When U of T’s law school decided to almost double tuition in the next five years, dean Ron Daniels said access wouldn’t be a problem, but black students and community members aren’t buying it.
On Friday, the Black Law Students Association of Canada asked the Ontario Human Rights Commission to investigate the plan to increase tuition from the current $12,000 to $22,000 in the next five years, saying it discriminates against minority and low-income students.
According to a U of T student who helps try to attract these groups to the law school, the group has a point.
“That seemed to be a primary issue for them,” Samer Muscati said of high-school students’ reaction when they visited the law school. “Everybody was asking about the $20,000 tuition price tag.”
The final-year law student said it was difficult to defend U of T.
“It was hard for us to explain that they should incur all of these debts to go to law school.”
Second-year student Louise James, a member of the Black Law Student Society at U of T, argues that tuition hikes discriminate against low-income students, who are disproportionately racial minorities.
According to the association, the average annual income for black families in Toronto is $25,500.
“This is a community response, because that’s what I always thought was missing from the process as it went through the law school,” said James.
Part of the law school’s “five-year plan” to increase excellence is a student-initiated report on diversity. This includes a three-year working group that looks at diversity as well as specific guidelines for recruitment officers to deal with diversity.
But Muscati, who through Students in Law for the Advancement of Minorities (SLAM), was involved in the creation of the report on diversity, says SLAM does not endorse the overall report. “I don’t see minority students becoming rich all of a sudden,” he said.
James said this segment doesn’t get to the heart of the matter.
“They don’t address the problem that is going to be posed by the tuition hike, in terms of attracting more students of diverse backgrounds and improving their experience at law school. Certainly having a large debt doesn’t make your law school experience as fun as it should be.”
“I support any motion that will prevent U of T from increasing tuition to that level,” added Muscati.
Both James and Muscati agree this is a national issue, since other universities could follow suit.
Traditionally, one of the major barriers to entering law school for minority students has been the LSAT exams, but James says tuition poses a bigger problem.
“You have control over whether or not you can do the LSATs better,” said James.
“But I think that the tuition part, once it gets higher and higher for professional schools, it’s going to become more and more out of the control of students, because they’re still in the same position economically.”