New law dean sets sights high for TRU

Bradford Morse has had warmer welcomes. The new law dean at Thompson Rivers University began his first day of work on Jan. 2 by facing the worst snowstorm Kamloops has seen since 1927.

The storm was so bad that for the first time in the university’s history, the first day of classes were cancelled. He says the school had students, staff, and sectional lecturers stuck in cities all over the country, unable to make it due to the weather.

“It was an interesting start,” Morse laughs.

He has had previous experience with Canadian winters — he was a professor of law at the University of Ottawa where he also served as vice-dean and director of graduate studies before accepting the post of law dean at the University of Waikato in New Zealand in 2009. And now, he’s come to B.C.’s interior to take the helm of TRU.

Morse says his attraction to TRU is “several fold.” If we look across the country, he says, with the exception of Ontario’s University of Windsor, Queen’s University in Kingston, and Western University in London, there are only law schools in major cities, and even those three schools aren’t too far off the beaten trail. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and TRU “are the two real exceptions, speaking to the bulk of the geography of Canada outside those main centres,” he says.

“If we look at the legal profession demographically, it has grown significantly over the past few decades in the big cities but in small towns and cities it hasn’t been keeping up with population growth.”

He likes the fact that TRU sees itself as creating an opportunity for a law school “for the rest of the province — for the 95 per cent of the province outside of the lower mainland.”

“Having a particular role in relation to indigenous people . . . is also a particular priority of the law school,” Morse says, and is also another aspect of the university’s culture that drew him.

And so far, despite his frosty reception weather-wise, he says things in his new post are going well. But at just over one week on the job, he’s “still in a learning curve mode” he says.

Morse says enrolment, academic staff, administrative staff, and development of scholarships and prizes are all in the early days but growing strong. A few major focus points for Morse are working on providing opportunities for students to gain hands-on legal experience, offering a range of clinical legal education programs, and getting students working in legal advice clinics and other similar initiatives.

“I want to take advantage of being a new law school by being particularly innovative and creative,” he explains.

Law schools in Canada divide into two groups — small and really large, and not much in between — so what TRU is looking for is to be a smaller law school with “close interaction between academic staff and students,” Morse says.

“We want to really provide high quality, highly interactive legal education.”

Morse says the university has attracted academics with those goals in mind, and they come in as enthusiastic scholars and teachers.

“We are off to an excellent start and I congratulate my predecessors in terms of success in hiring excellent, talented, relatively young academics which we will keep on building.”

Another goal is to expand the comparative international indigenous rights course he’s been teaching for 15 years. Morse launched the course — which involves a live, interactive videoconference — with a friend from the United States and it was expanded to Australia and New Zealand, and now TRU will join the ranks as well.

Morse says he hopes to involve TRU in a variety of courses offered in partnership with other law schools, in Canada and abroad. He is “keen on exchange programs” and would like to see more international students coming to the university or TRU students heading to other schools.   

As he settles in, Morse says he is noticing some differences as he readjusts to the Canadian system. One of the main ones is that law students in Canada are post grads, whereas in New Zealand “a good portion” of students came to study law fresh from high school.

“[Canadian] students have already gone through a rigorous academic process,” he says. There has been a weeding out of applicants by undergraduate degrees, and therefore they generally come in more experienced, Morse says.

Another difference the dean notices is the level of formality. He remembers his first day on the job in New Zealand because while walking around campus, he heard someone shout, “Hey Brad, how are you doing?” Morse looked around for a familiar face but saw “it was just a student who knew I’d arrived and knew my name and invariably that’s what students do there — it’s much less formal.”  

Will Morse bring the more informal style to TRU? He suspects so. He says he isn’t an overly formal person to begin with, and got used to students calling him by first name while in New Zealand. He laughs comparing it to students he taught in Canada “decades ago who can’t bring themselves to call me Brad — it’s just different dynamics.”

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