The First (Two) Hundred Days: Positioning uOttawa Common Law to Flourish in the Coming Years

Posted on Sunday, July 15, 2018

Blog Post

What have I accomplished in the first six months since I became Dean of the Common Law Section on January 1, 2018?   This is the question that keeps me up at nights but also the one that gets me excited.

In February 2018, I tabled my 5 Year Objectives for Common Law with members of our Common Law community.   Sending my ambitious goals to close to 2000 students, faculty and staff made me nervous. Before I pressed send I was asked by at least one person, “are you sure you want to do this?”  As a public law scholar, I am committed to transparency and accountability and now as a leader I am in a position to actually live the values that I espouse.  I took a deep breath and I pressed send.  I waited for the inevitable onslaught of criticism.   It did not come.

I received strong support from you – our staff, students and faculty – for publically sharing my vision and my objectives.  Yes, of course, some people took issue with the inclusion of certain items and the failure to include others.  The objectives are not static; they will be modified over time given changing circumstances, achievements, and new opportunities.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  For a moment.   Then I had to move on and get to work.   This is my 6 month report to you, the Common Law community.

We have embarked on creating the first-ever Strategic Plan for the Faculty.  The process is led by a Steering Committee consisting of Vice Dean Carissima Mathen, Vice Dean Yves Le Bouthillier, Vice Dean Peter Oliver, Assistant Dean of Career and Professional Services Stacy Keehn and myself (chair).  We are supported by the University’s Centre for Academic Leadership (Françoise Moreau-Johnson) and by 2L Sahar Mir.  We consult with an Advisory Committee that is consists of representatives from staff, students, faculty and alumni. 

On April 12, 2018, we had a half-day plenary working session with staff and faculty which will be followed up with a consultation with all students, faculty and staff at the end of the summer and another plenary working session in October during the new fall reading week.   The goal is to have the Strategic Plan approved in the Winter/Spring of 2019 and publish it by the summer.

We put students at the center of our mission.  To this end, we changed the name of “Admissions” to “Recruitment and Admissions” to emphasize the need to do outreach and recruit students from across Ontario and across Canada to come and study law with us at uOttawa.  We want to expand the entrance scholarships and financial aid available to our students and this will be a key priority for fundraising in the coming years.

I had a number of meetings with students over the first six months and I learned much.  I did not appreciate the great strength of our internship program.  Over 400 students each year participate in a formal internship program or in a Student Proposed Internship (SPI).  This is one of the many attractions to studying law at uOttawa.  In meetings with alumni across the country, I have asked them to consider sponsoring a student for a summer or a semester.   I hope to be able to create a national network of summer internship programs.

We have been hard at work on alumni outreach.  We had three fabulous events for new inductees into the Common Law Honour Society at Rogers Place in Edmonton in March (Peter Chiarelli LLB 1991), the NAC in Ottawa in May (Katie Black LLB 2009 and Pierre Richard LLB 1970) and Thomson Reuters in Toronto in June (Kathleen Keller-Hobson LLB 1979).  These were great events that brought out alumni together.  

During this time I have had over 100 one on one meetings with alumni (!).  I love this part of the job as I love meeting alumni, hearing about their experiences at Fauteux (or at the old Arts building before FTX opened in 1973) and getting their advice about how to help our students and improve our law school.

For Faculty, I launched a leadership development and succession planning program for leadership positions within the Faculty. Again, with the assistance of the University ‘s Centre for Academic Leadership.   Interested faculty members volunteered and I also asked others to consider participating.   There was a strong positive response.  We also launched a Faculty recruitment process that is still underway but we hope to hire 3-4 new professors for July 2019.  Our Faculty continues to rack up awards at an impressive pace.  For example, three Common Law Professors received the Order of Ontario in February:  Elizabeth Sheehy, Alan Rock and Michael Geist.

On the research front, our research centres are active and thriving.    I was very excited that Professor François Larocque was named by the University the Canadian Francophonie Research Chair in Language Rights.  This was extremely well-deserved.  Nobody did more to help prepare me to take office as Dean in January than interim Dean Larocque. I am so grateful to him.

Lastly, I turn to our buildings: Fauteux and Brooks.  We will continue to be challenged by our physical space.    We had a number of paintings donated that we will display in prominent positions to welcome all to the building.   We will continue to work to optimize and improve our space.

There is much to be done over the coming year(s).  I look forward to continuing to work with all of you to strengthen our programs and promote our stellar students, award-winning faculty and amazing alumni.   We can only do this with the continued dedication and creativity of our committed staff at Fauteux. 

Ok.  I think I feel better now about what I have accomplished in the first six months.

Thank you all.

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