Fundraising campaign should reflect student voices

Brett Hughes (3L)

Last week, Canadians voted for change in Ottawa, but U of T Law students were reminded yet again that they had been signed up for “five more years.”

For those new on the scene, Dean Iacobucci was appointed last year following a selection process that seemed designed to limit student input. Our Students’ Law Society’s (SLS) held a vote and put forward official nominees for the decanal search committee, who were rejected by the University Provost. Meanwhile, the sole “external” member of the search committee was a U of T Law alum and partner at the law firm that endowed then-Professor Iacobucci’s business law chair.

Somehow, the “international” search process found that what we needed was right under our noses all along—the son of a former Dean (and former Supreme Court justice!), whose academic focus is law and economics, and who can leverage his and his father’s connections to raise large sums of money. Bold. Visionary.

I was reminded again of this disregard for student voices at last week’s Faculty Council meeting. This was the first annual discussion on tuition and financial aid to be chaired by Dean Iacobucci, and his message was clear: “Things are great. Don’t be adversarial. Be ‘positive’ and help us raise money.” Students expecting dialogue were sorely disappointed. The take-home was that students should be seen—on the Faculty website, and in glossy promotional materials, perhaps—but not heard.

The administration surely expects students to play a major role in its upcoming fundraising push for financial aid. In fact, students already do. The law school asks financial aid recipients to write thank you notes to donors for their noblesse oblige—I was asked to write a thank you note to the Imperial Tobacco Foundation last year.

Students should think carefully about participating in any financial aid fundraising initiatives until we have (1) more transparency about what is going on now, and (2) a clear picture of where our leader intends to take our school in the future. Raising lots of money is not an inherently valuable goal, so we should not be reflexively “positive” about a new fundraising campaign.

After a decade of a growing gap between tuition and financial aid, we have plenty of lost ground to make up for without letting costs balloon further. Without a clear plan to tie fundraising to specific, measurable commitments to accessibility, the new campaign will just function as a subsidy from wealthy donors to professors with sky-high salaries, all funneled through increasingly debt-burdened financial aid recipients.

Ultimately, when the school asks for you to help fundraising as a student, make sure you’ve asked yourself: why does the University of Toronto Faculty of Law deserve more money? Am I confident the funds will go to students in need? To be sure, we need plenty of donors to get on board, but encourage them to be similarly critical. Let’s do this. But let’s do it right.