On July 1, Nathalie Des Rosiers begins her term as dean of the common law section, replacing Bruce Feldthusen who first became dean in 2000.
Des Rosiers is new to the common law section, but not to Ottawa’s faculty of law. She has been a professor in the civil law section since 2004 and was civil law dean from 2004-08. She also served as the university’s interim vice president of governance from 2008-09.
Heralded as a champion of civil liberties, Des Rosiers has been widely recognized in her capacity as former general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. She was named one of the top 25 most influential lawyers in Canada by Canadian Lawyer magazine in 2011 and 2012.
In the 2012 “Top 25 most influential” list, Canadian Lawyer said: “Since joining the CCLA in 2009, Des Rosiers has boosted its reach and influence in the fight against government abuse and supporting individual rights. She continues to hold governments and lawmakers accountable for actions ranging from mass arrests and solitary confinement to DNA testing and the Charter rights of immigrants.”
In an interview with 4Students, Des Rosiers says she has three main priorities for the law school. The first is to ensure the value of the common law degree is being well recognized, she says.
“It’s an extraordinary degree; the pedagogical aspects of it, the innovative aspects of it, the competencies that are acquired, and the breadth of courses that are offered are quite interesting. So we just want to make sure that people continue to know and to recognize how good of a degree it is and have confidence that indeed the value of the degree is such that it does precipitate the ability to forge an interesting, fascinating career in law in all aspects,” she says.
Secondly, “the graduate program requires some investment and some care because [the faculty of law] operates in the public interest; you know that you have great research that needs to be not only incorporated in public policy but also pursued across generations,” says Des Rosiers. “Having a graduate program that allows people to delve into good research is important so I want to make sure that we’re up to par on that.”
She also wants to focus on the faculty’s international reputation.
“The faculty of law has a growing international reputation and it deserves to continue to be recognized for the amount of work that it does, both on the teaching and the research side,” she says.
In the past, the faculty of law has been criticized for increasing enrolment at a time when there is a lack of articling positions (which Feldthusen defended in an article he wrote for Canadian Lawyer).
When asked if she plans to reduce enrolment at the law school, Des Rosiers says there’s no reason to do so.
“The difficulty with enrolment is mostly whether your capacity to deliver quality education is compromised, and it’s not. To the extent that you can ensure that the administrative growth problems are solved, there’s no reason to reduce enrolment,” she says.
The bigger issue, she says, is that there are a large number of legal needs currently not being met.
“When we look at our society seriously we see that there is certainly a big access to justice problem, and to the extent that there will be lawyers on the market willing and able to tackle these needs, that’s what I want to do,” she says.
Des Rosiers’ accomplishments demonstrate her fit with the law school’s focus on social justice. For example, she is past president of several organizations, including the Canadian Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Council of Canadian Law Deans, Association des juristes d’expression française de l’Ontario, and Canadian Association of Law Teachers. She also co-authored the first book published in Quebec on compensation for victims of sexual and spousal abuse.
In addition, in 1999 she received the Law Society Medal from the Law Society of Upper Canada; in 2010 she was a finalist for The Globe and Mail’s Nation Builder title; and in 2012 she was named to the Order of Ontario.