Monday, September 13, 2021

Brunnee

After many months of online education during the 2020-21 academic year, it is especially gratifying to welcome students, faculty and staff to campus for the start of the new academic year. 

We have heard from students, faculty and staff how excited they are to be able to learn, teach, debate and work in person again. At the same time, we will all have to feel our way back into in-person Faculty life. It turns out that “getting back to normal” is more of a journey than we may have expected. But I am confident that, as we continue to work together, we will be able to settle back into our lively, inquisitive and engaged community in relatively short order.

Beyond the pandemic, the past year has also been challenging on many other fronts. We have witnessed a seemingly endless stream of injustices, conflicts and crises. We have seen a rise in reports of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of racial and religious discrimination here in Canada, as well as hate-crimes. We also continue to see stark evidence across the country of anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, and anti-Asian racism, among others. The Faculty of Law condemns anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of racism and faith-based hatred and discrimination. We are also acutely aware that law schools and lawyers can play a critical role in dismantling systems of institutionalized racism in our society. And so we place great emphasis on working with all members of our community – faculty, students, staff and visitors – to facilitate the climate of welcome, belonging and respect that is critical to sustaining our excellence as an institution, and to underscore that it is everyone’s responsibility to do their part to these ends.

You will find a range of initiatives this fall and throughout the year, designed to allow us to grapple with these challenging and important issues, and to enable our community to continue to grow and learn. I am delighted also to share that, in the coming months, we will be recruiting a new Assistant Dean, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, whose role it will be to support the Faculty’s efforts to further embed equity, diversity and inclusivity in our practices and processes.

These initiatives are central to our academic mission. This Faculty, like the University as a whole, is built on the premise that excellence and diversity – of thinking and lived experience – go together. Excellence flourishes in an environment that embraces the broadest range of people, that enables all members of our community to participate fully and to achieve their full potential, that facilitates the free expression of their diverse perspectives through respectful discourse, and in which high standards are maintained for faculty, students and staff alike. I look forward to us having the important and challenging debates of our times in person again, in our classrooms and workshops, in the hallways, or among new or old acquaintances over a coffee. We are so fortunate to be able to gather again, as a community comprised of individuals with a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints.

This brings me to a brief update about our community. Our faculty members routinely receive prestigious awards and recognitions. This past year was no exception. Professor Yasmin Dawood  received the Legal Excellence Award from the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto (SABA); University Professor David Dyzenhaus was named Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy; University Professor Arthur Ripstein was awarded the Killam Prize for contributions to humanities; and Professor Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii) was awarded U of T's Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize (Influential Leader).

Turning to our student body, the JD Class of 2024 is another exceptional and diverse cohort of students:

  • 59% of the class is female-identifying, the highest percentage in at least the last five years;
  • 15% of the class are LGBTQ2S+-identifying, the highest percentage in at least the last five years;
  • 37% of the class identify as racialized; and
  • 29% of the class were born outside of Canada.

If you have not already done so, take a look at the profile of the class. I am sure that you will agree that our new 1Ls are an impressive group, and not merely because their academic credentials were the strongest in the last several years! You will find someone being able to offer tips on just about everything, seeing as members of the cohort have had prior experiences as wide-ranging as architecture curator, basketball coach, farm hand, freestyle dance instructor, maintenance worker, real estate agent, and TV production assistant.

I am delighted to offer a special welcome to our incoming 1L Indigenous students, the largest incoming cohort in years. With the wonderful assistance of Elder Constance Simmonds, our Faculty’s Elder-in-Residence, this year our Indigenous Initiatives Office will provide a rich array of academic and cultural events for the entire community.

This year’s graduate students hail from all corners of the globe, including Barbados, Hungary, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, the UK, the US, and Zimbabwe. Our students have been remarkably successful in winning competitive external grants, such as the prestigious Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship, Trudeau Foundation Scholarship and Governor General’s Gold Medal. They are a highly accomplished group, who could have elected to pursue graduate studies anywhere, and we are gratified that they chose U of T. Our SJD students again had great success on the academic job market, securing faculty positions at universities in Ontario, Quebec, and elsewhere. The GPLLM program continues to attract extraordinary and diverse students. This year, they come to us with experience in accounting, banking, finance, medicine, management consulting, government, and law, to name but a few. They are professors, entrepreneurs, doctors, heads of legal and compliance, and much more. 

I’ll close by acknowledging that the past 18 months have been especially challenging for all and that you may be feeling apprehensive about the year ahead, given the ongoing uncertainties of COVID. I want to assure you again that we are doing everything that we can to ensure that this academic year is the best – and safest – that it can be for our community. I hope that this year brings fulfillment, enjoyment and intellectual growth for you all! 

Jutta Brunnée, FRSC
Dean, University Professor and James Marshall Tory Dean’s Chair
Associate Member, Institut de droit international

Photo by Alice Xue Photography