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“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

Petition garners 400 signatures from students, alumni

“Now is the time to act”: Faculty of Law students sign open letter against rising tuition

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.”

U of T student calls for Disability Studies program

Online petition has garnered over 200 signatures

U of T student calls for Disability Studies program

In response to U of T’s lack of a dedicated disability studies program, a student has started a petition to establish one that would be on par with those of universities across the country. The petition has received over 200 signatures in less than two weeks.

UTM student Marianna Figueiredo began the petition on November 15 in an effort to get Governing Council’s attention. Governing Council is the highest decision-making body at the university.

Figueiredo explained in the petition that she has cerebral palsy and decided to enrol in courses focused on intersectionality.

“But, I noticed that disability was absent in nearly all of them at UofT, but not for my friends at other universities whose courses considered disability in both the sociological and [criminological] respects,” wrote Figueiredo.

According to U of T spokesperson Elizabeth Church, the university offers “a number of opportunities for students interested in studying disability issues.”

“The Faculty of Arts and Science has an Equity Studies program offered in association with New College, where undergrads can take a core group of disability studies courses,” wrote Church in an email to The Varsity.

For Figueiredo, the petition is a way to demonstrate to Governing Council and the provost that there is a need for a designated Disability Studies program through numbers and support.

According to Church, proposals for any changes to programs or new programs emerge from discussions within departments or faculties.

“There is a rigorous development and approval process, which includes consultation with programs and units, students, and others,” wrote Church.

Course offerings at U of T

The Equity Studies major or minor programs offer courses such as NEW240: Introduction to Equity Studies and NEW341: Theorizing Equity.

While there is no separate disability studies program, there is a disability studies stream within the Equity Studies program. The university also offers a few disability related classes, such as JNS450: Sexuality & Disability, NEW349: Disability and Representation, and NEW448: Advanced Special Topics in Disability Studies.

UTM offers courses like PSY442: Practicum in Exceptionality in Human Learning and PSY345: Exceptionality: Disability and Giftedness, which explore various aspects of mental, physical, and learning disabilities. Similar courses also exist at UTSC, such as WSTC40H3: Gender and Disability.

The Social Justice Education program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education also offers disability studies opportunities for graduate students.

Other Canadian universities with disability studies programs

The courses offered at U of T pale in comparison to disability studies programs at other universities in Ontario.

“Ryerson, York, Western, Brock and Carleton offer major and minor programs,” wrote Figueiredo in the petition. “The top school in the country is obviously out of touch. This needs to change.”

On a part-time basis, Ryerson University’s School of Disability Studies offers 17 courses at the undergraduate level.

King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario has a Disability Studies program, with major and minor options, that offers 20 courses. Brock University’s Applied Disability Studies program within its Faculty of Social Sciences offers 35 graduate courses and nine elective undergraduate courses. Carleton University undergraduates can enrol in a Disability Studies minor that offers five different courses with two offered by other departments.

Editor’s Note (November 28, 12:28 am): This article has been updated to clarify that there is a disability studies stream within the Equity Studies program.