Saying goodbye to David Naylor

Outgoing U of T president discusses flat fees, fee diversion, favourite books, and his final thoughts as he says farewell

Saying goodbye to David Naylor

It has been eight years since David Naylor became president of U of T. He’s led the university in the midst of provincial funding cuts, a global recession, and seemingly endless battles with the students’ union. He will step down on October 31, and former Arts & Science dean Meric Gertler will take his place. I sat down with Naylor one more time for a 45-minute interview that lasted nearly an hour and a half, not counting the responses he emailed for the questions we didn’t have time to get to.

 

The Varsity: I know that provincial and federal funding is something that you’ve talked about for a long time, in terms of the university wanting more of it. If you could have any system you wanted right now, what would it look like?

David Naylor: We would be at the national average for student funding, at the minimum, and that alone would see probably on the order of $300 million of additional base funding; that’s how big the gap has become.

 

TV: And why are we below the average?

DN: This is a very challenging question to ever answer definitively. If you go back twenty years, you’ll find the province was already lagging in terms of post-secondary funding and, despite some positive steps in the early days of the Reaching Higher program the province adopted, there has been no real progress. It’s particularly puzzling because we are the national average on spending K-12 education, and the national average in terms of spending on health care. Yet we seem to have decided, somehow, that it’s okay to have a situation in which universities and colleges receive relatively less per student from other provinces. Indeed, so much less that if I were to move the University of Toronto’s operations to Edmonton or Calgary tomorrow, we would double our funding from the province, even after they’ve had their cuts.

 

TV: The province is considering amending the flat-fees structure, the proposal is, as of next year students taking 3.5 courses will be considered full-time, and as of 2015 students taking four courses or 80 per cent will be considered full-time. Do you think that these changes are positive? If so, why, and if not, what would be a better system?

DN: I think the changes are not evidence-based…what has not been established is that there are any ill effects from this approach, and by established I mean good strong evidence rather than the usual anecdote that carries the day in newspapers. When you look at the studies that were done by the Faculty of Arts & Science, with student representatives on those committees, we see quantitative evidence that shows the following:

We see faster times to completion, which is good for everybody. We see the funds that have been generated from the program fee approach have been redirected to improve student aid, which is also a good thing net and net no one ends up paying more as a result, when you consider both intensification and the additional student aid.

You see that extracurricular participation has not fallen one bit. You see that grade distribution, so far from going in the wrong direction, is actually showing positive changes. When you put all the evidence together, there’s really not a lot to say that program fees have had an adverse effect.


TV:
Would you advocate for the status quo? Do you think that there should be any change at the provincial level?

DN: Do I think the threshold should be four? No, I do not think that threshold is appropriate. Do I think the threshold could be 3 or 3.5? You can argue it either way, but to me if you’re going to do it, what I really would want to see from the standpoint of fairness is get the evidence as you proceed, step by step, to show that adverse effects are not occurring.

 

TV: U of T consistently ranks poorly on Maclean’s and other surveys that rank student life on campus. Do you think U of T has as strong a student life or sense of identity as Queen’s or Western? If so, why? If not, why not? 

DN: I take some consolation on these surveys from the reality that we have a more critically minded, and I think very smart, audience that may be more inclined to take a skeptical view than those who are happier to paint themselves purple or participate in rowdy Homecoming institutions.

 

AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

AARON TAN/THE VARSITY

TV: Can it all be attributed to that?

DN: No, of course not. I just wanted to get in that preliminary caveat before I answered your question. The surveys that I look at that give me some sense of encouragement are the NSSE [National Survey of Student Engagement] surveys. On NSSE, we’re up meaningfully over the last few years on five of the seven big domains, and stable on two others. So there’s no question that student life and student engagement are improving. The reality is that this is a major urban centre. We have a lot of students who commute and we know in all these surveys that commuting poses challenges in terms of spirit and solidarity. I do think that the continued improvement in athletics helps. I think that having a Student Commons will help.

I do think that U of T students are simply more academic and have a stronger orientation to a life of the mind than students at some other campuses. And we get accordingly a group who may be less inclined to go out and whoop it up at an athletic event or hang out at a local bar and have fun and who may be a little more likely to be hitting the books in a pretty demanding school and tending to focus on their academics a little more heavily — and I frankly get that and I admire it.

 

TV: Yes. Now you said the words ‘‘student commons,’’ so I have to ask: On the one hand you have Trinity, Engineering, and Victoria who want to leave. On the other hand you have the students’ union who doesn’t want them to leave. What is a potential compromise?

DN: I think that one has to ask what are some of the services that are sufficiently common across the campus that they might be provided by an umbrella entity and which are division specific to the extent that one might want to see them devolved and that thinking around functionality is one starting point. Another starting point for a compromise is to think about how good governance occurs and that means there has to be some sense that there is an umbrella body like UTSU, that it is responsive to the component divisions in a way that gives them a real sense of full participation in decisions that are made, and both those principles become a starting point for some intelligent compromises. Where this will end up is going to depend upon whether people are willing to find compromises in both directions.


TV:
It is the formal position at Victoria, Engineering, and Trinity that they feel there is no room to compromise and they want out. And a few weeks ago the St. George Round Table passed a motion endorsing the principle that if students have voted to leave in a fair referendum then they should be allowed to leave. And, as you know, the union is not responsive to these things. Online voting only got implemented in this election because Cheryl Misak basically threatened to cut off funding. How do you work with the union under these circumstances?

DN: I think it is fair to say that the administration is very unlikely to be comfortable with anything that doesn’t involve some sensible compromises on all sides and if there is no appetite for compromise then there will have to be some decision made by governance on the advice of the administration as to what a sensible and fair dispensation would be. There is no question we have heard very quickly the unhappiness of at least three major student groups on this campus. There is also no question, that we have watched years of challenges to electoral results and have had more than one student group through the years have similar concerns to those that have crystallized and been voted on now. All that is to say that no one should underestimate the resolve of the administration to see a fair resolution.

So I think you will find that we will be moderately patient, perhaps frustratingly so for those that want a fast resolution, and we are going to try and keep the conversation going and if at some juncture there is no resolution, we will act.

 

TV: The Varsity recently wrote a story about interest fees the university charges. U of T collects about $1.76 million dollars in interest fees from the St. George campus undergraduate students. I don’t think that’s much money for the administration, but I do think that’s a lot of money for your average student. Students get osap money twice during the year, but they have to pay their fees once during the year. So bearing in mind the different OSAP timelines and the pressure from the students’ union, do you think the current model needs to be altered, and if not, why? 

DN: First off, whatever the number is, any money in base that recurs is important to the institution. This is not a one-time amount of money, it’s a recurring amount of money, but much more important than the actual amount brought in on interest charges is the fact that if fees are not paid on a timely basis, there is a loss on the part of the institution. Like any other enterprise we have to continue to make payroll, deal with our expenses, and manage cash flow.

 

TV: Are there ways to do that without charging interest?

DN: Well it’s pretty hard not to charge interest because if the money isn’t in our hands we can’t put whatever money has been banked out to collect interest out from the banks. Remember that our money comes in in a couple of tranches, just like the money comes in from OSAP in a couple of tranches. We have to manage cash flow for the year. If we don’t invest the money that comes in we’re guilty of dereliction of the appropriate use of capital in our hands and that would be inappropriate and wasteful. One of the reasons interest is charged on these accounts is not some desire to gouge or to make a lot of money out of the interest per se, but rather to make sure we actually have people paying on a timely basis.

 

TV: Could U of T operate on a model where students pay once per semester? Other universities do.

DN: You have to look at each institution’s model to look at what works. As I see it, most institutions have some interest charges simply to ensure fees are paid on a timely basis. As I see it when a newspaper reports that this amounts to 19 per cent they are misrepresenting the reality and that no one is going to go a full year without paying their fees. When we have claims that these fees are a great burden when in fact they’re OSAP-eligible expenses, we also have some misperception.

 

TV: If I may though, the data does show that most people are sitting with it between OSAP disbursement periods.  

DN: So in that period they will see this as an expense and they will wait to be paid back, and I understand that that is something that rankles, I get it. It also rankles when anyone else gets a bill with an interest charge on it, which is why we pay them. I would love to see some sensible compromise that found everyone happy our fees are paid on a timely basis and students feeling as though they are also incentivized to do their share to pay.

 

TV: What is next?

DN: I will go back to the ranks and I will try to be helpful to the institution in any way I can. I will do some private sector work and I will do some non profit and charitable work and try to stay out of the way.

 

TV: Will you teach?

DN: I hope so. I love teaching, and I really enjoyed research. I would like to live that life again, but I will have to take a little time to see how feasible that is. I mean, I’ve been at it 14 years as a full-time academic administrator as dean of Medicine and president and the jury is out as to whether I can retool and be effective as a researcher again. I’d like to give that a try, but it may be too late — the neurons may have gone to sleep permanently.

 

TV: What is your favourite book?

DN: Mr Bumbletoes of Bimbleton… That’s a sentimental choice.  My grandparents on both sides were immigrants with limited education.  My mother was a gifted student, but neither she nor her three brothers attended university. My father was determined to be a medical researcher, and was the only one of six children in his family to attend university.  He arrived here at University College during the Depression without any family financial backing, and worked more or less full-time to support himself.  There was no student aid.  He made it as far as first-year Medicine, but couldn’t manage and dropped out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my parents gave their four children a house full of books and a strong sense that we should all pursue higher education as far as it would take us. Among those books, Mr Bumbletoes was my childhood favourite. I am sorry that my father did not live to see his old oak desk in the office of the dean of Medicine at U of T.

 

TV: Let me ask you one last question. If you came back to U of T 10 years from now, what would you hope the campus would look like?

DN: I would hope they were still amazingly diverse, with the fabulous mix of students we have here from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and cultures. I think one of the things that I feel best about is that we’ve had huge numbers of people over the last number of years work hard to promote a uniquely Canadian brand of accessible excellence here at U of T. I think it distinguishes us hugely from some of the Ivy League institutions with which we compete otherwise on the academic level, and I also think in the quality of our graduates — so I would want to see that same wonderful level of diversity. I would hope that we might on this campus have finally figured out a way to close down some of the traffic around King’s College Circle, so that this can be even more of a pedestrian space.

I’d love to see some of the new buildings that are planned up and thriving and full of terrific students and faculty and staff, and I’ll be watching all of those developments with great interest. East and West, I would be really excited to see more of a sense of research buildings that enable more graduate students and graduate studies to thrive as per the 2030 plan as well as the outworking of some of the great plans they have underway. For example, in Scarborough the development of the North campus with the remediated land around the Pan Am Centre is going to be incredibly exciting, and I think they will have made big progress a decade from now.

To the West, there’s infinite potential at the Mississauga campus and I can see any number of new programs emerging there that would again represent a change. They have an academcy of Medicine. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both Missisauga and Scarborough with academies of engineering or similar professional programs that are tied to St. George at some later date. I think the sense of a blend of all the historic architecture and all the facilities and greenspace is something that I hope will remain forever. It will always be a place I come back to with a sense of coming home.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Ontario faces potential nurse shortage

While most of the country saw an increase in the number of registered nurses per person between 2008–2012, Ontario’s numbers are falling

Ontario faces potential nurse shortage

Ontario may soon face a critical shortage of nurses, affecting wait room times and the quality of health care, according to the Registered Nurse Association of Ontario (RNAO).

A recent report from the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) found that, while most of the country has experienced an increase in the number of nurses per 100,000 people, Ontario’s numbers decreased from 718 to 699 between the years 2008 and 2012 — leaving it second-last in the country. British Columbia currently ranks the lowest in nurses per population. Registered nurses are front-line caregivers who have a university degree. While the majority work in hospitals, they can also work in clinics, schools, management, and policy fields.

Dr. Lianne Jeffs, scientific director, nursing health services research unit and associate professor of nursing at the University of Toronto, said the situation must be monitored closely over the next few years in order to ensure the safety of patients in Ontario. She said that while there are some positive aspects of the CIHI report, such as the rising number of nurses working full time hours — 66.6 per cent up from 62.9 — and the number of Ontario nursing graduates remaining in the province at 93.6 per cent, there are still concerns about the decreasing number of registered nurses.

On October 9, the Registered Nurse Association of Ontario (RNAO) quickly released a statement regarding the findings of the CIHI report. Doris Grinspun, CEO of the RNAO, said that the results of the report are nothing new.

“We have consistently over the last three years been warning the minister and the premier that the numbers were dipping,” she said. “But now we are reaching the very grave proportions of shortage.”

The RNAO states that the province will likely need to find at least 9,000 nurses by 2015 in order to keep pace with demand. If numbers are not met, Grinspun said the implications on our health care system could be far-reaching.

“Emergency room departments become fuller and fuller, and the implications will be that people will not have same day access in primary care,” Grinspun said.

A spokesperson for The Ministry of Health responded to the CIHI report via email, saying that: “while the CIHI report noted that Ontario’s Registered Nurse-to-population ratio was the second lower [sic] nationally, RN-to-population ratios are only one indicator of supply and should be considered along other metrics.”

The ministry statement added that the actual ratio and needs of members of the community are hard to measure, and that such changes as advances in health technology, population demographics, and the effectiveness of care delivery models are all important factors.

The statement also adds that while Ontario may have the second lowest registered nurse levels in the country, thanks to government initiatives such as HealthForceOntario, the province’s nurse workforce has increased 5.8 per cent between 2008 and 2012, and outpaced the population growth of 4.4 per cent.

Critics, however, are not entirely convinced that government initiatives are enough to attract more nurses to the province.

Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott. TREVOR KOROLL/THE VARSITY

Progressive Conservative health critic Christine Elliott. TREVOR KOROLL/THE VARSITY

Christine Elliott, MPP for Whitby-Oshawa and Progressive Conservative health critic, said that the shortage is part of the larger economic problem of the province. “Because our economic situation is so dismal that we really have a debt that’s doubled under the Liberal government and a huge deficit that is really holding us back from making important investments in health care,” said Elliott.

The healthcare system in Ontario is growing at six to seven per cent per year, a rate that is unsustainable, said Elliott. “Within the next 10-15, years health care will consume up to 80 per cent of the provincial budget.” This would severely limit the investment in other areas such as education and infrastructure.

France Gélinas, MPP for Nickel Belt and the NDP health critic, agrees that something has to be done. Speaking with The Varsity on a trip to her constituency, Gélinas said that she hears many complaints about the rural health care system, and not just from patients.

“Work that used to be done mainly by nurses in an environment with lots of oversight now gets transferred to the community, most of the time to a for-profit and most of the time this work is picked up by people who are not nurses,” said Gélinas.

Gélinas said community services generally fall outside the coverage of the Canada Health Act, which lets citizens have free access to hospitals and physician care. She said the CIHI report is a good indicator of the state of the health care system, but added that: “it indicates to us that things have to change; unfortunately things are changing for the worse, not the better.”

“The hospitals are worried; the nurses are worried, and basically everybody who cares about medicare is worried. That includes a lot of physicians who see the changes coming forward and know what that means,” she said, referring to the trend of community care being picked up by private health care workers.

Jeffs said the CIHI report doesn’t include numbers on the number of private workers who may be unregulated. The sectors in which the shortages are occurring are another point of interest for Jeffs are. She said the report raises questions as to whether “we actually having the providers where they need to be to ensure that patients and families in Ontario are getting the best care possible.”

Grinspun said that while the number the RNAO is calling for may not be met, the organization has a responsibility to bring the numbers to light and make sure that the public has knowledge of the situation.

“The research points very clearly to the impact of registered nurses, of hours of patient care, of registered nurses on patient, and population outcomes. At the end of the day, governments need to be accountable for their policies,” said Grinspun.

Ontario considering raising minimum wage

The Varsity interviews Anil Verma, chair of the Minimum Wage Advisory Panel

On May 2, Ontario announced the appointment of a Minimum Wage Advisory Panel to advise on adjustments to Ontario’s minimum wage policy. Ontario is one of three provinces that does not have a formal mechanism for determining minimum wage increases. The panel will examine the current system for increases and recommend a process by which the minimum wage should be determined in the future. The Varsity discussed the panel’s work with panel chair Anil Verma, professor of Human Resource Management at the Rotman School of Management and director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources.

 

min-wage-graphs

 

The Varsity: Different jurisdictions consider different factors in determining the minimum wage. Inflation is one such factor. What are the main factors that the panel is considering? 

Anil Verma: In most other jurisdictions in Canada, inflation is used as a common basis for revising minimum wages. Our panel’s work will go a little bit beyond. Inflation has been, and will continue to be, a basis. In addition to that, the rate at which the economy is growing may be a consideration, or where other rates are. We are inviting people to make submissions online, and we are getting hundreds of submissions every week. Of course, we are also doing some in-house research where we are looking at the experience of other jurisdictions within Canada and overseas. We are looking at developing a system for Ontario that is transparent, predictable, and fair to workers and employers.

 

TV: Fifty-two per cent of minimum wage earners are between the ages of 15 and 24. How can Ontario approach the issue of student (particularly, university student) employment? 

AV: This is a fairly robust finding in research: the most adversely affected are the young people. What happens here is that minimum wage jobs provide a way for young people to enter the job market. Often, your first job is a minimum wage job. We also know that young people are the most likely to move out of minimum wage. They start there, but they don’t stay there. We have to make sure that minimum wages are not so high that they prevent young people from getting their first job, even as we increase the minimum wage for other groups. There are a lot of people who work in offices and factories, and they are older. Many of these people depend on these jobs for their livelihood and these people would be better served if we had a higher minimum wage. The job of our panel is to balance the two interests of the two groups. We have to let the group do its work, and I don’t want to preempt or second-guess where it might come out.

 

TV: Many students in university research positions do not receive any compensation for their work. Will the panel address this issue?

AV: This is a tough one, and one that is not central to our mandate. I think we need a more comprehensive look at this. Certainly, the system is being abused by many employers who, instead of paying their employees, are making them work gratis. The principle, in general, is that if you are contributing, you should be paid. This is partly tied up with the issue of education and the transition from school to work. This is a bigger question, and will touch on the work of the panel, but cannot be addressed on the whole by the work of the panel.

 

TV: It has been three years since a minimum wage increase in Ontario. Does the panel intend to address Ontario’s current ad hoc approach to increases? 

AV: One of the reasons why our panel was appointed is to draw attention to the issue of ad hoc-ism. In one sense, the panel has the opportunity to set the bar for future revisions by recommending a basis for revising, the frequency at which it should be revised, and who should do it. What we hope to recommend for the government is an entire package that creates the basis for improvements in minimum wage in the future. Of course, there are a couple of major steps between our recommendations and what would actually be government policy. The minister has to accept our recommendations, and then the government has to create legislation and put it through the legislature.

 

TV: Some anti-poverty groups in Ontario are calling for $14 an hour minimum wage in Ontario. What would you say to these groups?

AV: As I said before, their interests are also important. But their interests should not dominate the minimum wage decisions of the government. Roughly 20 per cent of the people who work in minimum wage are supporting a household on the minimum wage. 80 per cent of the people are youth or secondary earners within the household. So, this is not to say that the 20 per cent do not deserve consideration — they do. A very robust finding in research is that the effect of increasing minimum wage on poverty is very small. Minimum wage is just one tool to address poverty. There are other tools, like tax rates and income supplements, that address poverty more effectively than minimum wage alone.

 

TV: One problem with minimum wage research is that one can usually find a study that justifies almost any action. How do you propose that the panel combat this issue?

AV: It is not true that you can show anything. In a number of areas, there is some convergence on what we find about minimum wage. For example, in unemployment effects, it is true that there is some variance, but most studies show that when we increase the minimum wage, there is a slight disemployment effect, but it is only in the range of 1-2 per cent for the population as a whole. They do have a bigger impact on the employability of youth. There is also this general agreement that, when we increase minimum wages, they affect wages that are 10-20 per cent higher than minimum wage. This effect dissipates as we go up the wage scale.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

Is your summer program ethical

A guide to avoiding voluntourism and making sustainable change

Is your summer program ethical

Between midterms, assignments, and student elections, many of us have yet to find time to frantically plan our summers. Without fail, some of us will go abroad to a less-developed country and assume the task of helping a community there. In fact, at the end of every winter break, reading week, or summer holiday, I am faced with collections of Facebook photos of laughing children, laughing children holding hands with volunteers, and volunteers doing some sort of good. With programs titled ‘Hero Holiday,’ putting volunteers on a pedestal for ‘heroism,’ the entire enterprise seems too self-congratulatory and insincere for my taste.

Critics use the term ‘voluntourism’ to describe volunteer-abroad trips that involve light work and are riddled with tourist-y activities. While I acknowledge that this is not the case for all programs, the prevalence of such voluntourist itineraries is starkly

apparent. To appease uncomfortable skeptics like myself, the following are questions worth reflecting on before taking on volunteer work abroad.

Why are you undertaking this project? Is it to beef up your resumé, or to truly help implement an effective and sustainable change in whatever community you are working in? I sincerely hope your answer is the latter. Otherwise, I suggest that you stop reading this article altogether. I admit that these days it is hard to argue for the existence of selfless acts of kindness. Nevertheless, your work should primarily aim to benefit the community more than it benefits you.

Are you the best person to do the job? Programs that permit undergraduate volunteers to give injections or administer sensitive tests such as pap smears are highly unethical. If you are not allowed to perform that procedure here in Canada then the same ethical regulation must also apply in the locale you visit. Knowing how to hold a hammer does not qualify you to build a house, nor does speaking English qualify you to be an English teacher. The result of such programs is that limited resources have to be directed toward training foreign volunteers inexperienced in their given field of work.

This leads to my next question: do the locals have the capacity to do the same work? Having foreign volunteers build schools takes away paid jobs from local workers who are likely more qualified to do the same work. So yes, voluntourism has the potential to harm the local economy.

One might easily contend that there are just not enough locals who are qualified to do the work. If this is the case, why not invest in building local capacity to do the work instead of doing the work yourself?

I know of programs that allow undergraduate volunteers to consult with patients in groups, then present their diagnosis so that it may be evaluated by the supervising local physician. I see no sense in putting a middle-man between the patient and the physician. For the patient, there is wasted time interacting with inexperienced volunteers rather than the physician directly, so the benefit solely lies with the volunteers. One might argue that such programs, despite their inefficiencies, are crucial to training anyone pursuing a medical degree. Well, in that case, shouldn’t the programs be geared toward training local medical students? After all, they are much more likely to stay in the region after they have been trained than visiting volunteers, with the added boon of increasing the nation’s supply of physicians.

This line of argument begs the inevitable question: is your project sustainable? Like the example above, many programs simply foster dependency on external aid by supplanting services that can be administered with equal or better effectiveness by and for the locals. Throwing undergraduate students into a community year after year only serves to undermine the local capacity to better ones own community. Any program or non-governmental organization (ngo) that offers volunteer abroad programs must have an exit strategy to ensure that locals are responsible for their own well being. Programs claim that they have been building houses and roads for over a decade, but such claims prove the ineffectiveness of the program in creating sustainable and lasting interventions. Why else would they need to be in the locale for so long then? Sustainability is not a measure of how well a program can keep itself going. Sustainability is a measure of how well the program encourages the community to help themselves, for themselves in the long run.

Ultimately, this article is not meant to attack those who wish to or have done work abroad. There is merit in the desire to do something good in the world, and taking action on that desire is commendable. However, without self-reflection, I believe that the connotations of superficiality and destructiveness associated with ‘voluntourism’ are warranted.

I hope that in this article I have fostered a sense of critical thinking about what ‘help’ really means and entails. I hope that with a smidgeon of self-criticism, the whole notion of voluntourism will be abolished altogether. We must acknowledge the communities we visit as equal partners, and that they have the capacity to be responsible for their own well being. Do your share of research and affiliate yourselves with programs and ngos who have taken issues such as local capacity and sustainability to heart. As Oscar Wilde so succinctly puts it, “It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.” Let’s change the way we think about helping others in need.

Benedict Darren is a third-year Pathobiology and Global Health student.

Jobless after law school? Back to class, for unlucky few

Without enough articling jobs for a growing population of law grads, a pilot program sends some back to school, stoking fears of a two-tiered system

Jobless after law school? Back to class, for unlucky few

A new pilot program introduced earlier this year by the Law Society of Upper Canada is being billed as a solution to declining availability of articling positions for new law school graduates. Yet, questions remain as to whether the new system will inadvertently create two tiers of graduates, and some say the fix does little to address the root of the problem: Ontario is producing more law school graduates than ever, leaving some with dim job prospects upon graduation.

Articling, which refers to the formal, year-long system of on-the-job training for new law school graduates, has traditionally been the surest path to getting hired at a firm. Yet, like so many other job markets in Ontario, a surplus of graduates pursuing a limited number of articling positions has left many empty-handed at a key moment in their careers.

“Qualified law graduates are barred from access to the profession if they cannot find a position,” wrote dean Lorne Sossin of Osgoode Hall Law School on his blog.  According to the Council of Ontario Universities’ law school applications statistics, between Ontario’s six law schools, there has been a 41 per cent increase in law school applicants, combined with a 27 per cent increase in registered law students, from 1997 to 2012.

With an abundance of law school graduates flooding the legal job market, some in the legal profession have questioned “whether articling was a valid regulatory barrier for entry to practice,” according to one post in Slaw magazine. The bar association created a task force to examine this question and proposed an alternative in the hope that graduates can acquire some work experience without having to find a year-long articling position at a firm.

In November, the task force announced their proposal: a pilot program featuring a four-month long Law Practice Program (LPP), coupled with a four-month co-op placement.  A detailed curriculum has not yet been released, but the task force promises that the largely academic solution will be focused on providing practical training in lieu of an articling position.

The decision was controversial from the moment it was first announced, with 20 out of 56 benchers with the Law Society voting against it. Some skeptics wonder if the new program is effectively a waiting room, keeping students in a holding pattern and sheltering them from a job market unable to absorb new graduates in such large numbers.

Others have expressed concern that the move will create a “two-tiered” system, whereby only students with very good grades or personal connections could earn coveted articling positions, while the rest will effectively be sent back to school for another year.

There will be heavier financial burden for those in the pilot program, who must pay tuition for an extra year, versus those who achieve articling positions and are instead earning a salary. Questions are being raised as to whether firms will harbour some bias against students in the pilot program, since articling positions are typically given to the students at the top of their class.

“There is legitimate anxiety accompanying the prospect of a ‘two-tier’ track to licensing,” wrote Dean Sossin on his blog. “One well-remunerated and well-regarded, the other leading to greater student debt, uncertain career prospects and stigma… I would argue that it is unacceptable for the Law Society to shut the door to those who cannot afford the cost of the pathways to practice.”

“Articling has really outlived its usefulness and it’s time to move on with a different process,” said Peter Wardle in an interivew with the Law Times. Wardle, a voting member of the Law Society who opposed the pilot project, believes that the time has come to dispose of the articling system altogether. “The time to make the hard decisions about articling is now,” says Wardle.

“One of the main reasons I chose to apply to law schools in the U.S. was to avoid articling altogether,” said prospective law student and recent U of T graduate Brandon Bailey. The U.S. allows students to go directly to their state bar exams post-graduation and jump right into vying for positions within firms. This is clearly more appealing, as the income difference between an articling and an associate lawyer position is substantial.

This program is the first of its kind in Canada, and as of yet, no other provinces or territories have deviated from the traditional articling system.  Student success in acquiring articling positions varies by school. U of T’s law school, widely regarded as the best in the country, says 90 per cent of its graduating students secure articling positions. Students from lower-ranked schools have a more difficult time, and a growing number of graduates are likely to encounter difficulties as their ranks continue to swell. Lakehead University recently announced the opening of a new law school, the seventh in the province.

The alternative to articling will be available for students graduating in the 2014–15 year. If the pilot program is found to be successful, it will be extended for up to an additional two years.