Students and faculty put the administration on the defensive at the meeting of the Governing Council’s committee on academic policy and programs last Thursday, where the results of Provost Shirley Neuman’s Study on Accessibility and Career Choice in the Faculty of Law were presented.
The committee heard from students and faculty, many of whom were troubled by the results of the study, which found the 19-fold increase in tuition over the past seven years has not negatively impacted accessibility and has not resulted in career choice distortion.
Critics complained that the question the study was mandated to examine looks only at impacts of tuition increases up to 2002-2003. It does not predict the potential impact upon current and future students coping with steep increases.
Professor Sherwin Desser, who addressed the committee, commented, “What the report does not reveal is anything about students who don’t apply to our law school or apply and choose not to come.”
Law students also felt that the results of the study did not reflect their actual experience. Soma Chowdry, a second year-law student, explained “I came to law school with the intention of doing public interest law. Unfortunately, I will not be taking that career path, because the current tuition rates have compelled me to go to a big Bay Street law firm.”
Josh Paterson, a law student and governor, echoed this sentiment. “I can tell you personally that our choices are being affected by what is going on with tuition.
“There is a reality on the ground that I’m not sure is very well perceived.”
Students were critical of the absence of anectodal evidence in the study. The provost’s team claimed that such data would undoubtedly be biased.
Said Paterson, “I don’t see why it wouldn’t have been useful to actually talk to some law students and see how their choices are being affected today.”
Questions about accessibility for students from visible minority backgrounds also arose. The study shows that the percentage of Black students in the program has risen from 2.2 per cent to 3.9 per cent between 1999 and 2003. This is an increase from three to six students, noted Desser.
“The report rightly states that the numbers are small and statistically insignificant. I suggest that what is significant is the small number of students enrolled when the largest number of Black students in the country live in the Greater Toronto Area,” said Desser.
Deputy Provost Vivek Goel responded, noting that the proportion of black students at U of T’s Faculty of Law is greater than the proportion of Black LSAT takers.
“The Faculty of Law has mentorship programs at many schools in the city, there are many things to be done in this area, but that is not solely the responsibility of the U of T Faculty of Law.”
The study claims that drastically increased financial aid has allowed the faculty to maintain its levels of accessibility. Thirty per cent of the tuition increases have gone towards financial aid, said the provost.
However, there were questions as to whether the Faculty of Law would be able to sustain their commitment to financial aid. “The law school is unlikely to be able to raise eight times more money from its alumni…. The plan states that this is what is required,” Desser said.
“Sadly but surely, current levels of student aid will decline, due to pressing problems with our endowment income.”
Lindsey Forbes, a second year law student and student to the law school faculty counsel, also questioned the commitment to financial aid. “Is there any way of knowing that that increase [in financial aid] is going to continue at the same rate?” asked Forbes.
Law School Dean Ron Daniels said the assertion that the faculty’s financial aid program amounted to nothing more than “big promises” is “insulting.”
“When we distribute $1.9 million as we will this year in financial aid—and that is bursary, not loan—that does not constitute a ‘big promise,’” he said.
Daniels commended the provost for the study, calling the results “a great source of pride for me, for my administration, and for [most] colleagues at the Faculty of Law.
“We have been part of a process in our community and subject to a degree of scrutiny and inspection, of evaluation, that is simply without peer in terms of other division, other universities in the world who have…raised tuition in order to support an academic mission.”
Many critics of the study felt that it posed the wrong questions, thus providing information that could not possibly provide assurances about the future impacts of tuition increases. Adam Chapnick, a graduate student and member of the Committee on Academic Policy commended the provost for carrying out the mandate given to her by Governing Council.
However, Chapnick said, “This is a rather silly question…[Neuman] was told to study something basically irrelevant and that’s what she did.” Neuman sighed and responded to Chapnick, “I’m with you.”
Members of GC’s Business Board vote on tuition increases today.