Ultra Vires


Tuition vote “a violation of student trust”

Following three months of fragile progress on the tuition file, Governing Council voted to raise our tuition at a meeting with no input from law students, unannounced, in the middle of spring exam period.

Those who led opposition to high tuition at the Faculty of Law (including myself) fired off a letter to Dean Mayo Moran complaining that the April 9 vote “contradicts the Faculty’s commitment to transparent decision making surrounding tuition and financial aid and is a violation of student trust.”

Indeed, the timing couldn’t have been more inflammatory. In February, students circulated a petition calling for the end of high annual tuition fee hikes and calling on the administration to deal with the growing gap between tuition and financial aid. Crucially, the petition called on the administration not to raise tuition until a plan is in place to address these concerns. More than 400 law students signed it. Alumni became involved. Ultra Vires dedicated an issue to the subject. Even the Globe and Mail ran an op-ed by student Sarah Rankin calling on the administration to deal with ballooning tuition.

In response, the Faculty of Law and the Dean’s Office made a number of moves to address student concerns. The Acting Dean, Anthony Duggan, met with the tuition dissidents in February. Shortly afterwards, the Faculty released a white paper, sketching (in very broad terms) where tuition dollars are spent. In late March, Alexis Archbold and Ben Alarie hosted a series of listening meetings with members of key student groups.

The Dean herself returned early from sabbatical to field questions from students during a town hall on March 4, perhaps the strongest indication yet that the administration was taking our concern seriously.

Each of the administration’s actions — the white paper, the town hall, Alarie’s slideshow at the listening meetings — were at least nominally designed to share information. Yet, it was so baldly dishonest. The administration was using the language of transparency and information-sharing in the very moment the university was gearing up to jack our fees, without notice or consultation.

Cynical students won’t be surprised with the administration’s behaviour. Universities across this country have a habit of voting to raise tuition when there are the fewest students on campus — either during the summer semester, or during spring exams. Boards of governors also have a habit of doing it quietly, with as little fanfare as possible. But the point is, the Faculty of Law had promised forthright, honest dialogue, and in the same moment declined to tell us key information.

To be fair, students may have had a sneaking suspicion that the administration wasn’t being totally forthright throughout last year. After all, the white paper released by the Faculty in February was so full of generalizations and obfuscations that Peter Flynn and the Student Law Society generated a brick of a report detailing its failings. At the town hall, Dean Moran was evasive when asked tough questions, ultimately sticking close to her talking points. And Alarie’s slides were so rickety, data-wise, that student questions largely focused on methodology, not the data’s implications.

Our greatest success so far, of course, was only partly our doing. At the end of March, the Province of Ontario rejigged the ceiling on tuition hikes for both undergraduates and professional faculties like the Faculty of Law. Under the old formula, 1L tuition rose by 8 percent a year; under the new formula, 1L rose by 5 percent this year. Upper year increases haven’t changed, at 4 percent annually. Credit where credit is due: we can thank CFS-Ontario (Canadian Federation of Students) and the UTSU (University of Toronto Student Union) for the change. But students at the Faculty of Law ensured professional faculty tuition didn’t get left out of the discussion.

Our first priority – the first and essential job of tuition skeptics – is to convince the Dean that she has a substantive problem. No more can the administration frame this as a student-faculty communications problem. This is not a PR problem.

Tuition is too high.

It is putting a burden on students and recent graduates which is unacceptable. I expect that the elected members of the Student Law Society, many of whom campaigned against high tuition, are already delivering this message to the Dean. Because, for all the Faculty’s dialogue on tuition, we have yet to hear clearly from the Dean that the tuition trajectory is unacceptable.

Admitting that we have a problem is the first step. Once that happens, we can work with the administration to nail down a sustainable alternative plan. Lots of people have ideas about what can be done to wean the Faculty off of annual tuition fee hikes — some of the ideas have been discussed in the pages of this newspaper — but there’s not a lot of point in debating the comparative merits of these strategies until the administration agrees on the goal.

Otherwise, the Faculty will simply glide past more shameful milestones — $40,000 and $50,000 annual tuition fees — in the next few years.

Interested in getting involved? Email studenttuitionpetition@gmail.com.

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