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Western law school marks 50 years

The first dean, Justice Ivan Rand, set the bar for excellence high
|Written By Chip Martin

When the University of Western Ontario returned to the law school business after an 81-year hiatus, it did so with a vengeance. 

University of Western Ontario

Justice Ivan Rand, a towering figure in Canadian jurisprudence, was snapped up to become dean of the new school in 1959. At age 75, he had just retired from the Supreme Court of Canada that spring.

Rand, still in fine mind and good health, liked the challenge of showing the Law Society of Upper Canada how well a university could teach law. The law society had just relinquished its monopoly on legal education in Ontario and Western and three other universities pounced on the opportunity.

Rand had been forced into mandatory retirement after 15 years on the bench of the high court.

Memories of Rand and the law school’s first days are being revived as part of 50th anniversary celebrations that started with an April 14 salute to alumnus Doug Ferguson, director of Western’s community legal services and national president of the federal Liberal party. Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff was the keynote speaker at the event at the London Convention Centre.

Western had operated a law school from 1885 to 1887, but the program collapsed when the provincial law society refused to recognize its examinations.

When it revived legal training 50 years ago, landing Rand was a coup for Western. A former lawyer for Canadian National Railways and one-time attorney-general in his native New Brunswick, Rand had decided many constitutional cases and his “Rand formula” had become an important component of labour law.

His decisions were widely reported in some of the law texts the university hurriedly began to purchase for a law library.

The chairperson of Western’s board of governors, Lt.-Col. D.B. Weldon, could barely disguise his glee at hiring Rand.

“His honour is one of the really great jurists of our time. He is a lawyer of experience, judge of distinction and a profound scholar. We are most fortunate.”

The first class had about 20 men and one woman. The school was housed in temporary quarters at the engineering building, across from which the law school building began to rise. Finished in 1961, the school was assisted by an endowment of about $500,000 from Josephine Spencer Niblett, whose father, Maj. Gen. A.C. Spencer, had endowed the engineering school.

Rand attracted students because of his reputation. He was assisted by three professors in the early days.

As the school grew, Rand shrewdly developed another sort of formula to stimulate his students to excel: The first-year classroom had 80 seats, the second year 60 seats and the third only 40.

“He was sending a message,” today’s dean, Ian Holloway, says with a laugh.

After five years, Rand retired at age 80 and moved back to New Brunswick.

He was succeeded as dean by Fred Carruthers, a young law professor from British Columbia who injected youth into the law school.

A string of deans followed, culminating in Holloway, appointed in 2000 at age 39, becoming the youngest dean of any law school in Canada, a distinction he continues to hold.

“He has brought the law school to new heights nationally and internationally,” said prominent lawyer Michael Lerner.

Lerner’s father, Sam, and his uncle, Mayer Lerner, were among a group that included the late Angus Mackenzie, Claude Pensa, Frank Dowler and Ned Elwood, who pushed for creation of the law school at Western along with then-university president Dr. G. Edward Hall.

Lerner said Holloway has built important bridges to the London legal community that didn’t exist before.

Holloway said the law school has a focus on being “the law school that takes business seriously.” It also emphasizes international law and student exchanges.

“We’ve become a national school,” Holloway said.

Western’s law school has graduated 6,000 graduates in 50 years.

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UWO LAW SCHOOL

Founded: 1855
Discontinued: 1857
Founded again: 1959
Opening class 1959: About 21 students
2009 enrolment: 490 students
Graduates 1959-2009: About 6,000
Founding of Community Legal Services: 1973
Founding dean: Ivan Rand
Current dean: Ian Holloway (since 2000)

Noteworthy graduates: Justices -- Lynn Leitch, Deb Livingstone, John McGarry, Bill Jenkins, Edgar Sexton, Katie McGowan; lawyers Michael Lerner and John Drake; business leaders -- Michael Copeland, chief operating officer of the Canadian Football League; Don Schroeder, chief executive of Tim Hortons; John Peller, Peller Estates winery; Ron Atkey, former federal minister of immigration.

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THE FOUNDING DEAN

Long considered a legal titan, Ivan Rand’s name is enshrined in law because of the Rand formula in labour relations. In late 1945, a 100-day strike shut down Ford of Canada’s plant in Windsor. The autoworkers union insisted every new employee must join the union, but the company balked, creating the standoff. Called in as arbitrator, Rand wrote a decision in which he acknowledged the union is responsible for all workers in a unionized workplace. He ruled union dues could be deducted from the pay of all employees, but employees could not be compelled to sign union cards and actually join the union. The decision had far-reaching consequences and was adopted in many jurisdictions as a compromise to end “closed shop” disputes. As a person, Rand also stood out. He didn’t smoke, drink or drive. He liked to walk to and from campus from his home in South London. And he only agreed to take the job at Western’s law school if he could spend his summers in his beloved New Brunswick. Earl Cherniak, a London lawyer now practising in Toronto, recalls teaching municipal law to third-year students in 1961-62 alongside Rand. “I was, of course, in awe of Rand, who had decided the important constitutional cases I had studied at law school,” he recalls. “He added gravitas and stature to the young school.” Cherniak recalls Rand being “approachable and friendly” and remembered many one-on-one conversations with him in which he expressed some views quite at odds with his reputation as a civil libertarian. “A great man and jurist, with very human qualities, as his (upcoming) biography will reveal,” he said. William Kaplan, a Toronto author, hints his book on Rand may be controversial.

Copyright © 2009, The London Free Press.

Reprinted with permission

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