Building a law school doesn't mean it is one

Building new law schools seems like a good solution for the overabundance of applicants to Canadian law schools these days. The fact that there are more graduates than articling positions is a debate for another time.

In opening Ontario’s first new law school in 44 years this fall, Lakehead University should look to the experience of Thompson Rivers University Faculty of Law in Kamloops, B.C., as a cautionary tale. On July 15, founding TRU law dean Chris Axworthy resigned without any explanation, and the university remained very tight-lipped.

4Students obtained a letter Axworthy sent to students in October 2012, in which he made it clear the faculty had been battling with the university administration for some time over things like appointing a career services officer and hiring administrative staff. “These difficulties are presented by the culture, the collective agreements and the policies, regulations and practices of the university which are simply not conducive to building the best possible law school,” wrote Axworthy.

TRU law student Chris Albinati told 4Students in July that he experienced some of the tension between the administration and the law faculty first hand as a member of TRU’s senate, adding the university constrained the law school’s ability to grow. I’m sure there are arguments to be made for both sides, but it’s true that a law school can’t flourish without the endorsement of its institution.

Law schools need to be respected for their differences as professional schools have particular needs. Therefore it’s imperative that institutions embrace law faculties and give them the autonomy to make their own decisions. And perhaps more importantly, law faculties and the institution at large need to remain in constant communication with students.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case in mid-July at TRU, which left some students upset when they were told about the dean’s resignation days later. Albinati said the fact students weren’t notified demonstrates the administration’s lack of consideration for the law students.

Every post-secondary institution’s purpose is to serve its students, and if they aren’t kept in the loop about what’s going on at their school — especially during challenging times — the institution risks losing their support and without them it cannot function.

So Lakehead, make sure you do all you can to create a collegial environment for everyone and be wary of the mistakes made by TRU.

— prepared with Heather Gardiner

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