Ultra Vires


SLS Student Experience Townhall

Students express their views on a laptop ban and other areas of concern

On January 31, the Students’ Law Society (SLS) held a Student Experience Townhall at the law school. During the lunchtime consultation, SLS representatives and students engaged in an informal back-and-forth about various law school issues.

The discussion focused on four topics in particular:

1.The province’s changes to Ontario financial aid, tuition and mandatory fee levies

The first agenda item was the Ontario government’s recent policy reforms to financial aid, tuition, and student fee levies. SLS President Solomon McKenzie (3L) summarized the upcoming changes (which were outlined in Ultra Vires last month) and offered several clarifications.

In particular, law school tuition will be reduced by ten percent for next year and will remain at this level the following year. This means that the four percent tuition increase contemplated by administration will not be implemented as planned.

In terms of student aid, the changes to OSAP funding will affect both the global amount of financial aid that each student receives (likely to decrease) and its breakdown (more loan, less grant). One change highlighted by McKenzie as a particular concern is the extension of the time period during which parental income is factored into funding calculation from four to six years after high school graduation. This will result in more students being deemed ineligible for both provincial and U of T Law financial aid, increasing student reliance on private lines of credit in order to fund law school. In response to student queries about whether U of T Law will adjust its financial aid policy to mitigate the effects of these changes, McKenzie explained that the administration, though very communicative on the subject, has not suggested that more resources will be made available.

Finally, the province has decided to make student fees optional (with a few exceptions). This would include the student fee that currently funds the SLS. Since many, if not most, of the clubs and events at the law school are funded by the SLS, the effects of this change have the potential to be far-reaching. McKenzie acknowledged that while some students may understandably choose to opt out of paying for the SLS, this poses a risk to the student government’s future. Considerations of fairness and accessibility will play a role in discussions going forward. McKenzie also clarified that it would be very difficult to dissect the fee into smaller components (to give students the option of providing partial funding), since SLS funding is currently portioned out to a large number of activities and events.

2. The proposed laptop ban in U of T Law classrooms

The discussion then shifted to the laptop ban, a proposal that attracted substantial criticism from the students in the room.

Kristy Wong (1L, StAG Rep) explained that a group of U of T Law professors, who consider laptops a distraction, have proposed a Faculty-wide ban on laptop use during lectures. The ban would not cover laptop use outside of the classroom or during exams. The school’s current policy allows professors to ban laptop use during their lectures on a discretionary basis.

Students at the town hall were strongly opposed to the proposed ban for a variety of reasons. Many students, while acknowledging that laptops may create a distraction, pointed to less drastic available means of addressing the issue. These included dividing classrooms into a laptop side and a non-laptop side, and turning off the Wi-Fi in classrooms (although some felt this solution would ignore the legitimate benefits of Internet availability during lectures). Other students noted that the ban risks painting the law school as regressive, and suggested that professors should instead receive training on incorporating technology into lectures with a view to increasing class participation. Some students expressed concern that the ban would create an even bigger hurdle for students who rely on notetakers. Finally, some went so far as to characterize the limitation on student choice as paternalistic, opining that professors are not automatically entitled to students’ attention. One student commented, “I rip solitaire in class all the time—I do fine.”

When asked whether phones and other devices would be captured by the ban, the SLS expressed doubt that this had been considered at the present juncture.

3. U of T Law’s website and headnotes

SLS Vice President Morgan Watkins (2L) announced that the school has hired a web designer and is seeking student feedback to identify potential improvements.

Several students voiced frustration with the functioning and design of the Faculty’s e.Legal portal. Some disapproved of the multiple login requirement to access their class schedule, and others described the student directory as “creepy.” Students were reminded that they may request to be removed off e.Legal or may edit their details on the portal, but that groups such as the SLS rely on the portal to obtain student email addresses.

Students also recommended that improvements be made to the design of Headnotes, which currently appears in student inboxes each week as a lengthy list of announcements and events. When asked whether they log in each week to read Headnotes, the overwhelming majority of those present did not raise their hands.

Concerns about Quercus were also raised—specifically, the initial waiting period at the beginning of each semester—but students were reassured that the kinks associated with this platform are being ironed out and should improve with time.

4. The Career Development Office (CDO)

In response to the SLS’s request for feedback on the effectiveness of CDO interactions and communications, several 1L students described difficulty in securing an appointment with the CDO in the weeks leading up to the 1L recruit. Additionally, 1L JD/MBA students expressed their frustration with the dearth of information offered by either faculty regarding questions such as whether to participate in the 1L recruit and whether students can participate on the executive of a law school club in their MBA year. McKenzie clarified that, for SLS at least, students can participate on the SLS executive in their MBA year as long as they have paid the SLS fee.

One student proposed that the CDO hold a short one-on-one meeting with each student upon entering law school to explain the process and answer questions. McKenzie explained that the CDO is in the initial stages of considering whether something along those lines is feasible.

5. “What’s grinding your gears?”

When the conversation was opened up, students argued in favour of more substantial feedback on exams from professors, requested that a specific date and time (subject to changes) be announced for the release of grades in order to avoid rumours and confusion, and questioned whether DLS should be graded on a curve against the whole clinic. A further suggestion was made that law students receive the option to enroll in one or two law school courses of their choice as credit/no credit.

SLS has distributed an anonymous Google feedback form seeking further feedback on these (or any other) topics.

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