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Thompson Rivers University slammed for rescinding law school acceptance

Last Updated Jun 22, 2021 at 1:48 am PDT

Summary

Thompson Rivers University put 42 students who were initially accepted into its law school on the waitlist

Student who was bumped to Thompson Rivers' waitlist had already moved to Kamloops, taken out student loans

Daleen Millard, dean of the Kamloops university, says she will 'personally deal with this'

*Names have been changed to protect identities of prospective students

KAMLOOPS (NEWS 1130) – Imagine getting accepted into law school, buying a home, taking out a student loan, quitting your job, and uprooting your life. Then suddenly, you’re told you no longer have a spot at the university.

Liam* is among dozens of students who thought they’d been accepted to law school at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops for this fall, and have now been told they’ve been bumped onto the waitlist.

“I was in shock,” he told CityNews. “I didn’t even really know what was going on because I’d never heard of this before.”

He says he was accepted in March, 2021 and then got a call this past Friday saying his application had been rescinded.

“My parents purchased a property out there, so there’s that. Then I’d taken out student loans. I quit the job that I was working and I moved up to Kamloops,” he explained.

“What makes it even worse is that I declined all the other offers that I had from law schools, which is three other offers. Once you decline them, you can’t go back and say, ‘I messed up, I declined.'”

Thompson Rivers routinely oversubscribes students, a practice where schools accept more students than they can accommodate by assuming a certain number will change plans before the program begins. However, not as many people dropped their acceptance as expected, leaving the school scrambling. In all, 42 students who were initially accepted to the school had to be put on a waitlist.

Liam says he can stay on the waitlist or defer to next year.

“That would set me back a year. Honestly, I can’t afford that financially, mentally, physically. Everything is just geared to me going to law school this year, so that would be a huge setback,” he said.

He’s already moved to Kamloops and spent his student loan money on things to prepare for his education.

“I’m in too deep to go back now,” he said, pointing out this is likely more than just an inconvenience for some other prospective students.

“There’s people that have families, partners and children that all need to make the move. I’d say even more so for them, this is a big bombshell. I mean, you can’t move your whole family from, say, Alberta or Saskatchewan in two months over to Kamloops, and then you get this notice a month and a half before you’re getting into law school. This a very bad situation.”

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Rose* received her acceptance notice in early April and says she was given two weeks to make a decision. She was called this past Thursday and informed she was bumped to the waitlist.

“My first response was, ‘This can’t be happening,'” she told CityNews.

She says she was sent an offer, had accepted it, and paid a deposit. She considered that a firm offer.

“Nowhere does it say that the offer is rescindable. I was quite surprised and shocked that they would do it,” she said.

“They did know about this for several weeks … They would have known about [the extra offers] by the end of April. They sent out numerous correspondence to the … entire class, talking about the plans for the fall. They did mention deferral … but they didn’t indicate there was any problem,” she said.

Rose, who just last week was sure of where she would be in September, now doesn’t know where she will be living this fall.

“Another offer from another university could come up until the very last day of school. Some people may want to just take the deferral and then know that they’re going to go next year. I don’t want to do that,” she said. “I had planned to go to law school this September and I’m still planning. I just have no clue … where I might be moving to. Could I be moving out east? Could I be moving within the province? It’s very up in the air. I have no clue. That’s not a great way to live.”

Liam has never heard of this happening before, so he called some friends of his who are work in academia.

“They were pretty shocked, as well. They’ve never heard of this happening before,” he told us.

Thompson Rivers Dean Daleen Millard insists oversubscription is standard practice, but is apologizing for what happened and says the school is trying to figure out alternative plans with those affected.

“I’m working really hard for us to make sure that we hammer out the best deal possible to all involved,” she said. “I’m firmly committed to that, and I’m not going to waver from my commitment to prospective and current students. So students must please reach out to me, even if they just want to share their anger, I’m here.”

Millard says the school will review the practice of oversubscription moving forward.

“I was just overwhelmed with students sharing their experiences, and I think the ability to talk to students and to cry with them and say, ‘this is where you are and this is what I think is the best you can do going forward.’ This is me putting the students first and saying to them, I will personally deal with this. I will personally try to find a solution.”

The university says as of Monday morning, 26 people remain on the law school waitlist.

“It’s a breach of agreement. It’s a breach of trust.”

Liam believes Thompson Rivers handled the overflow of students unfairly.

“The way that they decided this overflow waitlist was based on when you paid your deposit. But in the university’s offer letter, there was nothing that said that if you pay your deposit earlier, this may give … some sort of beneficial standing in unseen circumstances in the future,” he explained.

He feels the school could have instead offered prospective students an incentive to defer to next year.

“For example, ‘Hey, if you want to defer, we’ll give you … one semester tuition credit, or something of the sort, rather than forcing people onto an overflow waitlist,” he suggested.

For her part, Rose feels the university should have honoured all of the accepted students and increased their class sizes.

“The other thing I don’t understand is why they wouldn’t go to online learning. That sounds like an excellent solve because they’ve already been doing that,” she explained.

“I’m trying to understand why they didn’t take their brainpower, eight hours a day with an entire team, and come up with a solve that’s humane and takes people into consideration, particularly people who had already physically made the move, mentally made the move, emotionally made the move. It’s just so cavalier to have had no correspondence about the situation … when they could have told us right up front and said, ‘Hey, we have an issue here. If any of you would like to defer, we’re over-enrolled. It might affect some of you, we need you to know.’ Wouldn’t that have been common courtesy?”

‘The costs are profound’: Kamloops lawyer and Thompson Rivers University alum

Lawyer and Thompson Rivers alumnus Cameron Johnson says the responsibility lies solely with the school and could have easily been avoided.

“How a situation gets oversubscribed is entirely in the hands of the people doing the offering,” he said.

A former hotel general manager, Johnson says overbooking does happen to help reduce wasted space and loss of revenue, but the university took it a step too far by accepting nearly double the number of students it had space for.

“That would mean a hotelier agreeing to offer 258 seats for reservations for 124 room hotel. If all of them said yes, you would need to build another hotel, plus 30 per cent, in order to accommodate” he said.

“We’re not talking about hospitality or flights, where the inconvenience is measured in cab ride to another, another hotel, or an overnight stay, and then hop on another plane the day later. We’re talking about a year-long delay and delaying a person’s entry into a profession and the loss of a year’s worth of income at the end of their, their earning potential. The costs are profound.”

Johnson says the university and administration should not have rescinded the offers in phone calls and letters without any effort to make amends.

“There’s ways to do this that are not going to build the bad blood that has spilled over, because of this incident,” he said. “The alumni that I’ve talked to are very concerned with how this makes us look. Our law degrees are from this program and it, it makes everything look bad. And it should have been avoidable.”

Rose wishes someone from the university offered her an apology for the debacle.

“We didn’t get that. I never got an apology in the phone call. I never got an apology in the email … I think an apology is definitely warranted, compensation is very warranted,” she said, adding her trust in Thompson Rivers is now damaged.

“I think that if I were, in the future, applying to this university and I know what I know now, how could you trust an offer? When is a firm offer not an offer? We’ve all received, apparently, a deferral until next year. How do we know that that’s true? How do we trust that?”

With files from Kier Junos and Martin MacMahon