UNB has yet to speak about the background surrounding the abrupt leave of absence by Jeremy Levitt, their new Dean of Law.
Levitt had only occupied his position for four months. According to UNB’s website Levitt came to UNB from Florida A&M University, where he was a professor of international law and the associate dean for international programs. No explanation has been given for his leave of absence.
“This is a matter internal to the law school and it would be inappropriate at this time for us to discuss publicly,” said UNB spokesman David Stonehouse in an email to The Brunswickan.
But Levitt’s absence is not the only one of its kind to have affected the faculty of law recently. Last week, associate dean Janet Austin resigned. In November, the faculty’s Scholar-in-Residence, Gerard LaForest, also resigned. No reasons have been given for these resignations.
In a letter to the faculty, staff and students of the faculty of law, Laforest wrote, “I regret having to terminate my more than 65-year relationship with the faculty of law … [I] am in the process of completing my memoirs. You can be sure that the faculty of law will be part of that story.”
Although an acting associate dean, John Williamson, was appointed on Thursday, the faculty has yet to appoint an acting dean.
Law student and student senator Lyle Skinner is concerned about what this may mean.
“My biggest concern at the moment is that there are structural issues that do need to be addressed,” he said. “It’s unclear who the though is exercising diaconal powers … and those relate to even basic things such as tenure appointments.”
Skinner invited UNB president Eddy Campbell and vice-president academic Tony Secco to a meeting with students last Thursday to discuss the recent events within the faculty. The meeting was closed to the public.
“What was communicated was with the stuff that’s going on, your main focus should be a student. And I agree with that but it’s just that there’s still a bunch of issues that are preventing us from being students,” Skinner said.
“Officially the response from the university right now is no comment and it’s not really helping the situation.”
In a letter addressed to Secco, Campbell and the Board of Governors, Skinner had listed six topics he wanted the UNB administration to consider. Among the topics was the issue of the “significant number of faculty” who are on medical leave, the addition of two new full-time faculty unbeknownst to students and the fact that some students will not recommend the UNB law school upon graduation.
“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 … one indicated that they would not donate money to the school,” Skinner wrote.
The full letter can be read at Thebruns.ca.
Students have been noticing the absence of professors as well – these being credited leaves, resignations and illnesses. Enough so that it is affecting the regular functions of the program.
“Over the last couple of weeks a number of professors have announced resignation or are on leave. Students in tort law and family law have not yet received their fall semester marks due to these absences,” said Josh Toombs, a UNB law student and law representative in the UNBSU.
In total, CBC reports that three members of the law faculty are currently on full or partial leave at this time. But faculty absences because of illness, many of which are not relayed to students, are also an issue.
“We’ve had a labour disruption, we have these illnesses and I’m not blaming the professors for the illnesses. Clearly there’s something that’s making them ill. We don’t know what to is and it is an occupational and health and safety issue because we need our professors well so that we can continue on going about and being students,” Skinner said.
The lack of communication from the university administration is causing frustration within the student body.
“I do have some idea of what’s going but unfortunately the lack of information being communicated to the students is perhaps my biggest concern,” Toombs said. “Other than the announced resignations and absences the students have no idea why any of this has occurred and whether or not the issues are symptomatic of conflict between the faculty and the administration.”
“At a time when many first- and second-year students are concerned with on-campus interviews, the disruptions in course offerings and the delay in grading for family and tort law has been particularly frustrating. For third-year students, we’re seeing yet another dean disappear and are left with more questions than answers at this point.”
Issues with speaking out
At UNBSU council on Sunday, law students brought to the table claims that they’ve felt pressure from the Law Students’ Society (LSS), law faculty and the university administration to not speak to the media about recent issues in their faculty.
A motion tabled by Toombs requesting “that the Student Union supports students who wish to make their concerns known to the wider public, and the media” was passed unanimously at council on Sunday.
Toombs also requested that the UNBSU “advocate for the importance of student involvement in the resolution of these and other matters affecting the quality of education delivered at UNB.”
This arose after the LSS made clear in Thursday’s closed meeting that it was “inappropriate” for students to talk to the media.
“I believe that most of the students at the law school are under a lot of pressure to not talk about these issues outside of the law school,” said Edward Choi, UNB law student and student senator.
“I think the reasoning behind that is that the admin and the LSS believe that if we talk to the media about these issues, it would ruin the reputation of the law school and UNB,” he said.
Choi also confirmed that the LSS has sent out two emails requesting that students not speak publically about internal matters.
According to Skinner, students are afraid of the repercussions should they speak publically about issues within the UNB law school.
“I’ve seen instances where it’s been almost in a way of a witch hunt to trying to go after students because they simply want to provide their comments on how to help resolve this problem,” Skinner said.
The LSS is a ratified faculty group under the UNBSU. As such, they are subject to adhere to whatever the council decides.