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Law Faculty plans to hire three new professors

David Foster

The University of Alberta Law Faculty is currently hiring and hopes to have at least three full-time professors in place by the next academic year. Last year, around 30 full-time professors were teaching at the law school. This year, that number is down slightly – although the faculty website lists 35 law professors, some of these are semi-retired or on sabbatical.

Professors who have left include D’Arcy Vermette, who taught Aboriginal Law and is now teaching at the U of A’s Faculty of Native Studies. Last year Professor Wayne Renke was appointed to the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and Professor Philip Bryden, former Dean of Law, was appointed Deputy Minister of Justice in June 2015. Professor John Law is on administrative leave and Professor Peter Carver is on sabbatical for this year. Vice Dean of Law Moin Yahya said he can’t comment on why Vermette left the law school, but stated that Bryden is still considered a faculty member and could return to teaching whenever he wants.

Only one new professor joined the law school this year, Malcolm Lavoie, who is a visiting assistant professor and not a permanent appointment. Lavoie completed his LLM degree at Harvard University earlier this year. Professor Stella Varvis, who was on leave last year, has returned to teach the Legal Research and Writing class.

Yahya said that prior to 2008, the law school had around 38 full-time professors, but due to the economic downturn at that time funding was reduced and the faculty shrank by attrition. Until this year, law professors who retired were not replaced because of funding shortages. However, the Alberta NDP government, while it rejected the market modifier tuition increase proposed by the law school, has offered replacement funding for this year, which has allowed for new faculty to be hired.

U of A has around 560 law students in the Juris Doctor program; with around 30 faculty the ratio is 18 students to one professor. By contrast, UBC Law with the same number of JD students has around 45 full-time professors, a ratio of 12 to 1, while the University of Toronto law school has 515 JD students and 50 full time faculty, a ratio of nearly 10 to 1.

This lower ratio of professors to students has forced the law school to offer doubled-up cohorts of first year classes such as Torts, Foundations and Constitutional Law this year, while last year Property was taught as one class for all three cohorts. Before the funding cuts, first year students were even divided into four cohorts rather than three.

Currently Catherine Bell is the only professor left who specializes in Aboriginal law. Yahya would like to see one or more new faculty members with an Aboriginal law background, especially given the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation that Canadian law schools offer a mandatory course in Aboriginal peoples and the law. However, he noted there are limited number of such specialists and they are in high demand. According to Yahya, the faculty’s priority is hiring the best candidates in terms of background in research, publication and practice, and eliminating the double section classes.