The first woman dean, and one of the longest to serve, leaves behind a new building, groundbreaking programs and a re-energized law school curriculum, as she takes up the provost and vice-chancellor role at Trinity College

Former Dean Mayo MoranBy Lucianna Ciccocioppo  /  Photography by Raina + Wilson

From the Spring/Summer 2014 issue of Nexus

LC: Do you remember the moment you received the job offer for this deanship?

MM: I was sitting in a café in Yorkville, with [Prof.] Karen Knop, a colleague and friend, and the search consultant phoned. And I picked up the phone, and she said: “Mayo, sit down. You’re about to make history.” I remember exactly where I was sitting. It was quite incredible.

LC: What did you tackle first?

MM: We ‘launched’ me first. I was well-known in the law school, but I think it took a lot of people by surprise that I was named dean. While I was a professor, I wasn’t particularly externally engaged. And I was the first woman. So I think we felt it was an opportunity to say ‘Hey, I’m here.’ We celebrated with faculty, staff, students and alumni. Prof. Ernie Weinrib, who had been my doctoral supervisor, spoke about what it was like to have his student become his boss. Then I did a huge ‘listening’ tour, and I spent a couple of months meeting with every faculty member, every staff, and all the student leaders. I went to virtually every law firm. I invited in smaller firms and clinics. I went to the Department of Justice and the Ministry of the Attorney General. I went across the country and to many other places including London, New York, Hong Kong and Los Angeles to meet alumni, employers and prospective students. It was an amazing experience. I said: “Here’s who I am, and here’s what I care about—tell me what you think I should know, and care about.”

LC: How did you use that information?

MM: It was incredible. I really got a picture of what the whole extended law school community cared about, what they would like to see enhanced, and where they thought there was an opportunity to do more. More than anything, people were happy that I was eager to connect with them. The time that I spent building those relationships has been really important to me as dean.

LC: Do you feel you’ve accomplished everything you wanted to over your two terms?

MM: I think it’s probably my nature to be more aware of what is still left to do but when I step back, I do think that we have accomplished many things that will make a difference. The building is obviously a huge thing.  When I see the massive steel beams going in for the new space, it just makes me so happy (I love the webcam, by the way! I know so many people who are addicted to it). It’s going to make such a difference to the life of this Faculty. And doing accessibility work for the Ontario government also really brings home to me how wonderful it’s going to be to have space that’s not only beautiful but also accessible.  It also matters so much to me that I was able to get the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights off the ground. In the five years since we started it, it has dramatically changed the landscape of constitutional debate in the country and more broadly. I’m also so proud of the quality and calibre of our students. I am really proud of the significant work we have done on how we do outreach to students, recruit and admit students and most important, how we support our students when they come. At a time in legal education where most law schools are seeing a decline in applications, ours are going up, as are our employment numbers. I’m also very proud of the many ways we’ve found to improve the program. In fact, just before I finished as dean, I was delighted that we introduced a major overhaul of the all-important first-year program. Of course I’ll always have 20 more ways I’d love to improve the place. So no, I don’t think I’ll ever have accomplished everything but I’m pretty happy with the things we’ve accomplished and done together as a law school.

LC: What did you love most about being dean?

MM: I’d say two things: I really loved being able to think of something and make it happen, such as the David Asper Centre. When we started to think about ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a centre like this?’, David Asper stepped in with outstanding support. And now I see it thriving, intervening in cases such as the Supreme Court of Canada’s Bedford decision. That’s a really, really wonderful feeling. It’s made a difference not just to me personally, but to the court and how it thinks about things, what students can weigh into, the connection between the constitutional bar and the academy. The Internationally Trained Lawyers Program is another example of this.

It is also a great privilege to get to spend your time with such amazing people—alumni, students, faculty and staff. It’s a fantastic community, full of incredibly interesting people doing interesting and amazing things. I loved connecting with all of these parts of the community and being an ambassador for the law school. That is part of the job that sometimes people find tiring but I loved it. I always get really energized by how interesting people are. One of the total joys of this job is that the graduates are so great, and I was able to interact with people that I never in my wildest dreams thought I would. For example, [alumnus] Paul Martin called me to say ‘I won’t be at your farewell party, but thank you for everything you’ve done for the law school’.

LC: What was the most challenging part of your job?

MM: The budget. Finances are always the most challenging part for academic leaders. We compete with the best places in the world and it’s so important that we’re able to offer the best legal education in the world in Canada instead of elsewhere. But we compete with far fewer resources. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time as dean trying to figure out how to get more resources, how to use the resources we have as creatively as possible, how to do more with less, and how to fulfil the aspirations of faculty, staff and students. It is a constant struggle to find ways to make a place like this work.

It’s important to be vigilant about all aspects of the program and ensure that it is excellent and accessible, which in my mind go hand in hand. Concern with tuition levels is understandable and natural. We have worked hard to monitor every aspect of the program—how many applications we receive, the gender balance, the diversity, the economic diversity, what students do after graduation. And we do a lot of outreach including free LSAT prep courses and other programs for students who are economically disadvantaged so that they have the opportunity to go to law school. We don’t take any of this for granted and I’m thrilled to see the rate at which talented students take up our offers. Believe it or not, last year about 98 percent of people who had offers from us and from other places in Ontario, chose us. And part of the reason they come here is that job opportunities are incredible—our articling rate is about 96 percent. Last year, more than half of first-year summer jobs were given to U of T law students. And we have back-end debt relief; we’re the only law school in Canada to offer this. That means if you graduate with debt, and don’t make a lot of money, we have relief for that. We’re fortunate to have had fantastic support in the form of a great financial aid program and building that going forward will be really important.    

LC: What’s your advice for the incoming dean?

MM: Enjoy it. It’s a challenging job. There are days you’re ready to pull your hair out. But it’s such an interesting job, because of all the policy decisions, how legal education is changing, what our grads are doing all over the world, and how you can move the place forward. I think it’s an incredible privilege to be able to shepherd a place like this. And so, I would try not to get lost in all the little things and enjoy the fact that it’s an incredible role. When I became dean, [alumnus and former dean] Rob Pritchard was the first one to call me, as usual, and he said: ‘Congratulations Mayo, you just got the best job in the academic world’. And I think he was right.

LC: So why did you decide to leave the Faculty of Law?

MM: I was almost done my second term and am one of the longest serving deans in the modern law school. I feel I’ve accomplished most of what I came here to do and I believe it’s important to have transitions in leadership. Renewal enables someone else to come in and say ‘Now I’m going to take a fresh look at what I can do here’ —I think that’s healthy for institutions. And so when Trinity College approached me, I felt I had done what was really important for me to do. Trinity looked like a wonderful opportunity that I didn’t want to pass by. I love working with students, and I like great institutions so I thought it was a really great chance to do something at another jewel in the U of T family.

LC: The Faculty of Law has a strong relationship with Trinity College. Tell us more about this.

MM: One of the reasons why I thought about Trinity is we have so many amazing law graduates who are from Trinity, like our alumnus Bill Graham, who is the chancellor at Trinity. He chaired the search committee for Trinity’s provost. There are really, really strong links between the two institutions. Both have incredible traditions of academic excellence. Finding ways in the midst of such fiscal challenges to build and support that excellence is so central to what I most care about that Trinity seemed like a natural move after law. I’d like to have a big Faculty of Law-Trinity event with the dual grads because so many law grads that I knew contacted me when I was named provost and I had no idea they were Trinity College grads. I’m going to look to find ways to ensure that relationship is strengthened.

LC: How do you think you’ll be able to grow professionally?

MM: I think it’s such a rich and complex tradition at Trinity and I’m looking forward to learning more about it. I love the freshness of students, so I think I’m really going to enjoy the undergraduates at the very beginning of the university life. I’m also excited to play a role in undergraduate education which is really at the heart of this great university. As a teacher, it’s such an enormous privilege to be able to take these great young minds and get them excited about something. I’m going to teach an ethics, society and law fourth-year course that I’m designing called “10 Cases That Changed the World”. I’ve been hearing from the law community about what they think, and am looking forward to exploring the political and social contexts of these cases, who the players were and what kind of a difference they made. More generally of course, I am looking forward to thinking about how I can help Trinity move to the next level. I feel very honoured to have that opportunity. Trinity is an amazing place—so full of potential.

LC: Any final words?

MM: It’s been such an incredible, incredible privilege. Thank you for trusting me with your law school.