Faculty Affairs: Final Meeting Covers Slew Of Committee Reports

Matt Howe (3L) and Maud Rozee (1L)

Faculty Council convened for the final time this year on March 23. The meeting was packed with presentations of Final Reports from six Dean’s Committees, limiting time for discussion or questions.

Truth and Reconciliation Committee

Professor Douglas Sanderson spoke on behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, which has not yet produced a final report. The Committee was struck in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada report released in summer 2015, which called upon law schools in Canada to create a mandatory course on Aboriginal peoples and the law.

The committee has so far consulted with students, faculty, and U of T’s Elder Council. Opinion is mixed on whether to implement a new, mandatory course. The committee has opted to “take a long term view,” with Sanderson noting that “ground will change as other groups do their work on implementation of the TRC recommendations.” The committee will explore the possibility of a mandatory course in future years. For now, one recommendation is seeking to include more material relating to aboriginal peoples in the first-year Legal Methods Intensive and ethics curriculum.

The committee is also canvassing faculty to see what issues relating to aboriginal peoples they are covering already, and whether they might be interested in incorporating more aboriginal content into their classes. To this end, the administration has provided funding for a summer research assistant to assist professors in developing content for existing courses.

International Advisory Committee

Professor Karen Knop presented the final report of the International Advisory Committee, whose mandate was to explore opportunities for future international partnerships for the law school. With respect to JD students, the committee recommended that the Faculty pursue an exchange agreement with the Université de Montréal law school. Adding a Canadian civil law school would give students exposure to a different legal environment. The Committee also thought that studying civil law in French would be particularly useful for students wishing to pursue clerkships.

At the urging of Students’ Law Society (SLS) representatives, the committee also recommended that the Faculty explore exchange opportunities with American law schools, such as Harvard, Michigan, NYU, and Berkeley. First-year Student Affairs and Governance (StAG) representative Samuel Mosonyi said the option would be attractive for students interested in practicing in the US.

This recommendation was met with some skepticism. Dean Iacobucci queried what the advantage of such an exchange would be, given the similarities between Canadian and US legal systems. Professor Ariel Katz wondered whether such an exchange might just be an opportunity for students to “pad their resumes.” In response, Knop said that the Faculty should search for a US law school that complements or builds upon U of T Law’s existing strengths.

The report also notes that “there may be asymmetric interests in such exchanges” on the part of American law schools.

With respect to Faculty and graduate partnerships, the committee suggested that organic, faculty-initiated collaboration with international partners works better than formal, top-down arrangements. It also recommended that the Faculty pursue broader “networked” partnerships, which include a number of academic institutions, rather than just one-to-one relationships.

Financial Aid Committee

Committee Chair Professor Ben Alarie described several changes coming to the financial aid system next year. The biggest one relates to calculating deemed parental contributions.

Currently, students are required to submit their parents’ income information for the prior tax year each academic year that they apply for financial assistance. Next year, for incoming first-year students, the Financial Aid Office will pilot a new approach. The financial assessment will ask incoming students to provide information on the previous three years of their parental income, which then serves as the basis for their deemed parental contribution in all subsequent years.

This approach is intended to help students predict from the outset the amount of financial aid they will receive throughout law school, and remove the burden of having to refile parental tax information every year. The three-year income average will also provide a more accurate picture of a student’s socioeconomic status.

As is presently the case, students will be able to appeal to the financial aid committee for a reassessment if their parents’ financial circumstances change dramatically. However, using a three-year average may reduce overall appeals by smoothing out major changes in parental income that might have led to appeals in a one-year income window under the status quo.

Third-year StAG representative Spencer Burger worried that this policy change would greatly increase the number of appeals, and lead to variability in financial aid awards based on students’ abilities to advocate for themselves. Alarie doubted that the number of appeals would increase significantly, given that the Faculty will be getting a more fulsome picture of the student’s socioeconomic status upfront.

SLS President, and Financial Aid Committee member, Andrew Wang added that the changes would be implemented as a pilot project and could be revisited by next year’s committee.

Clerkship Committee

Five students accepted clerkships at the Ontario Court of Appeal (OCA): Rob Stellick, Ben Lerer, Veenu Goswami, Jeremy Drucker, and Logan St. John-Smith. Three students accepted clerkships at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC): Neil Abraham, with Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin; Sam Greene, with Justice Rosalie Abella; and Debbie Boswell, with Justice Andromache Karakatsanis.

Given that the OCA has not taken more than five U of T Law students in a number of years, Dean Iacobucci suggested we have “hit an unofficial cap.” He said “we can do better” with SCC clerkships, though.

Standing Curriculum Committee

Associate Dean Kerry Rittich recapped the committee’s investigation into introducing a January Intersession. The committee will continue to develop potential models for implementing the intersession, and consult with students and faculty about their questions and concerns.

Short Term Curriculum Committee

Associate Dean Kerry Rittich spoke briefly and generally about next year’s course offerings. Several new courses are planned, according to the report. These include Housing Law and Policy, Law and Revolution, Racial Politics and the Law, and intensive course on Indigenous law with University of Victoria Professor John Borrows. This latter course “will take place at Neyaashiinigmiing, the Cape Croker Indian Reserve on the Bruce Peninsula on Georgian Bay.”

SLS President Andrew Wang expressed disappointment that Business Organizations remained the only course that satisfies the “Fiduciary Concepts” requirement. Dean Iacobucci sympathized with Wang’s frustration, and suggested that the “Fiduciary Concepts” requirement might be done away with entirely in the next few years.

Clinical Education & Experiential Learning Committee

Assistant Dean Sara Faherty quickly reviewed the work the committee has done so far this year. Its goal for next year is to continue discussing ways in which experiential learning opportunities might be incorporated into classrooms.

Mental Health & Wellness Committee

Scheduled as the last agenda item, the newly-formed Mental Health & Wellness Committee had little more than four minutes to present its report. Committee Chair Alexis Archbold said that the committee spent most of this year listening to feedback from students about accommodations and the availability of support systems for mental health issues at the law school.

The Committee recommended increased opportunities for anonymous feedback on mental health issues, and encouraged the Dean to take concerns seriously. Archbold also said that our new Health and Wellness Manager Yukimi Henry will be developing a comprehensive strategic plan for the Faculty over the summer focused on mental health, and will circulate a draft of the plan in the fall.