Faculty Council: A familiar feeling

Ramz Aziz (1L) 

The second Faculty Council meeting of the semester occurred this past Wednesday, October 21. The Law Union rallied its faithful to attend this all-important meeting. Students, professors, and administrators were set to discuss tuition and financial accessibility at the law school. High on progressive passion, I heeded the call.

The Place

The trusty Solarium typically accommodates all within its eponymously sunny bowels, but more students than normal attended this meeting, displacing certain administrators to the indignity of the stairs. I liked the no-frills simplicity. Just a conference table, chairs, and projector screen.

The People

Faculty members took their seats with an air of indifference. For most, it was clearly not their first rodeo. I was happy to see most of our Student Affairs and Governance Representatives—our majestic StAGs—grace the table. Others strategically occupied seats in the audience, perhaps to draw upon the people’s power.

Some StAGs showed deference to their elders, offering to vacate their seats for late-arriving Faculty. Classy. Perhaps even classier were the suits and formal attire donned with casual flair by the President and a couple of StAG reps. They meant business, and they looked it. Just the right blend of broke student and bona fide badass.

The Food

The spread was really the star of the show. There was more than enough to turn the most permanent frown upside down. After attendees improved their disposition with a healthy dose of wraps, cookies, coffee, and juice—pillaged with impunity by some non-attendees— the meeting commenced on an amicable note.

The Business

Dean Iacobucci quickly dived into the meat of the agenda, over the faint sound of munching and the occasional slurp.

The Dean opened up the eagerly awaited tuition and financial aid item with a few all-too-familiar comments about the Faculty’s fiscal position. U of T’s Governing Council won’t allocate more money to the law school. Post-secondary transfers from the province have stagnated. With the provincial grant now constituting less than 50% of a university budget, Ontario’s formerly public universities are considered “publicly-supported” rather than “publicly-funded.”

This situation is not unique to U of T or Ontario. It affects universities across North America and around the world. Remedies require cooperation—and, dare I say, collaboration—between students, faculty and administrators. This is why I was surprised to witness typical interest-based dynamics at play.

As a newbie first-year attending my first Faculty Council meeting, I was somewhat excited, mildly nervous, and all-around curious as to how the governing body of the Faculty of Law conducted its business. I expected to see a change from the familiar power dynamics, archetypal roles, and status quo struggles that are ubiquitous to joint administrative, student, and faculty bodies. I expected a cultivated culture of collegiality given that we are older, supposedly wiser law students. I expected decision-makers to bequeath to students a higher level of trust.

Instead, the conversation played out true to the status quo. Our SLS President outlined the growing gap between financial aid and tuition—for the 50% of the class receiving bursaries, the average bursary now only covers one third of tuition, as opposed to half of tuition a decade ago. He expressed the need for universal access to credit, or at least an alternative to financial aid contingent on private credit for those prospective and admitted students with credit issues.

Chiefly, he requested access to comprehensive student socioeconomic data to better identify problem areas, trends, and solutions. The administration agreed with “the principle” and ambiguously committed to contemplating the request.

Some faculty members allied with the administration delved into a confusing and meaningless tirade about current data collection practices.

A maverick faculty member defended the students’ position, arguing that students concerned with financial accessibility were working with one hand tied behind their backs without access to the same data as the administration. The Dean quickly interjected that the relationship with students was not “adversarial.”

Oh dear, I was getting the wrong impression. My mistake.

The mental health aspect of tuition never came up, though we heard a lot from the administration about postal codes. So that’s cool.

The conversation left little room for questions from the audience. A bold third-year student, armed with a confidence that only a secure articling job can provide, pointedly asked what action the administration will take in response to the SLS requests. “Further [internal] discussion” was the clearly miffed response.

The Skinny

If you have ever been exposed to the politics of university governance, things weren’t all that different. Unfortunately, that’s kind of the problem. Mutual trust and cooperation at Faculty Council might cause some to split their wig, and others to rejoice. I’ll keep my fingers crossed in anticipation.