear that professors would leave to American schools was simply a case of projection – in 2005, Daniels abruptly left for a high paying job at an American school and is now the President of Johns Hopkins University. You can read my article from last year (“How Your Tuition is Spent”) for more on why I believe the policies Daniels implemented were both unnecessary and ineffective.

But let’s put aside the merits of Daniels’ vision and ask the question that is immediately at hand. Is he a good choice to speak at this year’s convocation? His policies to better UofT Law – continued by Dean Moran – are the primary reason first year tuition hit $30,000 this year. They are the reason many of us will come out of law school with somewhere between $50,000 and $150,000 of debt. They are the reason why some of us who might have otherwise chosen public interest careers have felt pressured to take jobs on Bay Street. They are and will likely continue to be the source of much hardship for graduating students. They set a precedent that likely encouraged many other Canadian schools to raise tuition as well. They have probably even contributed to the larger access to justice problem in Canada.

The most relevant thing, however, is that tuition has been an ever-present issue in the student body over the past 18 months. The faculty is clearly aware of that. There has been an ongoing dialogue between the faculty and students in the form of town halls, petitions, articles, student council reports, etc. The Class of 2014 has been particularly active, with most of the organizers of last year’s tuition petition and SLS tuition slate candidates graduating this year. As one student put it, “it’s simply not the right time” given the circumstances. As a member of the Class of 2014, I find it insulting that the man who spearheaded an initiative that has significantly contributed to the unnecessary stress in my life and the lives of many of my classmates (now and for years to come) is being honoured and rewarded at my convocation. It’s an insensitive choice at best.

In the past four years, the convocation speakers have been: Justice Stephen Goudge, Honourable Paul Martin, Justice Robert Sharpe, and Murray Edwards (co-founder of Canadian Natural Resources and Calgary Flames Owner). Daniels is an accomplished academic but seems pretty lackluster in comparison. One can only hope that the administration will realize the insensitivity of honouring Daniels this year in particular and instead invite Justice Michael Moldaver, Justice Rosalie Abella, Bob Rae, Hal Jackman, or one of the other hundreds of outstanding alumni to speak at convocation.