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EDITORIAL: Cold eyes review, please

Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Campus.
Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador's St. John’s Campus. — Telegram file photo

So, a review of whether Memorial University needs a law school has been done, and the results are discouraging: “We cannot, in the present financial climate, recommend that the university proceed alone. ... Nor can we recommend that the university should identify a law faculty as an immediate priority ... in view of the weaknesses in present funding for the core activities of the university and for the already existing professional schools.”

Oh, sorry, that was what three of five committee members of a group reviewing the idea wrote in 1987.

At this point, MUN is thinking big: after a series of internal reviews, it now seems the pride of the university and the province depends on us having our own law school.

After all, tunnel vision and the refusal to recognize risks has been a hallmark of big projects gone bad in this province, and the university’s own studies of the project have raised some very big red flags.

But, with the ghost of the unexamined Muskrat Falls about to give us a financial kick in the slats, it might be more responsible — with all due respect — to have someone outside the university review the plan first.

After all, tunnel vision and the refusal to recognize risks has been a hallmark of big projects gone bad in this province, and the university’s own studies of the project have raised some very big red flags.

A 2013 report suggests it would take $26 million in capital costs to establish a law school, and $5 million a year in operating costs. At this point, the proposed operating costs have grown to $9 million a year. The school would have 100 students a year in each of three years of study.

Yet there were only 554 practising lawyers doing pretty much all the province’s legal work in 2016, according to the Newfoundland and Labrador Law Society. It’s hard to imagine how the system would absorb 100 new lawyers a year, let alone how the school could find 100 articling placements for the one year of articling at law firms that students would need after three years of study.

But that’s not the only conundrum: the $30,000 a year tuition is close to triple what the University of New Brunswick’s law school charges, yet the university’s own analysis argues that one of the reasons for having a law school is affordability for students from this province.

The feasibility study argues the law school isn’t just for residents of this province, while at the same time arguing that the law school is needed to give students particular knowledge of the legal system within Newfoundland and Labrador.

But most of all, if there’s a single sentence in MUN’s review of the need for a law school that calls out for the establishment of an independent examination of the proposal, it’s this one: “Education is the mandate of the university, and considerations respecting lawyers’ incomes or employment do not fit within that purpose.”

Let’s have a feasibility review by someone other than the home team.

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