Volume 9, Issue 6
And just what’s a boy to do? Those glass slippers aren’t going to pay for themselves — to say nothing of the cost of a dress and pumpkin carriage. As the village once again prepares for the black tie event of the year, once again the price controversy returns with it, and there’s nothing a fairy godmother can do about that.
In last week’s issue, James Daff provided the reader with a penetrating look into a serious financial mind: his baroque and unrelenting brushstrokes, reminiscent of an old Dutch master, painted a vivid and violent image of costs, expenses and the need to make allowances for vomit stains.
But was the greater point missed? Certainly, each law ball ticket can be decomposed into the compost of figures that constitute it, but so what? I can breakdown the cost of my car to you, but that does little to explain why I drive that particular car or how I chose to finance its purchase. A deeper point about the role and responsibilities of the LSS has been ignored.
Much of the debate has been cast as one of student choices: pay or not pay; go or not go. For some, it is inclusion or exclusion, for others rare extravagance or the more usual puritanism. But whatever form the decision takes, it is bundled with a myriad of others, mostly relating to alternative accommodations that may or may not need to be made.
And, as James made clear in his intrepid report, the LSS themselves have numerous decisions to make: venue, entertainment, transportation, food, table detailing and ticketing all immediately dance to mind. Clearly the LSS invests a large amount of time and effort into organising a successful event. (I should perhaps say mostly successful — the later years among you may recall the perplexing fire breathers of 2014.) No one is censuring the LSS — that would, of course, be blasphemous.
However, their homepage informs me that ‘The Law Students' Society is the official student representative body of Melbourne Law School’. A good start, but let’s distil: the LSS is a student representative body. Now, I’m not sure if this intends to merely conjure feelings of solidarity, crafting a veneer of togetherness, or if the LSS genuinely intends to live by this mantra. But I think the point is made that the Society ought to have students’ best interests at heart. To ensure no one is left on the dance floor without a partner, if you will.
The nature of any law school (and especially Melbourne Law School) is that financial strength can cushion your path along the way, if not gilding the very doors of the building. Going to a private school (putting aside all of their shortcomings) greatly increases your chances of being accepted into university. Affording textbooks, a residential college (or free board) and a tutor will help your studies when you get there. And when you graduate to the law school, being able to spend time that others would need to invest in menial work — by, say, flattering your experience in prestigious un- or low-paid positions, or diligently applying yourself to study — will allow you to distinguish yourself.
Certainly, no person should begrudge another for any of that: from a certain perspective, law school is a three-year opportunity to file down that chip on your shoulder. But it is hopefully uncontroversial to contend there is a rather leaden financial weight that displaces much other matter. The more you need (or choose) to work, the more your studies will be negatively affected.
We have established two things: the LSS should protect students’ interests, and law school carries a significant economic burden. Let’s weave that in with choices (it’s thematic, you see). What one gets is this: the LSS must decide to what extent it wishes to increase the burden on students. In that context, I’m not entirely convinced that it’s good enough to simply say ‘that’s how much it costs, take it or leave it’.
Hard work and effort on the part of the LSS do not mean that more savings are not possible. Superfluities exist to trim. (I wasn’t joking about the fire breathers, by the way; it was like watching money go up in smoke and calling it entertainment.) Again, how much do we want to burden students? Pointing to other societies’ and other law schools’ events and saying we’re just like them isn’t exactly good enough either. Why do we not, in response to people taking issue with the price of tickets, try something innovative in terms of sponsorship, the faculty or other fundraising means? — to say nothing of utilising some out-of-box thinking with regard to the event itself.
This suggests the question: is the LSS a true student body or a mere archipelago of the Law School? Is the ball priced commensurate with the wider cost of law school or as a reaction against it? The views of the LSS and the MLS so often align that one troubles to find where the former ends and the latter begins.
I return the debate back to you. My only hope is that, instead of dismissing the price-related dissent, those in the crosshairs of the disaffected stop to appreciate the position of many people and accept as their mandate the support of their fellow students.
See you all at the ball. I’ll be the one fleeing at midnight.
Scott Colvin is a third-year JD student
*The previous version of this article suggested that there was no way of knowing the precise costings of MULSS events. This was done without requesting comment from the MULSS and so was unsubstantiated. De Minimis would like to apologise for not ensuring the opportunity for fair comment and will seek to ensure that this is not repeated.
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