New Faculty members and research initiatives showcase up and coming ideas at McGill Law

FacultyRenewal2When Tina Piper and Frédéric Mégret step into the renovated, technology-savvy classroom in which they teach, a change comes over them. Something about the room prompts them to humour – Mégret pretends to scold a red and white dress tie for being a class clown; Piper grabs a microphone and channels Celine Dion.

Piper and Mégret hold classes in the Education building, where some of the rooms have been remodeled for University-wide teaching purposes. The use of these classrooms, slick with white boards, retractable screens and eight round tables placed in circular formation, points to the Faculty’s ambitions to build a legal education program that responds to the needs of the modern world.

Upon his appointment as Dean of Law in February of this year, Professor Daniel Jutras noted that adaptability is a Faculty hallmark.

“Creativity and innovation have defined the education we offer students for decades,” he said. “The challenge of the next decade will be to respond to transformations in the role of jurists as professionals and as social actors, while maintaining McGill’s commitment to first-class pedagogy.”

New teaching initiatives

Piper and Mégret, along with administrative law specialist Evan Fox-Decent, joined the Faculty as Assistant Professors in 2005. For the 2010-2011 academic year, Piper is spearheading a Law Teaching Network (LTN) initiative that aims to bring professors together in small groups and in workshop gatherings to reflect on their teaching strategies. [Read more about novel approaches to teaching on page 16 of this year’s issue of inFocus.]

“This Network is unique within McGill – nothing of the sort exists elsewhere on campus. It will serve as a model for teaching and learning throughout the institutions,” explained Jutras, adding that the initiative drew impetus from faculty members’ frequently expressed wish to exchange ideas about how to implement active learning exercises, electronic surveys or other teaching tools to enliven classroom discussions.

Kirsten Anker (Assistant Professor as of 2006) found her students threw themselves into an interdisciplinary course she taught in May 2010 with colleagues from the Departments of Social Work and Anthropology. The course surveyed topics such as aboriginal governance, healing practices and cultural rituals and included a five-day stay at Kahnawake Mohawk Reserve.

“I came to law school to make a difference in my community and in the world, not to make big bucks,” one student reflected in her journal. “Being around these social work students, anthropology students, is great because we talk about issues and get to share different solutions, different ways of seeing.” [Read more journal excerpts from the course.]

As new professors, Alana Klein (Assistant Professor as of 2008) and Hoi Kong (Assistant Professor as of 2009) often draw from their own experiences as students at the Faculty. Klein recalls sitting in criminal law class passionately discussing the O.J. Simpson trial while Kong remembers that it was in his contract law class that he learned to see in the law “the great movements of political, social and intellectual history, the inequalities in society and the fragility of relationships.”

Bringing research into the mix

The questions provoked by powerful pedagogy can provide a fertile foundation for exceptional research, as demonstrated in an art installation Faculty members put together for a McGill exhibition in 2009. A screenshot of Caravaggio’s Sacrifice of Isaac, Barack Obama’s “Yes, we can” speech re-mixed to thumping beats and ringing church bells, and a pulsating list of questions encouraged viewers to think about the links between art and law.

Helge Dedek, who became an Assistant Professor in 2007, took part in the art and law project, as did Piper and Anker, contributing their respective expertise in Roman law, aboriginal peoples and the law and intellectual property law.

Other recently-appointed professors who have brought further depth to the Faculty’s  distinguished research base include human rights jurist Payam Akhavan, property law specialist Yaëll Emerich, constitutional and family law scholar Robert Leckey, another Intellectual Property specialist, Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse, and two joint appointments Victor Muñiz-Fraticelli (Department of Political Science) and Vrinda Narain (Faculty of Arts).

In 2008, human rights expert François Crépeau became the Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law, establishing McGill Law as a hub for research into international legal obligations. Before taking up the deanship at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie in June 2010, Kim Brooks held the H. Heward Stikeman Chair in Tax Law at McGill.

Besides drawing resources to an institution, research chairs also put an important public face on various areas of specialized study. New scholars will take up the Stikeman Chair in Tax Law and the Yves Fortier Chair in International arbitration Law this fall, continuing the Faculty’s tradition of combining intellectual verve with a commitment to public service. Stay tuned for news of these exciting developments!