by Alex Dimson (from the February Issue of Nexus, Western Law’s Student Newspaper)
Western Law has begun to discuss with alumni the possibility of changing to a Juris Doctor (JD) degree after students voted decisively in favour of switching degrees in a recent referendum.
Western Law’s Dean Ian Holloway told Nexus that in light of a strong backlash from Queen’s Law alumni against a similar plan, he wants to ensure that he has alumni input before taking the proposal to the next formal step.
“Whatever we decide ultimately, I want us to avoid what they didn’t avoid at Queen’s – alumni feeling like they were presented by something a fait accompli,” he said.
Dean Holloway said he could not tell whether alumni would support the plan. “I do have a sense of how lawyers think. Lawyers are traditionalist by nature so my sense is that the majority will not be in favour of the change. How many of those think this is the hill to die for I can’t say,” he said.
Student Legal Society President Banack said that he supports the decision to consult alumni first. “This is a very important step in the process,” he said. “The alumni should get a real opportunity to comment and discuss. The alumni hold the same degree as we’re getting and it has to be a co-operative effort either way.”
The plan to change degrees gathered momentum after Western law students voted strongly in favour of a switch in a late-November referendum. 252 students voted to switch degrees, with only 69 voting against it.
Dean Holloway said that the administration is aiming to present the plan, along with the alumni response to it, to the Faculty’s Program Committee and Faculty Council for approval by the end of the academic year. If the plan is approved by the Committee , it will proceed to UWO’s Senate, which must also approve of the change.
Banack said that he did not have a sense of whether the vote would be approved by the Faculty Council. “I’ve really gotten very little interest from the faculty on this matter. I think they may think it’s a silly issue,” he said.
Meanwhile, a number of other Canadian law schools are also moving along with plans to change degrees. In addition to Queen’s, where the Senate is expected to approve the change shortly, the University of British Columbia and also the University of Calgary are also considering a switch. Currently the University of Toronto is the only law school in Canada to issue the JD degree.
Proponents of the JD say that it more accurately reflects Canadian law student’s education level and that it will make it easier for Western students to get a job at an American firms, as American law schools issue the JD degree. Critics of the scheme argue that it would tie Canadian law schools closer to American schools and do little to improve student opportunities in the US and it could even hurt Canadian students’ chances in other countries, as the LL.B, Western’s current degree, is issued in most common law countries.
Proponents of the JD say that it more accurately reflects the level of education of Canadian law students. It may also make it easier for Western students to get jobs at American firms, as American law schools issue JD degrees. Critics of the scheme argue that it would tie Canadian schools closer to their American counterparts and could even hurt Canadian students’ chances in other countries, as most common law countries issue the LL.B, Western’s current degree.
“As UWOLAA President, one of my principal objectives is to assist in maintaining and strengthening the affinity between our law school and its graduates. So to the extent a change would jeopardize the relationships of our alumni and the school, I would want to think carefully about the change,” he wrote.