On February 17, Daniel Jutras was appointed Dean of the McGill Faculty of Law. Jutras had served as the interim dean since July 1, 2009, after working at the Supreme Court of Canada for several years and then the national law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais. Jutras taught law at McGill as an associate professor starting in 1991 before being promoted to full professor in 2001. The Tribune sat down with Mr. Jutras and discussed his new position as dean.
As the new dean, how have your experiences as a McGill Law professor helped you, and is there anything you now plan to change?
I don’t think [there is a lot I plan to change]. In recent years, over the past decade, we’ve moved even further in the effort to provide instruction in both civil law and common law, integrating the two degrees as much as possible in a comparative exercise. And so I think it’s very helpful to have been here for a while in understanding where that comes from, what the ramifications of the program are, what the aspirations were, and what remains to be done to realize those aspirations. So, I would say the fact of having been here is helpful, not necessarily in the sense that it gives me an occasion to change things that I was unhappy with as much as move forward on things that I am really happy with.
As you said, McGill offers two degrees in one: the Bachelor of Laws and the Bachelor of Civil Laws. How will your experience and background researching comparative law factor into your work here as dean?
The faculty has now developed significant expertise in teaching in comparative law and I think we also have a very distinguished scholarship here that displays a pluralistic understanding of law: one that is interested in comparison, but not just comparison. It’s a perspective on law that is also interested in the idea that law resides in places other than the state. It does reside in the state – the state is a source of normativity, which is very significant – but it also resides in other places, both at the very small local level and at the international level. There are sources of norms and rules and understandings of governance, which emerge at all of these levels, and the faculty has been very sensitive to those different layers. I think we are at the stage now that we probably need to translate what goes on in the classroom a bit more publicly in the scholarship that appears internationally in this area.
How do you see the future of the Faculty of Law?
We have a very well-regarded graduate program at the master’s and doctorate level, and a number of suggestions have been made in recent years to imagine the development of the doctoral program in the direction that highlights McGill as a place to train tomorrow’s teachers, and train new professors in becoming academics. The master’s program could also be expanded to include offerings that will be very specialized. We have great strengths here in human rights, in intellectual property, in international arbitration, and in health law, which could yield very effective specialized graduate degrees at the master’s level. At the undergraduate level, the priority this year and for the next few years will be to enhance as much as possible the student experience in the classroom.
What do you think about the Canadian law school market in general? How does McGill fit into that market?
The Canadian market of law schools is very interesting. The discussion very often starts with assumptions that are appropriate in the American market: that there are very elaborate mechanisms to rank the faculties, and very clearly delineated tiers and aspirations of each of the schools to move up that ladder. In many ways, the Canadian market is quite different from this. First of all, the discrepancy between the very best schools and the schools that are not doing so well is enormous in the United States, and that’s not the case in Canada. I think the quality of education is uniformly excellent in the Canadian market.
If we go by the rankings, McGill is doing extremely well and has been for many years. It’s ranked at, or near the top of, the Maclean’s rankings among common law schools, which is in itself a mistake, because this is not just a common law school – it’s both a common law school and a civil law school. If it were measured as a civil law school by the standards and criteria that Maclean’s uses, it would be at the very top of the list of schools in Quebec.
In terms of rankings, McGill is doing exceedingly well. I am very proud of that and I think we should be very proud of that. But I am prouder of the fact that we are actually very different in terms of what we offer. There is a very distinctive character to this school and I think that’s what brings students here, that’s what brings professors here. The distinctiveness of the program is what enables us to feel comfortable about our place in the Canadian market.