Faculty Affairs: Tuition rises again while SLS stresses accessibility and transparency

Matt Howe (3L)

At the October 21 Faculty Council meeting, Dean Ed Iacobucci said he will recommend to the U of T administration that tuition fees be increased by 5% next year, the maximum legally allowable amount. This means that tuition for incoming students next year will be at least $34,600, an increase of almost $1,600.

The reason is the same as every year. The Faculty continues to increase its spending while financial support from the government and central U of T administration hardly changes.

Iacobucci said that, despite tuition revenue, the Faculty regularly spends more money than it brings in. The U of T administration has chosen to regularly transfer funds to the law school to cover the gap. Iacobucci said it would take “chutzpah” to seek transfers from the central administration without also increasing law students’ tuition as much as he can.

Dean Iacobucci wants to focus on “margins where we can make a difference,” instead of issues which are unchangeable. This includes closing the gap between the tuition growth-rate and the growth-rate of available financial aid—a gap which has been growing for years—and implementing a broad fundraising campaign around financial aid.

This fundraising campaign is in a “quiet” and “exploratory” phase, and Iacobucci indicated there is no particular plan or target at this stage.

Students’ Law Society (SLS) President Andrew Wang expressed appreciation that the administration has made financial aid a fundraising priority, but stressed that there are still potentially difficult conversations that the Faculty should be having on tuition and financial aid. He made three specific requests on behalf of the SLS.

First, Wang asked that the fundraising campaign include specific, measurable goals to tie fundraising to financial accessibility targets, rather than only an absolute dollar amount. In particular, he asked for a contingency plan for financial accessibility in case fundraising falls short, or takes longer than expected—e.g. a commitment to draw on the Faculty’s endowment to maintain financial aid when fundraising does not keep pace with tuition.

Iacobucci agreed that measurable goals are important, but said he “couldn’t tell you what we expect to accomplish at this point.”

Second, Wang requested that the administration release more data on the socioeconomic composition of the class, and start tracking it for students who do not apply to financial aid.

In particular, he requested that the administration release the parental income data for the 50% of students who apply for financial aid to provide a partial picture of socioeconomic diversity.

Currently, for the other 50% of students, the administration takes the postal area from each student’s “permanent address” and uses the median income for that postal area—which may include 10,000 people or more—as a proxy for students’ actual family income. Wang argued this is an imprecise substitute for actual data for several reasons, including that many students list their campus address as their permanent address, instead of their parents’ address.

He said more precise data should be collected, perhaps by requiring every incoming student to submit parental income information to the Financial Aid Office, or by adding a question about parental income to the peer mentorship survey.

Professor Denise Réaume spoke in support of the request. She said “it’s not fair to say [to students]: ‘take whatever information you’re given, and see if you can figure out where the holes are.’”

Professor Alarie and Dean Iacobucci defended the adequacy of the current information, stating that useful inferences can be drawn from postal area data, and that the technique is widely used in the social sciences. They said the administration has cross-referenced postal area data with actual data on students receiving financial aid and found them to roughly match.

Iacobucci refused to commit to releasing existing parental income data or to tracking additional data. He said that he would discuss it with Professor Alarie after the meeting.

In response to Professor Réaume, Iacobucci said that this was not an “adversarial process,” and that everyone is committed to achieving accessibility and excellence together. Former SLS Vice President of Student Affairs and Governance, Padraigin Murphy (3L), found the Dean’s comment “a little tone deaf following his opposition to sharing the data the SLS requested, which students have now been requesting for years.”

LEFT: UV 2014 recruitment survey – 174 2L responses; RIGHT: U of T Law Admin’s Postal Code Chart (produced 2013)

Wang’s final request was that the law school “fix the access to credit issue.” Given that meeting one’s unmet financial need is contingent on access to large private lines of credit, some students struggle if they are unable to secure sufficient private credit.

The Faculty currently provides “emergency” loans to students in this situation, even though the loans are supposed to be for “short-term” issues only. Wang said this approach only “works” if there are very few low-income students in the first place, because the emergency loan fund is limited. Further, students with credit issues may not apply to this law school in the first place because it is unclear how, if at all, they will be helped.

Wang asked the administration to assure all prospective students that, if admitted, their unmet need would be met somehow, either through guaranteed private loans, or larger bursary amounts. Professor Alarie said that this issue has been discussed for many years now and that he would continue to discuss it with fellow Financial Aid Committee member, Assistant Dean, JD Students Alexis Archbold.

Spencer Burger, a 3L SLS Student Affairs and Governance Rep, appreciated that the Dean is committed to solving the problem of aid remaining stagnant while tuition grows. However, he felt that the “elephant in the room”—the law school’s growing costs—was largely ignored. He thinks the academic-side of the law school should think seriously about ways in which efficiency could be increased, perhaps by requiring Faculty to teach more classes, which would allow for reduced future hiring.

For his part, Wang welcomed “Dean Iacobucci’s preliminary commitment to raising financial aid at least at the same rate as the rising tuition.” He noted that he was “looking forward to the Dean’s response to our requests, and to continuing our work together to make U of T Law accessible to all.”