India Annamanthadoo came to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law in the hopes of pursuing a career in public interest law, and working in areas such as international human rights law and legal aid work.
Since arriving, however, Annamanthadoo has become increasingly worried about being able to go into those fields given concerns over the high cost of tuition and increasing student debt. She also noticed that many of her friends in the faculty forgo those fields, which tend to be on the lower end of the pay scale, in favour of careers in the higher paying field of corporate law.
“Many of my peers and I came to U of T Law because we were enticed by the prospect of working in these areas,” she wrote. “But what I’ve come to realize is that those options are only viable if you don’t have debt from your undergrad and your parents are paying for your law degree.”
She added, “The situation is only getting worse, with tuition set to pass $40,000 next year. It was clear to me that now is the time to act.”
This academic year, Annamanthadoo and 14 other students and alumni helped launch Barriers to Excellence, an initiative to persuade the faculty to “implement a moratorium on tuition increases past $40,000 per year” until certain conditions outlined in an open letter addressed to Dean Edward Iacobucci are met.
These demands include a comprehensive financial review of the faculty with publicly accessible results. Based on the review, Barriers to Excellence demands that the faculty commit to specific initiatives to control costs and protect the allocation of financial aid, such as guaranteeing assistance to low-income applicants upon admission offers and a long-term plan for affordable tuition.
The name is modelled after the faculty’s Campaign for Excellence without Barriers, a project launched this year aiming to raise $20 million for financial aid.
To date, the open letter has over 400 signatures from current students, alumni since the class of 1971, and several organizations, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union and the Law Students’ Society of Ontario.
“Obviously this is not a campaign for current students,” wrote Annamanthadoo. “We’re already here, paying six [figures] for a law degree. This is a campaign for future students.”
In a statement to The Varsity, the faculty noted that Iacobucci has had two in-depth discussions of the budget, tuition, and financial aid at Faculty Council, the governing body of the Faculty of Law.
The council is composed of the dean, full-time faculty members, the Chief Law Librarian, the Assistant Dean of the Juris Doctor Program, elected student representatives from each year of the program, and two graduate students.
The statement continued that, subject to U of T approval, Iacobucci will aim for a four per cent increase in tuition next year, rather than five per cent, the maximum allowable amount.
In response, Alexandra H. Robertson, a third-year law student also involved with the campaign, wrote that the move was an “important first step.”
“It will be the first time since 2006 that the faculty has not increased tuition by the maximum allowable amount,” she wrote. “Students have been advocating on this issue since the early 2000s and feel like their efforts have been in vain. We believe this development means that the Faculty is hearing student and alumni concerns about tuition, financial aid, and law school accessibility.”
Robertson added, “Obviously our goal is for the demands in our letter to be met by the Faculty, which hasn’t happened yet, but we’re heartened that the Faculty is clearly listening to what we’re saying.”