From inviting lawyers and judges to class to singing and dancing, Professor Rosalie Jukier spares no strategy when it comes to bringing the law to life for her students. With a career spanning over thirty years, she has become synonymous with teaching excellence for generations of McGillians. The three-time winner of the Durnford Teaching Excellence Award and 2010 recipient of the prestigious Principal’s Prize for Excellence in Teaching told Focus about the various virages in her career that have fueled her passion for law, and about the new challenge she will take up this fall.
By Karell Michaud
Professor Jukier can pinpoint the exact “ah ha!” moment that set her on the path to academia. While the talented CEGEP student entered the Faculty without any specific legal ambitions, she immediately fell in love with being a law student. A model student, she never missed a class, read every assigned reading, and took copious notes that she would assemble in neat, colour-coded binders, affectionately kept in her office to this day.
By the summer of her third year of law school, she destined herself to tax law. Working under one of the top fiscal lawyers at the firm today known as Davies, she was assigned to investigate whether two companies part of a very complex legal structure were related under the law. “I spent weeks carefully reading every subsection of the Tax Act and preparing the legal memo,” she remembers. Her supervising lawyer gave young Jukier the all clear to call their client. “When I told her my conclusion, the accountant answered “Ok, thanks!” and was about to hang up when I interjected ‘Wait, don’t you want to know why?’, Jukier recalls. ‘No, not really’, the client answered nicely. ‘I just needed to know if they were related or not.’”
“I was crushed! The excitement for me had been in the game, the process. That’s when I realized that I cared about the ‘Why’, not the final answer.” After consulting with several professors who would go on to become her mentors – Roderick Macdonald, Jane Glenn, John Durnford, Madeleine Cantin Cumyn, and H. Patrick Glenn, to name just a few – she decided to head for Oxford University to complete a graduate degree, before returning to the Faculty she has called home ever since. “And I never looked back,” she smiles.
Virages along the journey
“People sometimes ask how I can continue to teach the same class again and again – and the truth is, I don’t,” says Jukier. Since joining the Faculty as an assistant professor in 1985, she has taken a series of what she likes to call virages that have enabled her to enrich her perspective on law and transformed who she was as a teacher.
From 1995 to 2001, she served as McGill University’s Dean of Students. “It taught me a tremendous amount about how the law can inform society about proper process, transparency and methodology. I really appreciated my legal training in that very non-legal position. I brought that message back to my students when I returned,” she recalls.
In another eye-opening aparté, she spent two years as a Senior Advisor for the National Judicial Institute in Ottawa, an organization dedicated to the development and delivery of legal education for judges. “Judges are one of the protagonists of our stories here in law school; we know their names, and talk about what they said, but I learned so much about the judicial lens by seeing these people as living human beings, who have a tremendously different perspective on law from where they are sitting.”
When she returned to the Faculty, she asked the then dean if she could teach the Judicial Institutions and Civil Procedure course. “I was probably the first in the Faculty’s history to request that class!,” she laughs. “But I felt that I had gained such valuable insight into the judiciary to give back to my students.”
Changing generations of students
While the essence of the professor’s role has remained the same – finding ways to interest, challenge and excite students about the subject matter – Professor Jukier highlights that how it is done has revolutionized over the decades. “Remember, when I started, there were no laptops, no PowerPoints, no email! Today, we have more tools that can help us be more exciting teachers – I love to play clips of movies or sitcoms in class, for example. On the other hand, there is no excuse today to just be an information giver; the information is available to students at the press of a finger, you have to go beyond it. Technology has made our job both easier and harder.”
The reality of being a law student has also changed, she notes. “In 1979, all I had to do as a student was to get to the Faculty in the morning, do my best, and then come home to a hot meal and my laundry done. Today’s students have a lot going on. Between their families, their jobs and their extensive community responsibilities, they are a much more diverse and active group of people, who have to juggle more in their lives. It enriches who they are and makes them such an interesting group, but they also face considerable challenges and competition.”
A new challenge this fall
In September, Professor Jukier will take up a new appointment as Associate Dean (Academic) at the Faculty, her fifth administrative term at McGill. “I confess I find it hard to say no to a challenge! This position is inextricably bound to the student experience. I want to bring everything I know about what students need, how they feel, the challenges they face to this role, and channel this experience to hopefully achieve changes for the good,” she says.
Teaching as a way of being alive
Whether in conversation, in front of her class, or on the Skit Nite stage, Professor Jukier exudes passion for her profession. “I find it a privilege to live in the world of ideas and to interact with smart and curious young legal minds,” she confides with gratefulness in her voice.
“Rod Macdonald, a great jurist, creative pedagogue and devoted mentor, taught us that you don’t need a lot of words to sum up teaching law. His message was simply that, ‘teaching is a way of being alive’.”