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The future of UNB law is up to us

UNB law has been fodder as of late in these pages.

The law school has become the centre of a boiling pot of controversy, conjecture, and speculation. This pot has melted over, both in the media and in official university forums. People are commenting on the end of the law school as we know it; the Crown Jewel has been sold to a band of pirates, some would say.

There may be reason for such comments. Our much-celebrated Dean is on an inexplicable leave of absence. Students such as myself in the school are just beginning to receive grades back from December exams. We have had turnover in professors unlike any year in recent memory, I am told. As a first year student, I can’t say that I am impressed with what has happened.

Some have taken their frustration about the state of affairs and have turned it towards the most visible of suspects. The first of these suspects is Eddy Campbell, President of UNB. His much-panned appearance before law students two weeks ago to explain the happenings at the law school has been billed as a complete failure.

Some of the frustration has been turned towards the Law Students’ Society (LSS). Some have said that the LSS has failed to advocate for students by allowing the events to transpire as they did. In fact, there has been much ink spilled over the disconnect between the UNBSU and the LSS. The UNBSU, at Senate recently, sought to essentially shame the LSS by passing a motion calling on the veil to be lifted from the law school. Apparently, the LSS has been suppressing the student voice.

What can we make of this? The first obvious observation is that the tried and true method of blaming the administration simply can’t be accepted. It’s too easy. Tough problems require tough work. While I do not believe the administration is blameless, Dr. Campbell has been trying to communicate with the students within his ability regarding the issues at the school. There have been some mishaps, without a doubt. Information is slow to travel down the rivers of communication to students. But it is also true that students should engage Dr. Campbell rather than rally against him, as a long-term strategy. The latter will get us nothing. The former will show us as proactive, prospective lawyers who want to work with him to deal with these problems.

Secondly, the LSS is not the cause of this. There has been no media suppression. The LSS has tried, within its institutional capability, to deal with the more transactional issues plaguing students. These include the reporting of grades, the class cancellations, and the list goes on.  They should be applauded for their work thus far.

Admittedly, and most importantly, the problems at the law school are bigger than class cancellations. There is a distinct lack of vision and energy in the place. No one is sure where the school is going in terms of faculty complement, specializations, or overall direction. That said, UNB law has a competitive advantage in that it, according to professionals in the area and across the country, turn out practice-ready graduates. UNB law has dedicated existing faculty. Our students compete and outdo the best across the country. We shouldn’t forget that.

And it is precisely here where the student voice—the UNBSU, the LSS, and students at large—should be focused. The LSS at the very least has begun to ask some of these questions,  at the most basic level. Instead of proposing pointless and frankly silly motions at Senate, the UNBSU should be acting as the focal organization point for creating a student-driven plan for the school. Students should begin to organize to draft a plan for presentation to whoever will listen—a long-term document that will outline what we as students want for the vision of this law school. What we as students want our school to be 10 years down the road. If this plan is done correctly (consultations with all involved parties), it can be the strategy for the school, from the viewpoint of the  students. If we engage faculty and administration in a respectful and understanding way in this plan, we may see some of our reforms instituted. That would be a win, even if we lose out on some of our proposals.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to lament the end of UNB law. It’s easy to throw blame on Eddy Campbell. What isn’t easy is to identify our strengths (of which there are many), and clearly begin to pinpoint where these strengths can be augmented and transformed into something resembling a strategic direction.

The future of the school, to be ultra-cliché, is up to us. We aren’t helpless.

Let’s do something about it.

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