Potential Deans Take the Podium
Jordan Lefaivre (3L) Natasha Edgar (3L) William Peachman (1L)
Last week the Faculty of Law hosted three candidates for the soon to be vacant Dean’s position. Each candidate had the opportunity to speak to faculty and students. Each of the candidates had a unique perspective regarding the role of Dean at this law school. The CV’s for all three candidates are available for viewing in the Dean’s office.
The first candidate, Cally Jordan, spoke on February 3. Jordan is an Associate Professor at Melbourne Law School with an interest in international finance. She is currently the only woman to apply for the job. Jordan was asked to center her presentation around three questions: What makes a successful faculty of law? What is high quality legal education? And finally, what would a successful five years as Dean look like?
Jordan spoke in broad terms in order to answer the questions. She emphasized that a successful faculty of law should stimulate intellectual excitement. Excitement is achieved by focusing on the interactions between faculty and students to create an environment where learning is interesting and engaging for both sides. She also mentioned intensive five day courses as a way to encourage academics to visit from all over the world and engage with the faculty and students here. These courses can help to combat “the tyranny of distance” – apparently a problem at Melbourne as well, by allowing the school to introduce new courses, ideas, and professors for short periods of time.
Jordan was aware of the fact that law school curriculum and teaching methods are likely to undergo changes in the coming years. What those changes will look like at U of A is still an open question and one that largely depends on who the next Dean is. Jordan did not offer specifics but suggested that clinical programs and experiential learning were likely to be popular models introduced in the near future.
The five year term as Dean was the focus of Jordan’s presentation. She highlighted some of the necessary qualities of a good leader in the faculty. She stressed that the Dean must put the institution first, display intellectual leadership, be empathetic, and charming with potential donors.
Jordan also emphasized the faculty’s role in implementing her vision. She hopes to draw on their experiences rather than implementing an outside strategy that may not work for our school. When asked why she wants to be Dean, Jordan answered simply that she was interested in legal education, and that the role of a Canadian law Dean still involves being an academic rather than just an administrator.
The next Candidate, Paul Paton, took the stage on February 4.
Paton is currently a Professor at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, California. Previous appointments included: serving as an advisor to the Premier of Ontario, an assistant professor at Queen’s, and a Partner at Davies, Ward, and Beck. Paton’s primary research interests include legal ethics and professional responsibility.
Paton’s presentation was direct and to the point, stating that the main challenge facing the law school is growing the necessary financial resources required for the school to continue to achieve success. He remarked that, only with the proper financial resources could the faculty recruit and maintain esteemed scholars while remaining focused on delivering quality legal education. Borrowing a quote from Chris Hadfield, Paton described a Dean as a leader in creating an environment that fosters and grows success. He highlighted how success is defined individually, so as Dean he would aim to provide the resources for both faculty and students to reach their individual goals.
Paton argued his diverse background would allow him to engage and utilize the legal community to improve the tradition of great legal education at the U of A. Of particular note was Paton’s grasp of the challenges facing not only the Canadian legal education system, but also the legal profession as a whole. Noting that the legal profession as we know it might be radically different in 10 years, Paton acknowledged that law schools have to do a better job preparing their graduates for an uncertain future. He believes this conclusion was supported by the American Bar Association’s recent report on the state of legal education in the United States.
Moving on to a discussion about the types of innovation that can be brought to the classroom, Paton cited the flipped classroom as a move in the right direction. Additionally, Paton cited the increasing need for law schools to offer experiential and clinical learning opportunities to their students.
Finally, Paton articulated that if he were selected as Dean, his ideal goal would be to make the University of Alberta Faculty of Law the best law school in Western Canada, citing UBC as the main competition.
The last candidate to speak, Paul Babie, spoke on February 5.
Babie is an Associate Professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. His research specialties include property theory and law and religion. Babie is a former U of A law student. He said that it was a privilege to be a student at the University of Alberta, and an even greater privilege to be invited back to speak.
Babie began his presentation by asking what a successful faculty of law should look like. He focused on three main objectives: a law school must be embedded, engaged, and global.
He remarked that the study of law must be embedded in the broad tradition of the humanities and social sciences. This includes integration into the multi-disciplinary knowledge of the whole university. He stressed the benefits of building collaborative projects between faculties. He suggested that being embedded has at least two advantages. First, it leads to high quality legal education for students. Second, multi-disciplinary research makes a law school more competitive when applying for research income.
The next objective, engagement, includes building strong, long-term relationships with students, faculty, staff, the judiciary, alumni and the broader community. He mentioned that teaching in a practice orientated way will provide the legal community with high quality legal practitioners. He also stressed the need to engage with the international alumni.
When explaining the final objective, global, he stated that professors must inform their research by the reality of a global environment. This research will then inform their teaching. He also stressed the need to build international multi-disciplinary research and expand student mobility relationships. He finished by stating that the school should have the goal of becoming one of the top 50 law schools in the world.
Babie is also open to instituting teaching innovations. He mentioned using video, recording lectures, assigning non-academic or extra-legal readings. He also suggested integrating technology into lectures, and creating virtual classrooms. Babie stated that knowledge of theory allows lawyers to respond to legal problems in unique and creative ways. He said that he leans towards theoretical teaching, but also mentioned that there must be a balance between teaching theory and providing practice based skills.
Do any of these candidates provide what students need? Some candidates emphasized innovative legal education and curriculum changes, others focused more heavily on the research side of the equation. At this point, specifics are less important than ensuring that the school will have strong leadership and a vision of where we can be in the future. As students we come and go, seeing one or maybe two Deans – but our role as alumni means we’re still interested in ensuring a quality legal education for future generations of law students. Best of luck to the search committee in making the right choices for this great school we call our own.