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New Lakehead University law school dean ‘intrigued’ by opportunity to make a difference

CBC with Jula Hughes 3 September 2019

The incoming dean of Lakehead University’s law school says she’s “intrigued” by the opportunity to work with a faculty that can “make a difference” in northern Ontario.

“I’ve got a background in faculty-labour relations,” said Jula Hughes, the new dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law. She’ll officially take over in the role on Oct. 1.

“I used to be faculty association president at [the University of New Brunswick], I have negotiated collective agreements,” Hughes said. “I have some sense of how faculties are run, and that in combination with a background in practicing law and with a background … in doing collaborative research with Indigenous organizations, I think is sort of a reasonable mix that is responsive to the mandate of this faculty.”

Hughes said the Lakehead law school’s mandate — the curriculum focuses on Indigenous law, natural resources and environmental law, and small-town practice — is an “ambitious” one.

“Legal education in Canada has not been the site of a huge amount of innovation,” she said. “Much of what we we do in law school looks a lot like what people would have done in the 19th century.”

“Challenging mandates mean that it’s probable that there’s going to be a rough start. I don’t think that needs to be surprising or worrying.”

Hughes is the third person to serve as the law school’s dean since the faculty opened in 2013. The previous dean, Angelique EagleWoman, resigned last year citing systemic racism at the school. She’s since sued Lakehead for more than $2.6 million.

Hughes said since she wasn’t at the university during EagleWoman’s tenure, she can’t speak specifically to the previous dean and her experience at the school.

“I have seen institutions struggle with this,” Hughes said. “They struggle with racism, they struggle with endemic sexism.”

“I think, through my faculty association work mostly, I’ve been quite involved in bringing policies and conversations together that just advance our thinking about systemic racism, and then also develop strategies of how to address it,” she said.

“I have no illusions that a single person can necessarily eliminate any of that. … but I think there are things we can do to make learning environments and working environments that are good to be in, and safe to be in for everybody.”

Jula Hughes is an associate law professor at the University of New Brunswick.