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LETTER: MUN Law’s proposed tuition fee is too high

Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Campus.
Memorial University of Newfoundland and Labrador St. John's Campus. - Kenn Oliver

The MUN Senate’s endorsement of a law school is subject to the condition that MUN Law be cost-neutral to the university. To maintain cost neutrality, the current plan is for students to pay $30,000 per year over three years.

At this price, if MUN Law were to have opened this academic year, it would be the second most expensive law school in the country. By comparison, Dalhousie and the University of New Brunswick charge $18,000 and $11,000, respectively.

To be sure, MUN Law’s proponents are optimistic about raising money from government and through fundraising to reduce tuition. To bring costs down even to Dal’s $18,000 would require an annual commitment of $3.6 million. As the provincial government continues to cut the university’s operating grant and the private sector faces its own challenges, such an influx of cash is far from certain.

Until proven otherwise, we should assume that a degree from MUN Law will cost in the neighbourhood of $30,000.

Such a high tuition fee would defeat the proponents’ stated goals in advocating for a law school.

The proponents argue that a law school will promote access to justice. There is no doubt that our province’s justice system has serious problems.

Courts are overflowing; many rural residents cannot retain a lawyer in their area; our largest prison is crumbling.

The average MUN Law graduate — saddled with at least $90,000 in debt — will be unable to take the pay cut necessary to solve these problems by, for example, working in rural areas or for community organizations.

Their primary motivation will be to get out of debt. To do so, most will seek work at firms or government offices in St. John’s, Halifax, or Toronto.

The proponents also argue that a law school could promote access to legal education. In its 2013 report, the Feasibility Committee argued that a law school would allow those “with aging parents or small children” and those with “limited means” to study law. The proposed tuition fee defeats this possibility. It is hard to see how the average Newfoundlander and Labradorian in any of these situations would justify such an expensive degree.

Finally, the proponents argue that a law school could provide useful oversight to the provincial government’s judicial and legislative branches, and enhance the intellectual vitality of life in St. John’s. The proposed tuition fee will likely hinder these goals as well. Good students will not take an expensive risk on an unproven law school if they can attend established schools with excellent reputations for less than half the price.

The Board of Regents should not approve of a law school unless it is certain that tuition will be genuinely competitive with Dal and UNB. If the Board approves a plan that sees students pay anywhere near $30,000, it will be setting MUN Law up to fail.

          

Ian Moffatt,

Articling Student, St. John's

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