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Feldthusen’s departure signals culture shift at U of O

|Written By Heather Gardiner
Feldthusen’s departure signals culture shift at U of O
No stranger to controversy, Bruce Feldthusen leaves his post as Ottawa’s common law dean in July.

A culture shift is on the horizon for the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law with the impending departure of its common law dean. In July, Bruce Feldthusen will leave his post of dean after more than a decade.

No stranger to controversy, some say it’s time for Feldthusen to move on. But what will this mean for the future of Canada’s largest law school?

Two candidates have been shortlisted for the job, including Nathalie des Rosiers, general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and a professor in U of O’s civil law section. She was also the civil law dean from 2004 to 2008. The other candidate, McGill University Faculty of Law associate professor David Lametti, has an extensive background in technology law.

Both represent areas the faculty has chosen to focus on — des Rosiers with her social justice background and Lametti with his knowledge of technology law.

Most importantly, the new dean will have a crucial role to play in deepening U of O’s strengths, says one faculty member.

“I’m looking for someone who is passionate about bringing Ottawa U to its full potential, someone who is clear-eyed about the challenges . . . and someone who is ready to take on what is clearly going to be a challenging time,” says law professor Carissima Mathen.

In a recent interview with the law school’s student newspaper Inter Pares, Feldthusen acknowledged the new dean will face a number of hurdles, including what he predicts will be a financial crisis in universities in the next two years, pressure on law schools to offer more experiential learning programs, and the effects of the Law Society of Upper Canada’s changes to Ontario’s licensing process that take effect in 2014.

When dealing with these issues, communication will play a key role, says Mathen.

“One of the most important things that a dean can do is to ensure that lines of communication remain open and to ensure that there’s appropriate and regular opportunities to communicate in broader ways about issues that are important to both the faculty and students,” she says.

Over the years, Feldthusen has been criticized for his communication skills and accessibility.

“Being present in the student body is really important, [being] accessible, just having a presence,” says second-year law student Monica Russell. Feldthusen tells students they can knock on his office door anytime, she says, but “I think a lot of people are intimidated by him and don’t see him as very approachable.”

In an effort to dispel this criticism, Feldthusen created a Twitter account and held a Q & A session last year where students were able to submit questions and he selected various questions to respond to. Unfortunately, not everyone was satisfied.

“I don’t think that’s how you should be addressing students’ concerns,” says Russell, adding students should feel comfortable enough to approach the dean with questions or problems they’re having.

Feldthusen has been known to be highly critical himself. For example, in his interview with Inter Pares, he blames U of O law students for bringing down the law school and even takes a stab at another law school.

“I don’t think there’s a law school in the province where the students run the school down in public like [U of O], and every time they do that, they just drop your chances of getting a job. It’s just part of the culture here. The public criticism that Ottawa U students make about their legal education, I think, is dramatically different,” he said.

“I’ve been in other law schools, I was at Western. Western was a joke compared to the quality of education you get here, but every one of them will jump up and down in their little crew cut outfit and say how wonderful Western is. Though it’s probably very few people here, with modern communication, the impact is larger. Every time someone is out of control like that it damages everybody else terribly.”

Russell says Feldthusen’s comments were inappropriate and unprofessional. “Someone who is going to represent our law school [should] be really passionate about ours but not negative about other ones,” she says.

“It’s a profession that we’re all going to be entering, we’re all going to be working as colleagues. I don’t think that the role model or the person that represents us should set that bad taste up for the rest of the public or for its own student body,” she adds.

In other recent news, Feldthusen was lambasted for the way he handled a grievance filed by a law student regarding a collective agreement for student research assistants, in which he sent an e-mail to the student body that some students described as “distasteful” with an attempt at intimidation.

  • Wohoo! Feldthusen is Gone!!

    3L @ Common Law
    Good Job Heather! Thanks for speaking the truth
  • Felldthusen An Excellent Dean

    Yves Prevost
    Dean Feldthusen served University of Ottawa Faculty of Law well. I am surprised to read this article. The role of the dean is not to sit around a campfire, holding hands and being buddies with each and every student. The role is to be a model scholar, a strong administrator that will defend the grounds of the faculty, and ensure that the resources are there to run the faculty and ensure it grows positively. Dean Feldthusen excelled at all of these, so really what more can you ask of him. Sure you may have personal differences with him. I ask don't you have personal differences with people you work with? If you don't you are not from this world. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and by now you should know you cannot please everybody. This story is unbalanced and amateurish and I have a personal difference with you.
  • Good Riddance!!

    2L @ Ottawa
    "Dean Feldthusen served University of Ottawa Faculty of Law well. I am surprised to read this article"

    Then, why is he so hated by his students and colleagues? Why was he demoted? Why is every one so happy that he is gone??
    Clearly you are out of touch with reality!
  • Re: Good Riddance

    2008 Grad
    This is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • Worst administration ever!

    2009 Grad
    Feldthusen & Co are known for their uncivil and unprofessional behaviour - this article does not surprise me.
    still plenty of bad apples in the administration!

    This was a long time overdue.
  • RE: Feldthusen’s departure signals culture shift at U of O

    Recent UO Grad
    Reading the mix of comments here, it seems that while Dean Feldthusen may have done good things for UOlaw 10+ years ago, one might find it hard to find the same kind of blanket praise amongst recent grads. At at time when the legal career market was taking a dive, in 3 years UOlaw class swelled from 230 to 380 per year common law students while I was there, and its an understatement to say many alumni were put off by the experience. There were ongoing issues with the quality of the curriculum, crowded classes and inability to get classes you wanted/needed, and the ongoing message seemed to be "if we don't add more students, Australian schools will get all the money..." He's a very personable guy and he is a great authority on torts, but the admin seemed out of touch with the reality of academic needs and expectations of law school in the last few years. It was long overdue for a change. Its time for UO to get back to basics and teach law again.
  • RE: Feldthusen’s departure signals culture shift at U of O

    What he did to the legal market in ON is indefensible.

    Professor Feldthusen is the best Dean and Professer U of O has. Shame on the author of this article.
  • Feldthusen, a giant-at-law

    Ken Arenson
    While Bruce Feldthusen strode the halls of U of Ottawa Law School, a giant walked there. The criticisms of him in this article are laughable. Read his memo to the students and the obfuscations of CUPE that are linked in, to see for yourself. Dean Feldthusen is at the forefront of his generation of Canadian lawyers. He has done true service to the development of our law and to legal education. If you know him, you know he is usually humble and affable, always funny and ever ready to mentor and explain. Especially, he is assured of a high place in our pantheon by the text on Tort he co-authored. But, like any of us he may not be at his best beset by the likes of this author or her hand picked whiners yipping at his heels. Although other talented people may follow him into the Dean's job, his shoes will not be filled.
  • Best Dean ever!

    Puneet S. Kohli
    I graduated from UofO common law almost 10 years ago. I had the pleasure of taking torts with Dean Feldthusen, who is an outstanding scholar and teacher to boot. Dean Feldthusen was one of the most sincere and caring people that I have encountered in my legal career. I was fortunate to have met with him a few times in his office in connection to my work on the UofO Speakers' Series, and I even was a guest of his at a pot luck dinner at his residence. The negative tone of this piece was entirely out of character from my personal experience with Dean Feldthusen. I wish him nothing but the best.