Students Give Feedback on Proposed Intersession Ahead of January Vote

Maud Rozee (3L)*

On January 17, 2018, Faculty Council will vote on whether to adopt a one- or two-week January intersession term. This upcoming vote has put pressure on the Students’ Law Society (SLS) to quickly gather feedback from students before the start of exam period and the subsequent Winter Break. Initial student reactions indicate concerns about whether the intersession proposal can be adjusted to accommodate various other activities scheduled for January.

The Proposal

In the document outlining the history of the proposed intersession, sent out by Assistant Dean Sara Faherty, the Curriculum Committee frames the intersession as a better way to achieve the goals of the Distinguished Visitor Program—providing students with the opportunity to take an intensive academic class with a visiting professor. The program would be “credit neutral,” meaning credits taken in the intersession would count towards students’ Winter semester credits. Participation in the intersession term would be mandatory for upper-year students. The 1L program would continue unchanged.

Assistant Dean Faherty also sent calendar models for the one- or two-week intersession. The one-week intersession would be scheduled into the first week of January. The rest of the Winter Term would be pushed back one week. The two-week option would require adding four deemed Fridays to make up an extra week of classes over the term. The calendar does not contain information about how many hours of class would be scheduled each day, or when exams or paper due dates for intersession courses would be scheduled.

In the past, Dean Iacobucci has compared the proposed intersession to Harvard’s “Winter Term”, a three week intensive term in January. Harvard students can spend their “Winter Term” taking classes, writing a research paper, or participating in a clinic.The University of Ottawa also has a “January Term”, during which students can take a class or participate in a directed research program. Classes are a maximum of three hours of instruction per day, and students can choose to be graded on a “Satisfactory/Non-satisfactory” basis. Notably, mooting fulfills a student’s “January Term” requirement.

Opportunities for Consultation

At the Faculty Council meeting on November 15, the Curriculum Committee proposed that Faculty Council vote on the intersession at its first meeting in January. SLS representatives expressed surprise and concern over this timeline, which provides for only a few weeks around exams and holidays for consultation.

At Faculty Council in February 2017, Associate Dean Kerry Rittich said that the Committee would consult widely before committing to a plan. The Committee’s report of March 30, 2017, also promised further consultation with faculty and students on the implementation of an intersession before a final decision would be made. The report stated “We recommend that this consultation continue over the summer and early next fall.”

Instead, consultation will happen in late fall and winter of this year—around exam period and the winter holidays. The email sent by Assistant Dean Faherty solicited feedback, indicating that “there will be more opportunities for dialogue over the next months—organized primarily by your student representatives.”

SLS representatives have expressed concern over this timeline. At the Faculty Council meeting on November 15, SLS student representatives indicated that they had been under the impression that the Committee itself would organize opportunities for dialogue before bringing the intersession proposal to Faculty Council. In a statement to Ultra Vires, SLS President Katie Longo wrote:

For the past two years, our understanding has been that there will be a point of widespread consultation with all stakeholders (including students and faculty). This need for extensive consultation was recognized by the Dean at a Faculty Council meeting last year. However, it seems that in a rush to implement this intersession by next year, the Committee is prepared to forego this level of consultation. We are deeply concerned by this development, as our advocacy and outreach on this issue over the past two years would have taken a different form had we been aware that the Committee would eventually decline to engage in the consultations as expected.

President Longo also wrote that the SLS will be hosting a Town Hall in early January, and strongly encourages students to engage with information about the intersession and contact the SLS with their thoughts.

Student Concerns

Individual students and student groups have already begun raising concerns about the effect of an unknown amount of mandatory class time in January on activities like Law Games, mooting, and clinics.In a statement to Ultra Vires, the U of T Law Games Captains for 2018 wrote:

The proposed intersession will directly conflict with law games, prohibiting any students from further participating in the tradition. Law Games relies on upper-year students to carry the tradition year to year, and denying the ability to participate takes away an opportunity from a large number of students to build lasting personal and professional connections, form strong friendships, and create lasting memories unique to law school and Law Games.

The Moot Court Committee released a statement expressing concern that none of the documents circulated by the Curriculum Committee examine or address the potential impact of an intersession on the competitive mooting program. January is a busy time for many mooters, who may prioritize their moot work above class to meet factum deadlines.

Students involved in clinics have also questioned whether attending the mandatory intensive course would prevent them from volunteering during the first week or weeks of January, decreasing the quality of service for their clients.

In the 2020 Facebook group, a student noted the impact of more deemed Fridays on commuter students: “For students who commute from the suburbs of the GTA, those weeks with deemed Fridays are particularly tough and heavy! […] For those commuter students, a Monday-Thursday 9 a.m.–4/5 p.m. schedule translates to a 7 a.m. to 5 p.m./7 p.m. schedule […] It makes for a very heavy week.”

Students also raised concerns about exams deferred from the Fall term, which are usually written in the first weeks of January. The materials circulated by the Curriculum Committee do not address how deferred exam-writing would be scheduled with the mandatory intensive course.

Concerned students are encouraged to email Assistant Dean Faherty or their SLS representatives with feedback as well as to attend the SLS-organized Town Hall in January.

*Maud Rozee is a member of the 2017–18 Moot Court Committee.