Robert Leckey: Postcard from the Dean’s Office at the McGill Faculty of Law
Professionally, I have spent the past weeks working with colleagues of McGill’s central administration and of my faculty to adjust to the end of in-classroom teaching and get us through the winter 2020 term. I’ve been heartened by the spirit of collaboration shown by professors, administrative staff, and students. The students quickly mobilized, using technology to collect data for us about which courses would be most affected by the two-week shutdown. I’ve come to appreciate better the complexity of McGill’s operations and the Faculty of Law’s. McGill Law had many students abroad on international exchange and doing international clerkships, as well as many others preparing for international human-rights internships. We had community clinic placements and clerkships, all affected by the cessation of in-person activity. At the university level, we have farm animals and laboratories involving more kinds of sensitive experiments than I would ever have dreamed of. A huge number of students have been in touch with us to express their views on the university’s decision changing the winter-term grading. While no emergency policy choice would please everyone, students have, on the whole, been respectful and understanding of the many factors in play. We have cancelled so many events for the rest of winter and spring that you get a bit numb, but cancelling our annual Skit Nite, which raises funds for local charities, was especially hard, as was seeing our principal’s message cancelling the spring convocation ceremonies.
I acknowledge that many people are suffering directly from the Covid-19 crisis, being in no mood to look for silver linings in this cloud. On that positive side, however, I think many of us have advanced more in our capacity to interact through available technology in the past month than we had in the previous five years. The two meetings of our Faculty Council that I have chaired via Zoom had over 55 participants, far more than ever turn up in person. It’ll be interesting to see which means of coping with the crisis we keep as valuable for the long term, if too soon to judge now. I think too of the Foundation community, scattered around the planet. Maybe we can connect with one another better than we realized without needing boarding passes.
Personally, I was honoured in early March to receive a prize as part of the McGill Principal’s Prizes for Public Engagement through Media. I was the inaugural recipient of a change-maker prize, one you can’t apply for and which the university will confer only occasionally. The principal’s letter underscored my work over years on LGBT rights and, more recently, around Bill 21, Quebec’s controversial secularism law. It’s especially relevant here because, while I was a doctoral candidate and Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar, my exposure to other members of the Foundation community confirmed my commitment to dedicate time and effort to advancing public education and debate through the media. My mentor, journalist Jeffrey Simpson, gave me pointers on the first op-ed I published in The Globe and Mail. So I think of myself as sharing this award with the Foundation.