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What Now? Post Market Modifier Approval

Scott Meyer (3L), LSA President

As many of you are aware, on December 22, 2014, the Minister of Innovation and Advanced Education approved our faculty’s market modifier proposal. In total, the Government of Alberta approved twenty-five market modifier proposals from 10 different institutions.

This in stark contrast to 2010 when the Government of Alberta only approved a quarter of the market modifier proposals that they had received. Politics clearly change, which, as you can imagine, made the process surrounding the assembly of the market modifier proposal incredibly difficult.

With arguments about the market modifier having long been laid out, I would prefer to take this time to focus on the future, as there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. The following is a list of our ongoing concerns.

First and foremost, the LSA and the Faculty need to work together on formulating a vision for the law school’s growth. We find ourselves, moving into the future, perhaps somewhat adrift in terms of what we believe ourselves to be. I believe the law school’s current mission statement (found prominently displayed in the oft examined Law Faculty Policy manual) is insufficient and fails to articulate an overarching path forward for the law school.

For example, while in the past law firms were enthralled with the U of A’s mandate to offer a broad and comprehensive required curriculum, the competency requirements passed by the Federation of Law Societies now ensure that all Canadian law schools are requiring certain courses fundamental to the practice of law.

Thus, with one of the main staples of our curriculum softened, the time is now for our law school to forge a new path.  We should be drafting a new vision for our Faculty; one that we would be proud to put on the front page of our website, rather than have a mission statement that we would prefer to hide from sight.

Second, we need to work with the Faculty on determining the specifics of the market modifier’s implementation. Over the next couple of years, the market modifier will lead to a tremendous influx of revenue. However, this type of influx can be a double-edged sword. Touching upon the sentiment raised earlier, the revenue from this tuition increase affords the Faculty the rare opportunity to re-invent itself in a matter of only a few years.

With a commitment to student concerns, including experiential learning and an expanded career services department, our Faculty can very quickly redeploy itself as one of the top student-orientated law schools in Canada.  However, if the market modifier revenue is not used effectively, and student concerns are not heard, especially over the next couple of years, a decade from now we will be in the exact same spot we were in six months ago–adrift.

Third, the LSA also needs to work with our Faculty’s administration on developing alternative revenue sources for the school.  We cannot make the same mistakes as our predecessors. For example, fundraising is an area where the school has underachieved over the last couple of years. Not only should the LSA do a better job of knowing how our law school is performing in this area, but we should also be taking an active role in the process.

The Alumni and Friends Committee is a great example of the type of outreach we should be trying to expand with an even greater student presence. Additionally, while the core mission of our law school is to offer an undergraduate legal education, we should inevitably examine other types of programming such as offering executive educations or hybrid LLMs.

Fourth, we need to have a serious discussion with the Board of Governors on how professional fees are allocated at this University. I found that, while students were philosophically divided on the size a tuition increase, we could all come to a consensus that having 20% of the revenue being allocated to the University’s central administration is unacceptable.

Outside of building the overall size of the professoriate and our experiential learning program, we also need to have an eye towards reforming parts of the existing educational program. In particular, I believe we should closely examine how we deliver our first year curriculum and the LRW program. Schools like Osgoode, Dalhousie, UBC, Toronto, and Western, among others, have all brought motions to their law faculty councils over the last couple of years to shake up the delivery of the 1L program.

Amongst other changes, these schools have looked at the benefits of both term block courses and short intensives. The LSA is currently drafting a motion to have the faculty review a variety of options with regards to developing our first year curriculum.

Finally, the LSA needs to look inwards and figure out how we can facilitate greater advocacy on academic issues.  While the LSA has traditionally focused on delivering a variety of services and social events (things that we have gotten very good at over the years), our efforts on academic issues over the last couple of years are not where they could be, and I believe reform is needed.

The LSA needs to consolidate the existing thirty to forty student committee seats into an academic caucus consisting of six or seven positions, as the existing situation is unworkable. The Faculty discloses a tremendous amount of information in these various committee meetings, but a lot of the information gets lost as no one on these committees is ever given the opportunity to talk each other–never mind the ability to collaborate on issues that could positively impact law students. The centralization of information to a few students would thus enable student leaders to more easily communicate with each other and, ergo, work together.

While some of these concerns will take time to address, I believe that it is our duty, as students currently in the program, to do as much as we can to ensure that law students  five and ten years from now can enjoy the benefits of a strong and growing program.