Dean's Message | Spring & Summer 2021 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

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Faculty of Law
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Dean's message

Perseverance and progress in the face of the pandemic

The past sixteen months have been unlike any other in the history of UNB Law. Like virtually every organization, we’ve experienced the disruption and disappointment of the pandemic. But we’ve also seen perseverance and progress. As strange as this may seem, I’m confident in saying that UNB Law will emerge from the pandemic a much improved law school. The facts speak for themselves.

As I wrote in the last edition of Nexus, the pandemic gave us an opportunity to reach out to you, our alumni, and involve you in sustaining UNB Law’s unique sense of community. Through new initiatives like the Alumni Mentorship Program and the UNB Law Podcast, you helped us give our students hope during a trying and uncertain time. My sense is that these initiatives also reconnected many of you with UNB Law. One of the great privileges of my job is hearing from alumni who are proud of their law school and eager to help shape its future.

A very tangible result of this engagement is the remarkable support we received from you for the student lounge renovation. When we embarked on this campaign, I must admit that I was nervous. We were still very much in the middle of the pandemic, donor resources hadn’t fully recovered, and my team and I had never done anything like this before. We were advised not to get our hopes up. But to our great surprise, we raised $85,000 in just six weeks through an entirely passive campaign driven by email and social media.

In the process, many of you made your first donation to UNB Law. Some of you reached out to us for the first time in many years. The classes of 1969 and 2003 organized class gifts. You shared stories about your time in the student lounge. It was energizing and inspiring for us to see this groundswell of support. As you’ll read in more detail later in this issue, thanks to your quick contributions, construction has already begun and our students will have a new space to enjoy this fall.

In addition to upgrading our facilities, we’re working hard on maintaining the quality and relevance of our academic program. Over the years, the thing I’ve heard most often from alumni is their appreciation for our well-rounded, generalist curriculum. Last fall, we made important updates to our curriculum that stay true to this defining feature of UNB Law.

Specifically, we created a new “Core Competencies” compulsory area of study – a category of courses that includes those subjects most frequently recommended and examined by provincial law societies. Students will have to take two courses from the new Core Competencies category, along with one course from the existing Perspectives and Theories category. This is in addition to the seven compulsory upper-year courses. With this change, we’re confident that our curriculum is truly career-ready. By focusing on the fundamentals, we’re ensuring that our graduates will be able to tackle the challenges of the future, not just the demands of the moment. 

A critical aspect of staying relevant is playing a meaningful role in advancing the project of reconciliation. Doing so is imperative, both in terms of providing a relevant legal education and promoting public confidence in the administration of justice. In this issue, you will read the remarkable story of Chief Patricia Bernard, ONB (LLB ’99) and her tireless advocacy in securing the largest land claim settlement in the history of the Maritimes.

In May, our Faculty Council unanimously adopted a series of ten recommendations that will allow us to make important progress in responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action as they pertain to legal education and the administration of justice.

Specifically, we will focus on incorporating Indigenous perspectives into our mandatory curriculum, particularly in first year, by making sure that students understand the colonial context of Canada’s legal system. This can only be achieved by welcoming Indigenous jurists, scholars, and elders to be part of our teaching staff, something that will start with an important appointment this fall.

We will also focus on recruiting more Indigenous students from Atlantic Canada and providing them with the support they need to succeed at UNB Law. I firmly believe that when a group is disproportionately and adversely affected by the justice system, as is the case with Indigenous Peoples, a critical ingredient to positive change is for them to have greater access to legal education.

More Indigenous law students and law teachers will not only result in more Indigenous lawyers advocating for the interests of their people, but will also open the hearts and minds of non-Indigenous students and faculty, fostering the deeper change that reconciliation and decolonization require. Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples is one of the central challenges facing our country. As a law school that aspires to be a national leader, we must and we will do our part.   

Speaking of our national ambition, last month we lost one of its early champions, Prof. Ed Veitch. In Prof. Bell’s article, you will learn about Ed’s important place in the history of UNB Law. To me, he advanced a big dream for a small law school, one that combines the highest quality teaching with influential scholarship that shapes legal thinking across Canada. This national ambition is still part of UNB Law’s DNA and is reflected in our Strategic Plan. We will forever be grateful for Prof. Veitch’s passionate service to our Faculty.

Fortunately, alumni, faculty, and current students aren’t the only ones who see UNB Law’s remarkable potential. This year, our applications increased by 17%, as did the quality of our applicant pool. The average entering GPA of students admitted in our regular admissions category is now 3.9. In addition, as you will read later in this issue, for the second year in a row, a UNB Law student was hired to clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada. And our students continue to excel in competitive mooting.

These successes are not an accident. They’re attributable to the dedication and tenacity of our faculty and staff, who are united in this project of making UNB Law one of Canada’s top law schools. But we must acknowledge that this year tested the limits of this devotion. The separation and isolation caused by the pandemic took a toll on morale; how could it not?

I want to pay special tribute to all of our full- and part-time professors, librarians, and administrative staff who made many sacrifices this year. They not only kept the basic academic program running, but also stayed focused on our future by moving important aspects of our Strategic Plan forward.

As I write this message, life is starting to return to normal. Vaccination rates are climbing, travel restrictions are easing, and directional signs are slowly disappearing from stores. The pandemic taught me how important being together is for the UNB Law community. So, when things finally return to normal, we will be inviting you, our alumni, to come visit your law school much more often. Whether it’s for a class reunion or one of our annual lectures, your presence is especially meaningful and important now. I can’t wait to see you all in person.

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