Faculty Council: “Who’s Robert?”

Amani Rauff (2L) and Shari Nathan (2L)

This month, Faculty Council canvassed a number of items, including Law Ball, deemed days, and asymmetry in the 1L curriculum. The meeting also provided attendees with a glimpse into the only thing more fascinating than procedure: a lack thereof.

Law Ball Rebate

Students’ Law Society (SLS) President Sarah Bittman spoke about the various events coming up for students this semester and announced that, for the first time, the SLS will be giving a small rebate to non-drinking JD students on their Law Ball tickets. She said she hopes to see this continue in future years.

Graduate Student Concerns: Mental Health, Funding, Career Events

In her remarks, GLSA President Catherine Dunmore drew attention to three issues affecting graduate students at the Faculty: the lack of consideration given to graduate students with respect to mental health services at the law school; the lack of permanently guaranteed equal funding for SJD students; and the blocking of graduate students from some CDO and alumni events. She also expressed satisfaction that the GLSA has achieved its goal of having participation in the mentorship program expanded to graduate students.

Curriculum and Sessional Dates: Deemed Days, 1L Curriculum Woes

Associate Dean Kerry Rittich presented the report of the Advisory Committee on Non-Statutory Holidays. This Committee was struck last year when a number of students approached the Dean and raised concerns about the discrepancy in the Faculty’s yearly accommodation (through rescheduled classes) of non-statutory Jewish religious holidays, but not those of other faiths.

The Committee surveyed practice beyond the Faculty and found that no other division of the University of Toronto, nor any other law school, currently cancels classes for Jewish holidays. The Committee also stated that the recognition of the holidays of one religious minority raised questions of equity, fairness, and even discrimination.

The Committee recommended that, going forward, the Faculty not cancel classes for any religious holidays, but continue to mitigate the effects for faculty and students who observe religious holidays. It recommended that, consistent with current practice, students not be penalized for missing classes to observe religious holidays. Associate Dean Rittich stated that there will be no documentation necessary for these absences. The Faculty will undertake to make professors aware of the variety of religious holidays so that they can avoid scheduling tests on those days.

In a welcome development, next year’s Winter semester will start on January 3.

Other concerns arose around sessional dates. Professors Shaffer and Reaume voiced strong objections to the truncated 1L fall semester. In the Winter semester, 1L classes end one week later than upper year classes, but in the Fall they are the same length. This issue was said to stem from when the 1L curriculum was semesterised and class hours had to be cut as a result. It was suggested that the shorter Fall semester means three fewer classes in the Fall. Professor Shaffer pointed out that this cuts a lot of class time and material, and she has to plan completely different Criminal Law curricula for the two semesters as a result.

The SLS floated the suggestion that the 1L semester be extended a further week into December, but the Dean Iacobucci and Associate Dean Rittich expressed concerns about unduly shortening the study period that 1L students have before their first semester exams. The 1L SLS representatives agreed that the shortened semester is a concern, but will consult with their peers before expressing views to Faculty Council on extending the semester.

The Dean and Associate Dean stressed that it was necessary that sessional dates be approved at this Faculty Council meeting, and the 1L curriculum issue would have to be put on the agenda for next year.

Unwritten Rules?

After a controversial motion to approve the sessional dates was carried, the SLS raised concerns about the lack of any procedural document setting out rules on how motions are brought and voted upon at Faculty Council, and what constitutes quorum, among other procedural issues. They pointed out that this is a problem for SLS members in particular because of the quick turnover in elected members.

The Dean’s response was that this issue had come up before, and that Constitutional Law Professor Ian Lee had previously determined that there was no need for a written document. Another Constitutional Law professor, David Schneiderman, voiced his disagreement with this approach, asserting that the Faculty needed to strike a working committee to look into the issue.

Dean Iacobucci informed the Council that these meetings are run like any other, using Robert’s Rules of Order. After further confusionas one attendee put it, “Who’s Robert?”and subsequent clarifications, it was suggested that the Council simply re-do the vote that created the controversy. The Dean moved to do this, only to have another professor ask whether the re-vote was in accordance with Robert’s Rules.

These issues were left unresolved at the conclusion of this meeting and it is unclear whether they will be addressed at the next Faculty Council meeting.