Faculty Council: Financial Aid Fall Classic

Maud Rozee (3L)

The October 18 meeting of Faculty Council’s centred on the Faculty’s yearly discussion of its budget, tuition, and financial aid. The meeting took place in J120 instead of the Solarium because of anticipated high attendance for this discussion, and the meeting was indeed well attended by students (although less well attended by faculty).

Before the main event, Assistant Dean Sara Faherty gave an update from the Accommodations Committee. Over the last year, the Committee approved 277 out of 287 requests from 135 students. Requests for accommodation from students with two exams on the same day or conflicting religious observances were automatically approved.

In other cases, Assistant Dean Faherty said the Committee required further information so that it could treat like cases alike. She also explained that these numbers do not necessarily present the whole picture, as many students are accommodated centrally through U of T Accessibility Services. Assistant Dean Faherty apologized for sometimes asking “nitpicky” questions throughout the accommodation process and said she appreciated students’ patience. Students’ Law Society (SLS) President Katie Longo asked whether the Committee had considered changing a law school policy which prevents students from recording lectures (the recommended accommodation from U of T Accessibility Services for students with hearing issues). Assistant Dean Faherty responded that changing that kind of policy is “above my paygrade” but offered assurances that she could almost always find class notes for students in need.

Next, Dean Iacobucci gave his presentation on the law school’s current budget. He began with a reminder that Faculty Council has no formal authority over the budget. Although the Faculty is not a “helpless bystander” in the budget process, it must ultimately answer to the Provost’s office. Any discussion on budget and tuition from the Faculty would only have an informal impact.

Dean Iacobucci walked Faculty Council through the University of Toronto’s $2.47 billion budget, which relies on student fees for 61% of its revenue. He explained that while costs are rising, government funding per student has stagnated. This is a large contributor to the University’s structural deficit: its weighted average increase in revenue is 2.7% and its weighted average increase in expense is 3.3%. Compensation for faculty and staff makes up 64% of the University’s costs. The University relies increasingly on international students for revenue, as international tuition increases are not regulated.

Dean Iacobucci further explained the University of Toronto’s decentralized model. Each department, like the Faculty of Law, has to pay 10% of all revenues into the University Fund. This money is redistributed to programs around the university. The Faculty of Law is actually a significant net recipient of university funds.

Compensation for faculty and staff makes up 53% of the Faculty of Law’s budget. 19% of the budget is allocated to university-wide costs like keeping the lights on and paying for libraries; 11% to financial aid; 8% to the University Fund; and 9% to “Other.” Overall, the Faculty of Law has a 0.7% structural deficit. Its costs are growing faster than its revenue even if tuition rises by 5% annually, the maximum increase allowed by provincial regulation.

Dean Iacobucci explained that this puts constraints on his discussions about the Faculty’s budget with the Provost. The whole university is in a structural deficit and other departments are raising tuition at the maximum allowable rates—for international students, these increases are around 10% annually. Dean Iacobucci said, “I can’t walk in and say to the Provost, ‘We’re going to keep taking out of the University Fund but not going to raise tuition to pay more.’” He explained that, in the future, changes to things like the pension solvency could help alleviate the structural deficit but this year he will recommend another 5% increase to tuition.

There are margins for improvement, Dean Iacobucci continued. The Faculty has cut costs by, for example, ending its internationally trained lawyers program, as well as by repositioning the law library so that costs are shared across divisions. He also emphasized that student financial aid is a fundraising priority and the Faculty has recently received several donations. The financial aid pot increased 7.5% last year and the Dean is confident that the Faculty will achieve another 7.5% increase again this year. He could not make promises beyond that.

Following the Dean’s remarks, SLS President Longo gave a speech in response (the text of which is available here). It can be effectively summed up in a single choice quote: “The reality is that our financial aid has failed to keep pace with rising tuition, and students are concerned and frustrated with what feels like an endless march towards financial inaccessibility.”

The Dean, in his capacity as Chair of Faculty Council, then opened the floor to questions.

2L StAG representative Solomon McKenzie asked the Faculty to release demographic information of financial aid recipients for the past two years, as the Faculty had done in years past. Dean Iacobucci responded that he would consider it, but warned that making the data presentable for release is a difficult process and it is pointless to look at changing demographics without data from other schools, which have so far been resistant to collecting such information. He further noted that, in the past, those with an ideological stance against raising tuition had not used such information productively.

StAG Vice-President Anne Marshall asked whether there was a dollar amount for tuition that the Dean would consider to be too high, noting that tuition in the year 2020 would be above $40,000—a 1000% increase since deregulation. Dean Iacobucci remarked that the issue can be framed in any number of jarring ways but, given the budgetary constraints on the school, he could not give a number or timeframe for when the Faculty and University administration could bend the tuition curve.

Professor Jim Phillips remarked that talking in numbers rather than the percentage increases would help ground the discussion. He said that, when the decision was made to begin tuition increases in the early 2000s, the idea was sold with promises that haven’t been kept—namely, that 30% of the increases would be put back into student financial aid. Prof. Phillips agreed with President Longo that the dependence of faculty salary increases on student tuition increases puts faculty at cross-purposes with students and could lead to an unhealthy relationship.

The Dean replied that regardless of how the numbers are framed, he would never consider them to be trivial. He noted that, in absolute terms, the law school’s contribution to financial aid has increased by millions of dollars in the past years. As for the history of financial aid set-asides, he said he would prefer not to judge the actions of past deans, claiming that Ron Daniels increased the financial aid pot by as much as 35% in some years. He pinned the so-called “broken promise” on the financial crisis, noting that what to some looks like dishonesty may be seen by others as necessary adjustments to changing circumstances. He said that his concern is to look forward rather than to the past.