The choice of Ron Daniels as a recipient of an honorary degree from U of T’s law school is causing controversy among students critical of moves Daniels made during his time as dean — specifically, the massive tuition increases he oversaw. Daniels, who headed U of T Law from 1995 to 2005, has been president of Johns Hopkins University since 2009 — after spending four years as provost of the University of Pennsylvania. An alumnus of U of T Law, he is slated to receive an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the law school’s commencement ceremony, scheduled for June 6.
The choice was first criticized by law school student Daanish Samadmoten in an op-ed for Ultra Vires, the law school’s student newspaper. Calling the decision to honour Daniels “insulting,” Samadmoten was unequivocal in his assessment of the former dean’s record. “Daniels believed that his vision to transform U of T Law into a world class institution could only be achieved by increasing tuition,” wrote Samadmoten, claiming that “the policies Daniels implemented were both unnecessary and ineffective.”
The decision Samadmoten is referencing took place in the wake of the provincial government’s 1998 deregulation of tuition for professional programs. According to Samadmoten, Daniels increased tuition from $3,808 to $16,000 — a 320 per cent hike. Since Daniels’s departure, tuition has continued to steadily rise. Next year, first-year students will be charged more than $30,000.
The Students’ Law Society (SLS), the law school’s student government, expressed some support of Samadmoten’s views. Speaking on behalf of the SLS, Brendan Stevens noted that the society “has expressed concern to our Faculty’s administration about this choice.” Stevens went on to note that “while Mr. Daniels has had an illustrious career and is no doubt deserving of recognition for his contributions to the law school, the timing of this speech is concerning.” Tuition fees this year have become a major bone of contention between the SLS and the administration.
Standing in stark contrast to both Samadmoten and Stevens, outgoing law school dean Mayo Moran praised Daniels and his tenure at the law school. “While Dean of U of T Law, Ron Daniels believed that this could be one of the world’s great law schools, which indeed it has become,” said Moran. “To achieve that objective, he increased the resources base of the law school through public and private funding.”
Moran also stressed the importance of other programs that Daniels pushed during his time as dean, including the International Human Rights Program, the high school outreach program, Law in Action Within Schools, and Pro Bono Students Canada. She went on to mention the financial aid structures pioneered by Daniels, noting that the former dean pushed for the “introduction of a purely needs-based extremely progressive financial aid program which, among other elements, includes this country’s only post-graduation debt relief program.”
Despite the administration’s support of Daniels, Samadmoten stands by his criticism. He reiterated that “the best possible resolution would be for the convocation speaker to be changed to someone else.” However, he noted that a change was unlikely, and the move hints at a larger problem. Samadmoten said the choice “indicate[s] support for [Daniels’s] vision of U of T Law,” a philosophy that “demonstrates [the] continued belief that tuition costs need to increase significantly every year in order for the school to improve.”