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Interview with Vice Dean Moin Yahya

Michael Wickson (3L)

Because you teach the Foundations course you are one of the faculty members that students are most familiar with. How long have you been with the Faculty of Law here at the University of Alberta?

I have been teaching since 2003, so 15 years.

What does the Vice Dean do and how is the job different from the other professors?  

Although the dean is ultimately in charge of all matters concerning the law school, day to day matters, especially those related to academic matters are delegated to the vice dean. So academic matters concerning students and faculty alike usually come to the vice dean at the first instance. And while the dean oversees the hiring and evaluation of full-time faculty, the over 70 practitioners who teach many of the courses also usually interact with the vice dean on routine matters. There are some other administrative matters such as room bookings and building matters that sometimes start with the vice dean.

Do you have any plans for the coming year, either professionally or personally? Are there any projects at the Faculty that you are excited about?

As the Faculty is in the midst of a decanal search, in a way a lot of what the will transpire will depend on who the next dean is.  In the meantime, the dean and myself want to make sure that the Faculty is in good shape for whoever takes over next.

You teach quite a variety of subjects (Criminal Law, Constitutional, Professional Responsibility). Do you have a favourite? Is part of your role as the Vice Dean to fill any gaps between the faculty capacity and student demand for certain courses, or do you jump at the opportunity to be around the students?

A bit of both. I like teaching and part of my responsibility is making sure all the classes are properly resourced. So when there is a vacancy in a core subject, I usually fill in the gap until a new full-time faculty member is hired or the temporarily absent faculty member returns.  We are finally returning to full strength thanks to hiring of 11 new faculty over the past three years, but the past few years required that I inflict my bad humor and outdated movie references on scores of 1Ls (and now upper years). I don’t have a favorite course. As for me, it is more the interaction with the students that matters. I have been lucky to have taught about 12 subjects during my time here. I have also coached three different moots.

We noticed that you have lost some weight over the past year or so, what is your secret?

Thanks. Basically, I stopped eating carbs and sugars for the first few months. Steamed vegetables became my staple diet (plus lots of carrots and nuts) for the first few months. Now, it is all about watching calorie intake.

Speaking of looking great, you are also known for your colourful wardrobe. Where do you get your suits? Do you have a favourite colour scheme? 

Part of the problem with gaining weight is that I had a hard time finding suits that fit. While I bought standard suits from the local department stores, I started ordering them online as I could customize the measurements. Of course, I could then customize the colors and designs. The one site I settled on (and I get no commission from them) is Hockerty (and I am sure there are others), as I found a good range of options and reasonable pricing. I don’t have a favorite color scheme, but I like to experiment and hence the various colors. After all, I am a tenured professor so I don’t have to worry about getting a job with a red suit.

There is something that I have been dying to know. Why do you hate hipsters so much? Is there a scarring experience somewhere in your past?

Other than the fact that we are one ‘fake-mustache-on-a-stick while driving a fixed gear bike to an artisanal food store’ away from complete social collapse, I have no issue with hipsters.

You tend to reference a lot of movies. Do you have a favourite? Do you spend a lot of time on Netflix?

I don’t have Netflix because that would destroy what little productivity I have left. I do watch a lot of YouTube clips because you can find the key snippets from most movies and shows there.  There is so much content now that it is easy to lose oneself in all of it. In terms of movies, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is one of my favorites. The Five Deadly Venoms (70s Kung Fu cult classic) is also up there. But of course, tons of great movies in all time periods.

What about Star Wars? You mention Chewbacca from time to time. What do you think of the latest Star Wars movies that Disney has released?  

Meh. The only good one Disney released and maybe even the best one (but for the fact that one needs A New Hope for reference) is Rogue One. In the original Star Wars (A New Hope), Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi duel very slowly with their lightsabers, as they were originally built from glass and told not to strike each other too hard. This made their duel seem stilted and the two warriors seem lethargic. What we saw at the end of Rogue One was nothing short of spectacular in terms of what Darth Vader could do. Indeed, this is the angle that I would like to see developed the most, especially since there is so much canon and non-canon Star Wars literature dealing with Darth Vader and the Jedi. While Disney has played with Kylo Ren, Rey, and Luke Skywalker, it seems to me that they once again are catering to a non-fan base. So while the recent films have paid some homage to the original genre (and even the awful episodes 1-3), they are stand alone stories that reflect very little of the original. Indeed, there was a fan fiction thread right after The Force Awakens regarding Rey’s roots, suggesting that she was Emperor Palpatine’s granddaughter given her fighting style. All of that was ignored in the subsequent film. At the end of it, I am more of a Darth Vader guy, so any films that cut him out do not do much for me. Hence, why I focus on Better Call Saul.