Who’s who at the Faculty of Law in 2014

Brett Hughes (2L)

Over the summer, you might have noticed a plethora of emails from members of the administration containing sign-offs starting with “Interim” or “Acting” (we’re looking at you, Acting Interim Dean-for-a-day Alarie). This article is intended to help acquaint you with some of the new faces in Falconer.

Jutta Brunnée, Interim Dean

In an interview with Ultra Vires, Brunnée described the role of Interim Dean as ensuring that “things stay on a steady course until the new Dean takes up their role,” which means no “radical changes.” (If she were part of an interim government, she would not “institute a carbon tax.”) Brunnée has been serving as Interim Dean since May, and will continue to do so for one year, or until the Provost appoints the new dean.

She is the Metcalf Chair in Environmental Law, and is internationally recognised for her work in Public International Law and International Environmental Law. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, she has published and lectured extensively on these topics.

Brunnée said that her role includes making sure that “things that are in motion continue to be in motion,” so I asked about the commitment made last year at Faculty Council to an ongoing dialogue between faculty and students on tuition and financial aid. She replied that “there will be space for that discussion.” However, in response to a follow-up, she indicated that if the dialogue suggests a need for change, it will have to wait for her successor.

Stepping into the role at a time of transition, with so many new faces in the administration—whether permanent or acting—has not posed any major challenges, Brunnée said. From the administration’s perspective, things have been running smoothly. In particular, she said that Judith McCormack was chosen to fill the Assistant Dean of Students position precisely because she possessed the extensive institutional memory necessary for a smooth transition.

After the Faculty added three new hires last year, there will be no formal hiring process this year in order to provide latitude for the new Dean to make hires in due course. One change coming out of the Interim Dean’s office this year is that Faculty Council documents will no longer be hidden from students, and displayed instead on the general access part of E.Legal.

When asked if she had any interest in taking on the role on a more permanent basis, Brunnée said she felt it was a “real privilege” to serve as Interim Dean, and had gained an appreciation of the inner workings of the Faculty that she was not exposed to as a professor, but looks forward to returning to teaching and research, at least for now.

Judith McCormack, Acting Assistant Dean of Students

According to the job posting on LinkedIn, the Assistant Dean of Students “manages and oversees all non-curricular aspects of the JD Program including student services, academic program administration, and public interest programs.” This includes responsibility for “all student wellness and success programs” and “all student activities.”

Judith McCormack—whose full-time role is Assistant Dean, Graduate Program—is actually returning to this position, having filled in during former Assistant Dean Archbold’s maternity leave in 2010-11. She has been with the Faculty since 2001, serving as an Adjunct Professor and Executive Director of Downtown Legal Services for nine years, before becoming an Assistant Dean in 2010. Judith was previously a partner at Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, and before that, the Chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

I asked Judith if the role felt any different this time round. While it is “very familiar,” she wrote that there are now “more programs to increase access to the law school,” more diversity initiatives, new clinical programs, and more.

Former Assistant Dean Archbold mentioned in her exit interview with Ultra Vires that the role grew significantly during her tenure—from four direct reports to fourteen. I asked Judith if she was stepping into the same role, or if it would be changing. She responded that the role is “in essence” the same, and that she was briefed extensively by her predecessor. Although some students have been concerned that the office might be getting overextended, it appears that the administration has decided that the “portfolio will be exactly the same,” as Archbold put it in her interview.

Interim Dean Brunnée told Ultra Vires that a permanent replacement should be announced sometime this semester.

Jerome Poon-Ting, Senior Recruitment, Admissions and Diversity Outreach Officer

Jerome is one of the few new permanent hires thus far. He replaces Neel Joshi, who only lasted one year in the position before departing for the Rotman School of Management.

The role entails “strengthen[ing] and expand[ing] the Faculty’s efforts to enrol outstanding students based on their personal qualities and demonstrated intelligence, despite any barriers that they may face,” Jerome said by email. He has spent the last 20 years in admissions and recruitment, including at Queen’s University and the University of Toronto, where he has worked for 12 years—mostly at the Scarborough campus.

I asked Jerome what challenges he sees U of T Law facing with respect to diversity and accessibility. He responded: “From the outside, our perceived level of inclusivity and affordability hasn’t caught up to the reality.” He said that the admission process “rewards achievement and recognizes potential,” and that the Faculty provides the most comprehensive financial support in the country. Thus, there is work to do be done “to communicate the reality better.”

It seems fair to say that many students do not view the Faculty as a bastion of “inclusivity and affordability.” But is it students, rather than the administration, who do not understand the reality? Nabila Pirani—Co-Chair, External of the South Asian Law Students’ Association—said she finds it “worrying” that the challenge is conceived of in terms of how to “communicate the reality better.”

While U of T Law’s diversity statistics portray a relatively diverse school, Nabila said the statistics are problematic and incomplete, and there is still plenty of substantive work to do. This includes addressing “the lack of socio-economic diversity at the law school, systemic and financial barriers to entry, as well as students’ concerns about diversity during the hiring process.”

Jerome said that “current students’ experiences can provide insight on how we’re progressing and where there’s room for improvement.” I suspect many more students will have insights to share.

Promise Holmes Skinner, Acting Aboriginal Law Program Coordinator

Promise is rejoining the Faculty one year after graduating as part of the Class of 2013, and after articling with a criminal defence firm. As a student, she served as President of the Aboriginal Law Students’ Association, founded and was co-President of the Aboriginal Law Club, and worked with the Indigenous Law Journal.

In her role as (Acting) Aboriginal Law Program Coordinator, she will “facilitate and develop academic and experiential programming for all law students at the Faculty.” Promise said the role also involves providing “supportive counseling to current and prospective Aboriginal law students” as well as support for students involved with the Aboriginal Law Program.

There is apparently a busy calendar planned for the Aboriginal Law Program this year. The following list highlights a small number of the activities and opportunities that Promise shared with Ultra Vires. Events include: the Fall Feast, a speaker series featuring some of Canada’s most influential Aboriginal leaders, a new Visiting Elder Series, firm tours, a database project on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, and events related to the forthcoming Supreme Court decision in R v Kokopenace—a case dealing with jury rolls and First Nations people in Ontario.

More generally, Promise said that being back at the Faculty so soon after graduating allows her “to really relate to students and provide a fresh voice to the Faculty from someone who just completed the program.”