A group of recent alumni of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School says they will no longer donate to the school until tuition is reduced. The alumni announced their intent to stop donating in a Jan. 7 open letter addressed to interim dean Mary Condon.
“That will be our last financial contribution to Osgoode or York University . . . until such time as Osgoode reduces tuition to a reasonable level — and thereafter only increases it with clear, specific, evidenced and public reasons,” the letter said.
The letter was signed by nine lawyers who graduated between 2012 and 2016.
The group also put out a petition, which has since been signed by about 100 people.
Heather Donkers, president of the Law Students’ Society of Ontario and a student at Osgoode Hall Law School, has signed the petition put forth by alumni.
“I have been one of the lucky ones, in so far as I came from a low-income background and I had much, much debt when I applied to law school,” Donkers says.
“I myself have reaped the benefits of bursaries.”
The petition calls for students to notify the school that they will not make financial contributions until there is lower tuition and a long-term plan to make law school affordable for all prospective students.
Tuition and fees for domestic students is $28,649.22 for incoming students and $28,577.74 for upper year students, the school’s website says.
In the letter, titled “Reduce Law School Tuition Now,” the former Osgoode Hall students say they were prompted to discuss rising tuition prices when asked to support a bursary in honour of outgoing dean Lorne Sossin, who has been appointed a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Toronto. Osgoode Hall Law School communications manager Virginia Corner said in a statement that interim dean, Mary Condon appreciates the concerns raised by the alumni and will be responding to their letter.
In the school year ending in 2016, Osgoode said on its website, it awarded $4.7 million in financial aid to students — $3.5 million of which were bursaries based solely on financial need.
Richard Bogoroch, founder and managing partner of Bogoroch & Associates LLP in Toronto, is a donor to the school and sponsors a $200,000 entrance award.
“High cost of tuition, is unfortunately, a fact of life. What we, as a profession, must do is recognize that law school education, like other professional schools is very expensive,” says Bogoroch, who is an alumnus of McGill University but an admirer of Osgoode. He says he was surprised to hear of the movement to stop donations to the school.
“I think law schools are all facing financial burdens. With government funding I’m sure they are facing difficulties, like all institutions, such as hospitals — law schools are placed in a very difficult position today. They want to attract and pay for the top academics and that’s expensive, and that’s what it takes to provide a platform of excellence,” says Bogoroch.
Jeffrey Hernaez, one of the nine former students who signed the letter, is currently an associate at Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP in Vancouver.
He says he was inspired to sign the letter based on his own personal experiences paying for law school.
“I grew up in a very modest childhood and I really had to scrape and borrow . . . to be able to cough up the over $20,000 to go to Osgoode. And it was close then,” says Hernaez.
Osgoode Hall is not the only law school that has received criticism for its tuition rates.
Last year, alumni of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law started a campaign calling for the school to set an upper limit of $40,000 per year for tuition until the school can release information about how alumni donations are spent.
Tuition at the University of Toronto Faculty of law is $38,233.45 for first-year students and $38,183.45 for upper-year students, about $10,000 more than at Osgoode Hall.
The Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University, on the other end of the pricing spectrum, charges about $19,620 for incoming domestic students.
Douglas Judson, a lawyer and municipal councillor in Fort Frances, Ont., was another of the nine original signatories of the letter.
“I think what we really want to see is the legal academy — and I say it generally because it is not just an Osgoode problem — to engage with a discussion with the other regulatory stakeholders to solve this problem,” says Judson.