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Message From the Dean



Welcome (or welcome back!) to the Faculty of Law! As the trees turn green and gold in time for Alumni Weekend, we’re in a fortunate position here in the Faculty to have much to celebrate. While I will provide further updates at the first Dean’s Town Hall on September 30 (12:10-1:00), here’s a brief summary of some of the things that have been going on over the summer and as we start a new academic year…


Welcome to the Class of 2018!


A fantastic Orientation Week followed a new initiative in August, four different Welcome Events in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton that brought together incoming 1Ls with upper year students, recent graduates, alumni and firms to provide an introduction to the broader community and to help reinforce the message of community support that has been such a tradition here. Many thanks to LSA President Dharam Dhillon and James Park, 3L, for their assistance in Vancouver and Toronto, respectively, and to the firms McMillan LLP (Vancouver) and BLG LLP (Calgary) for hosting.


As I mentioned during my formal Orientation welcome remarks on September 1, it’s a remarkable incoming class: 93 are women, 90 are men; ages range from 20-42 with an average age of 25; 20 have graduate degrees (some with multiple advanced degrees); 37 are from BC, 11 are from Ontario, and there are students from the Yukon, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick joining us. In addition to Alberta universities, we’re joined from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Miami, and the University of North Texas, BYU, Acadia, Ryerson, UBC-Okanagan, UBC, UVic, McMaster, St FX, Queen’s, Saskatchewan, Regina, Brock, Carleton, Manitoba, Waterloo, Western, Winnipeg, York, Brock, McGill, and others around North America and, for the first time to my knowledge, the Universidad Externado Colombia. Welcome!


Former Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Kim Campbell accepted my invitation and delivered an inspiring keynote address (without a note!).  The President of the Law Society of Alberta, the past President of the Canadian Bar Association-Alberta, LSA President Dharam Dhillon, the Hon. Justice Myra Bielby from the Alberta Court of Appeal, and Cmr. Robert Philp, Chair of the Alberta Human Rights Commission all delivered remarks.  Simon Elzen-Hoskyn (JD 2014) provided music for the BBQ and even Guba, the University of Alberta mascot, made an appearance!


I’ve also been pleased to attend welcome events for the visiting and exchange students joining us this year from Australia, Germany, France, Denmark and Sweden, as well as transfer students from law schools across Canada.


The NCA Program, a new initiative launched this fall, is also bringing others to the Faculty. This small cohort obtained their law degrees outside Canada and are at the Faculty to satisfy additional qualification and certification processes that will prepare internationally educated and trained lawyers to enter the Canadian legal profession.


Please extend a warm welcome to all! Thanks to Gill Reid, Events and Alumni Coordinator, Gloria Strathern, Prizes and Awards Coordinator, Vice Dean Moin Yahya, the LSA, and all of the students and faculty who volunteered as guides and resources during Orientation Week and other activities that kick off what will be a great year!


Market Modifier Update


The Market Modifier tuition debate and discussion last year provided an opportunity for students, faculty and the broader community to engage in a critical dialogue about the impact of funding cuts on the Faculty, and to explore ideas (including a tuition increase) to permit investments essential for moving the Faculty forward.


Many were unaware that as a result of the Faculty not securing a Market Modifier increase in 2009-10, U of A Law’s tuition was 25% less than U of C, and that our budget was less in real dollars last year than it had been in 2009-10. The number of full time equivalent Faculty had dropped from 36.5 to 29 (and is now at 26+1); the Law Library closed in the summer; courses were being cut and first year property was taught last year in one section of 180. While our Faculty and students remain among the best in Canada, sustaining excellence was proving difficult if not impossible without a significant change.


With the support of students (demonstrated in a referendum that gauged not only whether students supported the proposed tuition increase but whether students supported individual component ideas for investment), faculty, alumni, law firms and the broader legal community, our proposal for a phased-in tuition increase went forward to the Government of Alberta and was approved in a December 22 announcement. The changes the increase would permit would help eventually restore the Faculty to 2009 levels and to transform us moving forward. Plans were underway for implementation, with an immediate focus on improving student services.


With the election of the new provincial NDP government in May, all market modifiers were slated to be cancelled as a campaign platform promise. In mid-June, the Government of Alberta presented interim financial plans (until a budget is introduced in October) that confirmed these plans. In announcing Bill 3: Appropriation (Interim Supply) Act 2015 (No. 2), the new Government promised to “increase post-secondary funding by $133 million to provide stability while working on long-term funding solutions.” The new government announced that it would reverse the 1.4% cut to the Campus Alberta grant announced in the March provincial budget; provide an increase of 2% to the Campus Alberta grant for both 2015-2016 and 2016-2017; and freeze domestic tuition and mandatory non-instructional fees (MNIFs) for 2 years at 2014-2015 levels. In addition it also stated that “Market modifiers approved earlier this year will be rolled back; however, universities will receive base funding to cover the losses incurred by the roll-back.”


I await further details and formal confirmation regarding implementation, and am slated to meet with the Provost and the central administration’s budget staff later in September. I continue to fight to ensure that the Faculty receives the full funding support we proposed. There have been many questions regarding what percentage would be allocated to central administration; all along I’ve proposed 80% to the Faculty (with 20% to student support) and 20% to the central administration from any differential increase. I understand that the effect of the June announcement will be to provide the Faculty with the funding that would have been supported by the increases we had proposed in the formal submission last fall and I want to ensure we receive the full benefit. The cumulative impact of the modifier alone over the three year period in the submission was to have been in the order of $6.2M.


I will provide further updates as I have them, and we’re proceeding cautiously, but this appears to be tremendous news for the Faculty and for our students.  The challenge remains what will happen over the longer term.  The number one priority for both students and the Faculty has been Faculty recruitment, which by its nature is a not a short term matter.  I recently received authorization to  advertise for up to three new Faculty positions to start in 2016-17, subject to budget approval.


I have also already proceeded with other initiatives I mapped out last year: one with immediate impact is the hiring of a second Career Services Officer, Mandy Seidenberg, to focus especially on the 1L class, and on opportunities with large firms in Vancouver, Calgary, and Toronto while Pat Neil concentrates her focus on government, small and rural firms, and on contacts in Edmonton. Both are available to assist you succeed in an increasingly competitive marketplace.


With support from the Executive Director and Board of ASSIST, the Alberta Lawyers’ Assistance Program, we’ve launched a pilot project to provide on site psychological counselling and referral services, free of charge, to law students. We are already in discussions about expanding appointment availability and look forward to your feedback. I had a terrific meeting with the LSA Mental Health and Wellness Committee representatives about their plans for the year and am very pleased that this particular initiative has such strong support.


We are advertising for a Student Life Coordinator; are looking at plans for an expanded Career Services Centre; have made changes to LRW to involve third year mentors; and are undertaking planning for other initiatives that increased investment in the Faculty will support. Professor Rod Wood is heading a special advisory committee on experiential learning that will look at best practices and opportunities for U of A and will consult with students and with SLS as that committee’s work moves forward. I’ll discuss these and more proposed improvements to the student experience at the upcoming Town Hall.


I remain extremely grateful to the LSA 2014-15 executive, former LSA President Scott Meyer and former Board of Governors representative Sangram Hansra, for the thoughtful and constructive manner in which law students fostered debate and dissent, and provided input that both identified student priorities and continued to help make our case. I look forward to continuing consultations with LSA President Dharam Dhillon and the 2015-16 LSA Executive, and with Law Faculty Council reps, about how best we move forward.


As I have argued throughout, the financial security of the Faculty needs to be built on three key component parts: equitable tuition policy; government investment that recognizes the contributions of a made-in-Alberta solution to legal needs; and development support from firms, alumni and others who benefit from the Faculty’s contributions and legacy. I hope to have a part in the dialogue with the Government about long-term funding solutions as it undertakes its comprehensive review over the next two years. I will also continue in earnest my efforts to raise money from donors and funding agencies for the important mission we undertake (more news on that below).


Faculty News and Celebrations!


  • Supreme Court Appointment! Perhaps the biggest news this summer was the selection of former U of A Law Professor Russ Brown as the newest Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada! This is an incredible honour for the Faculty, and continues the remarkable tradition of service that is our legacy: Justice Brown is the sixth member of the U of A Law community to serve on the Supreme Court. Justice Brown has kindly accepted my offer to have a special reception at the Faculty open to all. A date and details will be announced soon.


  • Construction complete (almost!): with the support of a $300,000 donation from the firm I was able to help finalize last fall, McLennan Ross Hall has undergone a refresh over the summer. The infamous moving wall is on order and we’re told will be ready “soon”. We’ll have a formal celebration with representatives of the firm this fall.


  • Faculty Honours: Faculty members continue to excel. Just a few recent examples:


  • Professor Ubaka Ogbogu was selected to receive the 2015 Distinguished Early Career Award from the Confederation of Alberta Faculty Associations. Congratulations!
  • Professor Joanna Harringon, on sabbatical at Oxford this fall, was named a Fulbright Scholar and will spend the winter term at the University of Texas. This is a prestigious honour and achievement.
  • Professor Peter Carver, also on sabbatical this year, was named a Visiting Professor at UBC this fall and received the John A. Sproul Research Fellowship from the Canadian Studies Program of the University of California at Berkeley, for the Winter 2016 term. Professor Carver will use the Fellowship to engage in a comparative study of the uses of executive discretion in each country’s immigration system.
  • Professor Peter Sankoff was nominated as a Finalist in the Canadian Lawyer Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers in Canada in the Criminal Law category
  • Sessional Tax instructor and distinguished practitioner Don Sommerfeldt was appointed to the Tax Court of Canada in a special sitting of the Court in Edmonton in August.


I’ve been visiting with lawyers and law firms in Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver to work on keeping the pipeline to summer jobs and articling positions as wide open as possible during the challenges of a changing economy, and am aggressively promoting you and this Faculty at every opportunity. More on that at the Town Hall.


I’m proud and privileged to serve as Dean and look forward to continuing to move us forward. Best wishes for a very successful year!