Intersession Draws Criticisms Despite Promise of “Intellectual Fireworks” at SLS Town Hall

On Tuesday, January 9, the Students’ Law Society held a town hall to solicit student feedback on the proposed intersession, which will be voted on at the next Faculty Council meeting on Wednesday, January 17. The proposed intersession, if approved, would be a mandatory requirement for upper-year students starting in the 2018–2019 academic year.

Overall, students expressed frustration that they were “guinea pigs” for these curriculum changes, that there was insufficient student consultation, and that still many questions were left unanswered. Assistant Dean Sarah Faherty assured students that the details would be figured out if the Winter Intersession were approved and that the change was a positive one.

Assistant Dean Faherty alleged that a two-week intensive intersession would provide students with a relaxed two weeks to take interesting new courses and to socialize with esteemed visiting scholars without missing other coursework, as in the current system. She also extolled the intersession because it would allow the Faculty to attract more visiting scholars. She stated that, for the proposed intersession next year, the school has “got the best batch of intensive visitors coming that we’ve had the whole time I’ve been here.”

Professor Richard Stacey, another member of the Curriculum Committee, added that the intersession would allow the Faculty to become a “global centre of international excellence,” setting off “intellectual fireworks.”

Timing

Assistant Dean Kerry Rittich tabled plans for the intersession in November, though the details were only later made available to students via email. Dean Iacobucci at the November Faculty Council meeting stated that a vote would need to be taken at the January Council meeting if the Winter Intersession were to be implemented for the 2018–2019 academic year.

While plans for the intersession have been under consideration for the past three years, there was never wide student consultation until now. SLS President Katie Longo expressed that the SLS had been working under the understanding that wide student feedback would be taken into account and integrated into any proposals for the intersession before the changes were put to the vote at Faculty Council. Clearly, this understanding was not mutual.

Mandatory vs Optional

Many students questioned why the proposed intersession would be mandatory, as opposed to the current optional scheme of intensive courses the intersession would replace. Assistant Dean Faherty replied that the Curriculum Committee believed this would be in the best interests of the academic curriculum. When pressed, Assistant Dean Faherty would not comment further.

Though not directly addressing this point, Professor Stacey remarked that the Faculty had been embarrassed in the past by intensive courses in which only one or two students were enrolled. When later questioned, Assistant Dean Faherty vehemently rejected embarrassment as a motive for imposing the mandatory requirement. She instead explained that having all students present for the intersession would make for a better learning experience. However, 1Ls would be exempt from the mandatory requirement, leaving lingering questions as to why upper years would benefit from mandatory attendance while first years would not.

SLS Representative Brendan Cassidy, a student member on the Curriculum Committee, later confirmed that some professors did appear genuinely excited by the academic prospects offered by the mandatory intersession.

Impact on Curriculum

Students also raised concerns about the effects that the new mandatory requirement would have on combined (joint-degree) programs and for-credit opportunities, such as competitive mooting, clinics, and externships.

Specifically, the Moot Court Committee raised concerns that an increased number of classes rescheduled to Fridays early on in the semester would hamper the competitive moot teams’ ability to practice together. Assistant Dean Faherty replied that the Curriculum Committee could look into the timing of deemed Fridays.

Students were similarly concerned that delaying clinics could limit the training and work done. Assistant Dean Faherty responded that there might be the opportunity for clinical intensives during the intersession.

Students also raised questions about exactly how intersession course enrolment would work. Assistant Dean Faherty replied that it would likely be a ranked system with a lottery.

Lastly, one student raised concerns that it would be against Faculty policy to change graduation requirements once students had already enrolled into the program. Assistant Dean Faherty rejected such a claim but promised to check. Ultra Vires has reached out to Assistant Dean Faherty for confirmation.

Impact on Student Life

With respect to extracurricular opportunities at the law school, students expressed concern that Law Games would struggle to co-exist with an intensive intersession, given the number of school days that would be missed. Assistant Dean Faherty replied that students were already missing mandatory days anyways. When pressed, she further stated that the Curriculum Committee had considered Law Games, concluding that “Law Games will probably fall off the table… [it is a] cost that is worth the benefit.”

On Law Follies, a student stated that the show could not conceivably run with the proposed intersession, given the tight timing of December exams, Law Follies, Law Ball, and then April exams. Assistant Dean Faherty replied that Follies did not come up in the Committee’s consideration, but that after past changes to the curriculum, such as semesterization, the extra-curricular activities adapted to the new normal.

Commuter students expressed reservations about the increased number of Friday classes, complaining that it would be a more onerous burden given their long commutes.

More generally, students expressed concerns that compressing the second semester would simply impose more stress later on in the semester, which could have adverse effects on student mental health. Importantly, students were concerned that the intersession would disrupt the deferred exam writing period. To this point, Assistant Dean Faherty replied that her office would continue to work with students on a case-by-case basis, and reminded students that the deferred exam period was a relatively new phenomenon introduced in the past couple of years.

Impact on the Budget

SLS President Longo questioned what the increased financial impact of a winter session would be on the Faculty budget. She raised the hypothetical that twelve visiting scholars, with stipends for travel, room, and board, might cost $10,000 each, or $120,000 in total. She suggested that the Faculty Council should take these costs into consideration, balancing them with, perhaps, contributions to student financial aid. Assistant Dean Faherty declined to comment.

The vote is scheduled for next Wednesday at the Faculty Council. It will be, if nothing else, interesting.