On Monday, at the meeting of U of T’s Business Board—on the basis of a meaningless study that purports to find that increased tuition fees at the law school do not hinder accessibility—the majority of members raised their hands, sheep-like, approving further law school tuition hikes.
It was another step backward for this institution, which claims to hold out aspirations to be amongst “the best public universities in the world.” Instead of addressing the crippling accessibility issues that make the word “public” a shameful misnomer, the administration will carry out a plan that will see law school tuition hit $22,000.
The study, carried out by the Provost’s office, tells us nothing. Even the provost herself just about admitted as much last week. Analyzing data which included students who faced tuition hikes that were minute in comparison to what law students now face, the study holds no predictive value for what will become of the esteemed faculty of law in the face of U.S. style tuition fees.
Last spring, the Governing Council resolved that no further tuition hikes would be allowed until a study had answered this question: had there has been any reduction in accessibility due to the 2002-03 tuition increase and any career distortion due to previous substantial increases? But the question was pointless. How could the study analyze what had not yet occurred, the very worst and most severe of tuition increases set to be approved today? Nevertheless, the provost’s office blindly carried out their mandate, looking at the effects of comparatively minor increases that occurred in the past five years.
The law school insists that generous financial aid packages will compensate for the astronomical price of a law degree. But these promises are pipe dreams at best. The actual lived experiences of current law students—which, by the way, this study entirely failed to take account of—say otherwise. Even with the “lower” fees faced by current students, scores of students have turned up at public meetings and consultations to tell the administration this: the tuition hikes are affecting them. Career choice is already being distorted, and students are graduating with unbearable debt.
What about “diversity,” the term that seems to have haunted this campus over the past year and, thankfully, won’t go quietly?
At present, the law school is woefully misrepresentative of the population at large in its diversity. Black students make up just over 3 per cent of the law school student body. But guess what, says the administration, that’s up from 2 per cent three years ago! The statistics aren’t much better for other visible minority groups.
South of the border, right wing segregationist Americans are waging a war upon the rights of society’s most vulnerable and historically oppressed. Two white students who claim that affirmative action policies unfairly denied them admission to law school are suing the University of Michigan. The case stands before the U.S. Supreme Court, and if successful, will represent a massive step backward for equity and accessibility at American post-secondary institutions.
The sad thing is, most Canadian schools have no such affirmative action policies to begin with. The president of this university has himself denounced such policies. Yet U of T, in particular our law school, continues to fail in its efforts to mirror the diversity of the city it has the privilege of occupying.
Increased tuition at the law school is yet another barrier that will keep U of T from becoming a fair and diverse institution.
If we are to become a great public institution, revered by our peers around the world, we cannot exist as an elitist island of privilege, smack in the middle of a city that is, by contrast, rich in its diversity.