A group of Lakehead University students in Thunder Bay, Ont., have been staging a sit-in outside the president’s office since Feb. 25 to protest a change to its new law school’s curriculum.
The full-credit course “native Canadian world views,” which is part of the indigenous learning program, was removed from the law school’s curriculum by Lakehead’s senate on Feb. 15 and replaced with a half-credit course called “native Canadian world views and law.”
Although the course names are very similar, their outlines are “radically different,” says Lakehead student Sebastian Murdoch-Gibson, one of the organizers of the protest.
Stephanie MacLaurin, another Lakehead student involved in the protest, says: “The original course is viewing the world from the lens of an aboriginal person and how they fit in to the world around them. The new course — based on its objectives — is viewing the aboriginal people from the view of the law, which we already have.”
The removal of the course goes against what Lakehead’s faculty of law promised in terms of its focus on aboriginals, she adds.
“Our concern is that what happened took the school from being a school which would focus on indigenous perspectives on the law and turned it into a law school which will focus on locating indigenous perspectives within the apparatus of law,” says Murdoch-Gibson.
According to the students, founding law dean Lee Stuesser said having a mandatory non-law course would compromise the credibility of the law school’s program.
Stuesser repeated that argument in the local newspaper.
“I have concerns about the credibility of a program when you start importing non-law courses, and make them mandatory,” he told The Chronicle-Journal. “The basic reality is, in Canada, no law school does that. No law school would do that. We certainly want to have control over the course in the sense that we want it taught to our standards using our exam processes and using our regulation.”
Murdoch-Gibson says he finds this argument hard to believe since no one involved in the approval process for the law school — set to open this fall — voiced any concern about credibility.
In response to the student protest, the university issued a press release on March 6 outlining Stuesser’s proposal for a new half-credit aboriginal perspectives course to complement the half-credit native Canadian world views and law course.
“The course will assume an experiential format, and introduce students to aboriginal culture, traditions, and perspectives through speakers, dialogue, and experience-based learning,” states the release.
“This would create a full year of courses dedicated to aboriginal content in the first year of the law school. Many of the other required first-year courses will also have additional aboriginal-related content included where relevant.”
The dean also plans to create an aboriginal advisory committee to help guide the faculty of law.
But the students still aren’t satisfied and say they just want the original native Canadian world views course reinstated.
Murdoch-Gibson says they plan to continue their sit-in until the senate votes on March 22 on whether to restore the course. The senate’s approval is also required for the proposed aboriginal perspectives course in order for it to become part of the law school curriculum.
Both MacLaurin and Murdoch-Gibson say they were considering applying to the new law school, but now they’re not so sure.
“This is supposed to be a unique law school, and if it’s not going to be unique then I’m not interested,” says Murdoch-Gibson.