“What are they afraid to hear?”

Professor Philip Berger is among those denied speaking rights for this Friday’s Governing Council (GC) meeting. Eighteen requests for non-members to address the Council were made prior to the deadline. An additional eight requests came in after the deadline. Last Monday, the Executive Committee ruled that only three speakers plus representatives from SAC (Students’ Administrative Council), GSU (Graduate Students’ Union), and APUS (Association of Part-time Students) would be granted speaking rights.

Among those denied are the African Canadian Legal Clinic, Rosario Marchese (MPP for U of T’s riding), several law students, Dr. Elliot Halparin, the president of the Ontario Medical Association, and the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

Most of the speakers wanted to address the law school tuition hikes, which must be approved or rejected at this meeting of GC. The increases, which will eventually push tuition to $22,000, were already approved earlier this month by the business board.

Louis Charpentier, secretary to the GC, said the limitation was decided on in order to ensure “a particular amount of time protected for governors to debate the matter.”

“In coming to that decision they looked at the number of speaking engagements that had occurred at AP&P (the committee on academic policy and planning), as well as the business board and also the fact that individuals who addressed those bodies were representative of particular groups interested in the particular issue,” explains Charpentier.

Sean Mullin, a student governor who sits on the executive committee, called the decision and the process of making the decision “utterly ridiculous.”

Mullin described the meeting; “The discussion was along the lines of ‘Well, this person will give this type of point of view, and we want to balance it out,’ etc.”

He added that some of the decisions were based on the written statements attached to requests, but others were made in a less formal manner.

Many of the denied speakers are strongly opposed to the tuition hikes. They also believe that a study undertaken by the provost’s office claiming tuition increases do not affect accessibility and career choice is flawed or inconclusive.

Berger, a professor at the Faculty of Medicine, said the study “does not account for decisions that some high school students are making already to alter career plans because of high tuition.”

Berger also warned, “The law school and other professional faculties risk being taught by instructors of privilege to students of privilege who will then be inclined upon graduating to serve citizens of privilege.

“The university is failing to do its job by promoting equitable access to all students,” said Berger. “I think the goal should be to eliminate fees, not to increase them.”

But with this most recent decision of the executive council, students, faculty, and community members are not only concerned with the tuition issue itself. The restriction of the speakers’ list has many concerned that governors will not be adequately and representatively informed before they place their votes.

Sheena Scott, director of legal services at the African Canadian Legal Clinic (ACLC), was disappointed by her group’s exclusion from the speakers’ list.

“We were planning on having a young African-Canadian student come and speak. He is someone who is interested in law school but will be deterred by tuition,” she explained.

With only a written statement, the point the ACLC is trying to make will not be heard as clearly. “Obviously in terms of impact and in terms of public accountability, an oral presentation is much more persuasive and open than a written one, which may just be ignored and thrust off,” said Scott.

“Furthermore, in terms of hearing from speakers that are representative of racial and visible minorities, I think [oral presentations] are very key,” added Scott.

Student governor and law student Josh Paterson said the limited speakers would not offer broad enough representation.

Paterson said, “This is a very controversial issue within the university and [the administration] is asking a lot of students here and a lot of the community to go along with them by increasing tuition in such a dramatic way in the law faculty [and elsewhere].

“I think it’s the least that we as governors can do to at least listen to the concerns of members of the community within the university and without.”

Mullin also noted that the positions on the tuition issue are much closer this year, meaning the vote could be relatively close. Last year many with concerns regarding the law school tuition increase were assuaged by the promise of the provost’s study and were able to vote affirmatively.

However, Mullin noted, “The general consensus among people who were worried about [law school tuition] is ‘OK, we did the study, it’s not conclusive, so let’s not go ahead until we actually know’ [what the impact will be].”

The non-members who will be allowed to address the council are Jennifer Matthews, president of the Students’ Law Society, professor Martha Shaffer of the Faculty of Law, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG), SAC, GSU, and APUS.

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