it's the friday afternoon before reading week, and the windows in the office of the dean of the University of Toronto law school are open to the unusually warm February breeze. This is an office that has had its share of renowned occupants, notably Bora Laskin, the civil libertarian and constitutional expert who went on to become chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
Preppy Ron Daniels, the current inhabitant, cuts a different figure than his patrician predecessor. After surviving last year's marks scandal, the school has been consumed since Christmas with the dean's proposal to drive up tuition fees, already the highest in the country, to $22,000 a year. The proposal was passed by the faculty last week and now has only to be approved by the provost and governing council, stages that many regard as merely pro forma.
But the storm of controversy swirling around this latest bid to establish a Harvard on Queen's Park reveals a deep ideological divide about the purposes of law education.
It doesn't help matters that Mike Harris has just appointed Daniels to chair a "role of government" panel described by the newsletter Inside Queen's Park as an attempt by the outgoing preem to remind his successor "of the revolutionary creed that government hasn't finished dieting." That is, more provincial cutbacks to come.
It all adds up, especially when you consider that Daniels is part of that branch of legal scholarship called "law and economics," a made-in-the-U.S.A. school of thought positing that the market has answers for legal problems and that the purpose of the law is to provide for the free flow of goods and the avoidance of economic waste.
Some might even say that allowing the "market" to be the deciding factor in determining the salaries of professors comes straight out of a law and economics textbook.
Daniels doesn't like this explanation for his pet project. He says underfunding, and not economic ideology, is at work in the fee increase. "If you or anyone else wants to develop conspiracy theories, I can't stop you," he says. "But I don't think it's helpful."
Ontario has the lowest per capita funding of post-secondary education of any province, Daniels says. "How could that not translate into very considerable pressure being placed on other sources of revenue generation, such as alumni and students, in order to be able to fund the legitimate aspirations of a Canadian university? We're not dealing with rocket science."
Certainly, there are those in academic circles who sympathize with Daniels's predicament without sharing his intellectual outlook, like Harry Arthurs, former dean of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University. "I am very uncomfortable defending him," Arthurs says. "That said, every dean would love to enrich the resources of the school. We've been starved for money for 20 years."
But Arthurs sees a continentalization of the law in the latest developments at U of T, and a "globalization of the mind' -- U.S. assumptions finding their way into Canadian legal thought.
Writing in the Osgood Hall Law Journal recently, he surveyed the impact of Wall Street lawyers on recent changes in Canadian legal thought on such matters as intellectual property, labour and environmental law -- changes that are gradually making their way into law school textbooks. "In that way, (U.S. lawyers) reshape the paradigms underlying the way in which Canadian law students and professors understand law.'
Daniels counters that the tuition increase is not only about hiring world-class scholars but about holding on to the ones he already has. A list of salaries posted for a time above the pay phone outside the law library indicates that most profs in this department are already into the $150K range -- a remuneration most Canadians would consider pretty healthy.
Not enough, though, for those who headed the task force on the future of the law faculty. Their report, which includes the recommended increase to $22,000, charts in dramatic terms the wage difference between law profs here and south of the border. "The gap between salaries at Toronto and an international peer group (at) public and private U.S. law schools ranges from $96,222 to $172,840."
Why is that such a big deal, I ask Daniels, considering that the number of U of T profs who've defected to the U.S. can be counted on the fingers of one hand. He admits that those heading south for fatter pay packets are few in number. But he says U.S. law profs wanting to teach at U of T approach him all the time, and his attempts to accommodate them have been putting a lot of pressure on the budget.
"Fundamentally, what people are not aware of, because it's not a matter of public debate, is the number of people who have brought me offers and have to be responded to. No one but those involved and myself know about those conversations."
Professor Michael Trebilcock, a supporter of Daniels, even goes so far as to say law profs are subsidizing students by working for the salaries offered at the U of T faculty "Aspiring Bay Street lawyers should be required after the event to pay for their education. Why is that unfair?" he asks.
And Trebilcock vehemently disagrees with those who oppose the fee increase on the basis that it will straddle students with huge debt and funnel them into corporate law and away from more poorly paid areas. He insists the enhanced student aid program will give a boost to those who choose public interest law through a "back-end' debt relief program by picking up more of the tab of those who opt for lower-paying careers.
Critics of the tuition hike remain unconvinced. The way professor Jim Phillips sees it, "There's only one pot of money,' and a lot of the cash to make it possible for deserving students to attend will come from other students.
The U of T system-in-the-making is modelled after user-pay U.S. schools. But that doesn't worry Daniels or his ally Trebilcock, the incoming president of the U.S. Law and Economics Society and a consultant to Daniels on his panel to reshape government.
It's a familiar role for Trebilcock. He was research director for Daniels when the dean chaired the committee that mapped the part-privatization of Ontario Hydro now being criticized as the prelude to higher electricity rates.
Writing in the Canadian Business Law Journal after the job had been done, they mused, "It appears the case that often a major crisis is required in order to undermine public confidence in existing policies and institutional arrangements and create a receptiveness to major policy initiatives."
Another crisis -- the HIV-infected blood tragedy -- led them to write in an internal U of T publication that Canada might have escaped many of the infections and deaths if we had had a privatized system. Rather than a government-financed blood supply system, they called for one in which hospitals would be "free to choose amongst competing suppliers on the basis of cost and quality.'
Daniels and Trebilcock dismiss any connection between the tuition increase and their intellectual interests, pointing out that fewer than five of the 43 full-time faculty voted against the tuition increase. But Phillips sees a darker meaning. "It's part of a push to Americanize the law school. The people in charge share those values."
Glenn Wheeler is a student at Osgoode Hall Law School