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Law school fees out of sight.

Fees to attend Canada's professional schools are about to go up. Way, way up. Catholic parents who entertain the hope that their son or daughter might become a doctor or a lawyer should take note: professional education is about to be priced out of the reach of all but affluent Canadians.

The University of Toronto law school recently passed a motion that will more than double annual tuition fees (to $24,000 over the next five years). The University of Western Ontario recently raised its annual medical school tuition from $4,844 to $10,573. After the fee increase, a study demonstrated that the median family income of families of first year medical students jumped from $98,000 in 1998 to $140,000 in 2000. Students who come from families with a lower median income may have to kiss goodbye to the dream of becoming a doctor.

Such extortionate fee hikes come about, in part at least, from what might seem to be an unseemly bid by academics to line their own pockets.

I remember U. of T. law school in the 1960s, the era when its reputation for excellence was built. The legendary Cecil (Caesar) Wright, a pre-eminent tort lawyer, was the Dean; the Faculty boasted stars like J. B. Milner in Contract Law, Bora Laskin in Constitutional Law, and John Willis in Administrative Law. U. of T.'s pre-eminence in Canadian legal education was at least as dominant then as today. Yet tuition fees then were modest, comparable to other Canadian universities. Had they not been, I could not have attended.

Dean Wright did not claim that in order to attract, or retain, top-flight Faculty he had to pay them at levels comparable to the highest-paid American professors. Without unduly tooting his school's horn, Dean Wright created the "Harvard North" which the current law Dean, Ron Daniels, aspires to emulate.

What changed, I suspect, over the intervening decades was the Faculty's perception of what legal education is about.

University of Toronto began teaching law before it ever had a law faculty. Why? Because the quaint view then was that law was an integral part of a liberal education. One could not be considered educated without understanding the nature of law and its place in human affairs.

So before Caesar Wright led the rebellion at Osgoode Hall that led to the creation of U. of T.'s law faculty, law was part of the U. of T. curriculum. In fact, along with philosophy and theology, law was once considered the Queen of academic disciplines, not for its practical utility, but because of what such subjects contributed to an understanding of civilization.

In the scramble for dollars, that is now forgotten. Professional schools today "sell" buildings, endowed chairs, even libraries and classrooms, to donors. The gifts are then named for the benefactor. Today a law student is likely to meet the McCarthy Tetrault Professor in the John and Dotsa Bitove law library.

Much of a Dean's time today is devoted to fundraising; professional schools now employ full-time fundraisers. It is capital projects that attract the big donations. The Dean is then left scrambling for ways to increase salaries. Hence the proposal to boost tuition fees. One may sympathize with a Dean's plight without endorsing the proposed solution.

If U. of T. proceeds with its tuition hike in law, it will have two immediate effects. First, it will put pressure on all Canadian law schools to increase tuition. Other law schools cannot match U. of T. salaries now; nor can they allow themselves to fall further behind. A school whose tuition fees lag behind U. of T.'s will inevitably be thought "second class".

Second, tuition fee hikes raise important accessibility issues. To his credit, Dean Daniels has promised increased scholarships and bursaries. Even so, many prospective applicants will think twice about so heavily mortgaging their futures.

What would it take, I wonder, to recreate what might be called "the Caesar Wright ethos" at U. of T. and elsewhere; to make professional schools once again places where professors willingly forego income they could otherwise earn in order to be part of a very special community of scholars? Just asking.

Ian Hunter is Professor Emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of Western Ontario. He resides in London, ON.
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Author:Hunter, Ian
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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