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Law student Lyle Skinner’s letter to UNB admin

January 28, 2015

Dr. Eddy Campbell                                        Dr. Tony Secco

 

Dear Dr. Campbell and Dr. Secco:

In advance of the meeting at Ludlow with students on Thursday, I would like to share with you my strategic observations and questions on how to use this current situation at Ludlow as an opportunity to move beyond the status quo and improve the law school for the better. My comments are premised on my 9 years as a UNB student, currently a third year UNB Law student, and my 6 years as a UNB Senator, Due to the seriousness of the issue, I have copied the Chair of the Board of Governors and the University Secretariat for distribution to the Board.  I can appreciate that some of my questions may touch on employment matters which would be inappropriate for you to comment on directly. Instead, I would ask that you consider my comments and incorporate them into your thematic statements to students and to foster a larger discussion about the future of the Faculty of Law.

I see the following six strategic level issues that should be addressed. I have ranked them in order of short term to long term with #6 relating to alumni donations:

  1. Currently Dean Levitt is on administrative leave and Associate Dean Austin has resigned her position.

a)         When will the acting appointments for these positions occur?

b)         Will these appointments follow the University’s Search Committees Composition Acting Appointments Policy?

c)          In the interim, who do students contact for administrative issues normally involving the Dean or the Associate Dean?

2. A significant number of faculty are on leave this term for medical reasons. This has attrited the faculty complement to the point where the law school is relying on legal practitioners to backfill vacancies. Active full time professors are cancelling individual classes for medical reasons while other professors are teaching despite having serious medical illnesses. My inference is that the current conditions at Ludlow do not contribute to a positive working environment.

a)         What are the contingency plans in place to ensure faculty are healthy and if more professors require medical leave, the continuance of courses?

The normal process would be to ask other professors to cover the teaching requirements, especially for the mandatory classes.  However, this has already occurred due to several unexpected requests for medical leave by professors for the Winter semester.

b)         Does this situation require modifying existing contingency plans?

As an observation, I notice the law website was amended today (January 28th) to show the addition of 2 new fulltime faculty. This announcement of additional faculty was never conveyed to students. It was my assumption that these were special guest lecturers.

3. The Senate has a formalised process governing the search committees for Deans and Associate Deans.

a)         In the event that Dean Levitt does not resume his duties, what additional steps will be taken to ensure the appointments for Dean and Associate Dean have the long term support of faculty, staff and students?

b)         In the event that Dean Levitt does resume his duties, what steps will be taken by senior administration to improve the working environment and relationship between the Dean and faculty.

4. My understanding is that Dean Levitt wants the law school to become a boutique law school with increased enrollment making the current branding of ‘Canada’s great small law school’ moot.  His preference is to focus the school’s teaching on international law topics and hire faculty that specialize in this vision.

a)         Do you have a similar vision?

b)         Does the Law Faculty Council share Dean Levitt’s vision?

c)          What are the needs of the Law Society of New Brunswick?

d)         What is your strategic vision for the Faculty of Law and how it relates to the overall vision of UNB?

Current students are upset at the lack of course availability for required courses or compulsory areas of study. Moreover, there is consistent demand for the course Trial Practice as it provides practical advocacy experience; however, its limited class size means that most students are unable to take it unless additional course iterations are offered. Students would prefer that these systemic issues are addressed first with the school’s expansion into the realm of international law being secondary.

5. An increasing number of students are graduating without a guarantee of articles. This serves as a barrier to entry to the legal profession.

a)         How will senior administration work with the Law Society of New Brunswick to address the articling crisis?

b)         Will the university reinvent the law school to allow for more experiential learning that will fulfill the articling requirements reducing the need for articles after graduation?

c)          Is having an experiential learning program a way for UNB to distinguish itself from other law schools and increase the school’s competitiveness?

 

6. My Class of 2015 in 2.5 years will have had 4 Deans; a labour disruption, and faculty that is willing to utilize students as a negotiating wedge for their administrative grievances.  In conversation with my peers, they are grateful that they will be graduating in May and see their association with UNB ceasing.

I spoke with several high achieving students including Beaverbrook recipients. One indicated that they would not donate money to the school. Others students value the opportunity UNB has given them but they would be more comfortable donating to a law school that committed to creating a respectful environment for its students, faculty and administration.

a)         How will the administration encourage these students to become active alumni, brand ambassadors, and potential donors to UNB when they have had a mediocre experience?

It is my understanding that the number of applicants to UNB Law is decreasing at a time when overall demand for law schools is increasing in Canada.

b)         How will the administration address this long term problem where my peers have a hard time recommending to potential students that they study law at UNB?

Thank you for treating this issue with the seriousness and urgency it deserves.

I appreciate that you may not have time to address all of these points at the meeting tomorrow; however, I ask that you consider them when thinking of the appropriate way forward. If you would like to speak with me in private on any of these points, do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely,

 

Lyle Skinner, BA, MIPIS, PCIP
UNB Law Class of 2015
UNB Senator

cc.        Ms. Kathryn McCain, Chair of the UNB Board of Governors
Members of the UNB Board of Governors

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