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Curriculum Proposal Plagued by Setbacks

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Citing serious workload implications for both students and faculty, Professor Mohamed Khimji resigned on March 26 from the Faculty Board’s Ad Hoc Committee on Curriculum Review, after expressing concerns with the alternatives under consideration.

In an email to Committee members, the relevant section of which was forwarded to Juris Diction by a student representative on the Committee, Professor Khimji pulled his support for the proposal and discussed the problems that may result from adding a substantive course while keeping classroom hours steady.

The original proposal — tabled by Professor Khimji — was a pilot project that would allow first-year students to select either Business Associations or Constitutional Law in their second semester. Both courses would have continued to be worth four credits.

“My idea for the initial First-Year Elective Proposal was to design something that had no impact on faculty or student workload,” reads part of the email.

“At the time, I truly believed it would enhance the first-year curriculum for the overall benefit of our students,” says the email. “After the discussions we have had, I have been convinced that it is not worth pursuing.”

The source of Professor Khimji’s concerns are three alternative proposals to the original, discussed at the Committee’s meeting on March 24:

• Reducing Property Law and Torts to four credits and one semester and teaching ILS entirely in first-term, thereby opening space for four new elective credits in first-year;
• Reducing all first-year courses to four credits and one semester, thereby opening space for eight new elective credits in first-year; and
• Offering guaranteed access to Business Associations for all students in the fall term of second-year.

“The other alternatives we are considering do have serious workload implications for faculty and possibly students (the latter due to having to take one or more extra substantive courses despite the neutrality in classroom hours),” continues Professor Khimji’s email. “For that reason, I am not able to support them.

“It seems to me that, while allowing first-year students to take Business Associations in first-year may be beneficial to some of our students, it would be inappropriate to add to the workload of some faculty members and possibly all of our students in order to achieve this,” he concluded.

The effect of Khimji’s resignation on the proposal’s continued discussion remained somewhat unclear, but based on a meeting on March 27 between Dean Bill Flanagan and the Law Students’ Society (LSS) Vice-President Academic Cindy Zhang, the future looked grim.

“It was communicated to me by the Dean that if there is no strong student interest in pursuing this matter, it will not be further considered at this time,” Zhang said.

Due to the concerns raised by students and faculty, the committee has effectively dismissed the original proposal that would have seen Constitutional become an elective.

Professor Khimji’s fears about the alternatives, however, seem to form only part of the picture. Other professors have expressed unease towards the idea of shortening other subjects to make way for Business Associations, leaving the discussion at a standstill.

“I’ve heard from many people about why Constitutional should not be an elective, and I definitely agree,” Zhang said. “I think the Charter is really important and you should learn that as soon as you get into law school.”

“But moving forward, whatever alternative we look at, professors who teach those specific subjects have come forward to defend the importance of those courses in a way that no majority is formed,” said Zhang. “That’s where the discussion hits the wall.”

“The conversation has become: What about Property? What about Torts?” Zhang said. “But you touch those things, and the discussion is flooded.”

Zhang, who facilitated student discussion of the proposal, was disappointed to see Professor Khimji’s resignation from the Committee.

“I have heard from and met with countless students on this matter,” Zhang said. “I’ve facilitated contents of letters and helped students develop their views from a variety of perspectives. I am disappointed to see Professor Khimji’s resignation from the Committee because he had a genuine interest in facilitating the success of students — whatever it is they want to do. Nevertheless, I respect his decision.”

“Speaking for myself, the process of deliberation, consultation and hitting a series of walls after considerable effort to accommodate as many people as one can amount to a draining process,” Zhang said.

Zhang’s proposed alternative — putting Constitutional in the first semester of first-year and having the choice of Public or Business Associations in second semester—fell on deaf ears, she said.

“I’ve said it a lot, but nobody has ever listened,” said Zhang, chuckling. “Nobody has picked up on it. I don’t know why. Why not put Public in second semester, so you choose between Public and Business Associations?”

Professor Khimji’s proposal was the result of extensive consultation with alumni, who, according to Khimji, said that law school graduates lacked the specialized skills required to add value to a corporate law practice.

“With respect to enhancing our business law curriculum, alumni were universally of the view that law graduates interested in the area required a skill set that enabled them to integrate economic, accounting, and financial principles into legal work,” Khimji said of the proposal on March 19 for an article solicited by Juris Diction, prior to his resignation from the Committee.

“Such a skill set would allow students to add value to deals and litigation files as early as possible in their legal careers and thereby facilitate their long-term success,” he said.

Professor Khimji’s proposal was meant to facilitate students taking advanced upper-year corporate law courses—such as Accounting and the Law or Private Equity Law—early and often, thus providing students with just such a skill set.

“The option to take Business Associations in first-year results in numerous benefits for our students interested in business law, including being better prepared for first-year and second-year summer placements, being able to take specialized courses in business law as early as the Fall Term of second-year and being able to take full advantage of our increasingly rich upper-year business law curriculum,” Professor Khimji said in his earlier statement about the proposal.

The debate, and Professor Khimji’s reasons for the elective proposal, is particularly relevant this week, as first-year students select their upper-year courses.

The way the course availability has played out in the fall 2017 and winter 2018 terms may mean that advanced corporate law courses requiring Securities Regulation as a pre-requisite may never even be available to half of the Class of 2019 — even less if many of those students consider going on exchange, as is usually the case.

Enrollment in the fall 2017 section of Business Associations, which is now a pre-requisite for Securities Regulation, is capped at 100 students — about half of the Class of 2019. Since Securities Regulation is only offered in the winter 2018 term next year, that means only 100 students will have even the chance of getting the required pre-requisites for advanced corporate law courses such as Corporate Finance, Private Equity, Mergers & Acquisitions and Contested Transactions when they enter their final year.

The current apprehensions raised by both students and faculty about the curriculum changes certainly aren’t new. The proposal has had a troubled existence since Zhang sent it to students on February 20 in an email.

On March 6, second-year student Ben Wong submitted a letter to the Ad Hoc Committee for Curriculum Review arguing against giving students the option of pushing Constitutional Law to second-year.

“We are not submitting that Business Associations cannot take place in first-year,” reads part of the letter. “The concerns of corporate law students seeking to go on exchange in third-year are legitimate. However, the deleterious effects of specifically making Constitutional Law an optional class in first-year are much higher for all students, and will create issues that are more serious and widespread than that of obtaining pre-requisites.”

The letter cited, among other things, serious trepidations about the effects that the proposal would have on first-year students’ knowledge of Aboriginal law.

“Making Constitutional Law the only first-year course open to choice does a great disservice for law students, and runs contrary to Queen’s Law’s stated commitment to recognize the importance of Aboriginal law, its underrepresentation in classrooms and the inconvenient truths that form the foundation of the Canadian state,” reads the letter.

The next day, on March 7, Queen’s Corporate Law Club executives Sarah Ferguson, Bharbara Parken, Jacqueline Chan and Diane Wu responded with a letter in support of the proposal.

“The Proposal, by providing a choice, maximizes opportunities available to all students,” reads part of the letter. “Rationales for the Proposal include: more control over the direction of their legal education through flexibility in course selection for all Queen’s Law students, regardless of their interests; strong endorsement from Queen’s Law alumni (i.e. employers); and proven success of a similar first-year elective model at leading law schools in North America.”

Several students then expressed support for or against the proposal by signing one of the letters. In total, almost 200 students signed the letters.

While the Committee was set to discuss the proposal and its alternatives into the fall term of 2017, the lack of movement at the faculty level has cast the future of the curriculum change proposal into doubt.

“I’m exhausted by this,” Zhang said.

“There’s no way of going about it. It’s a zero-sum game at some point, and something has to give. No one is ready to give.”

A document containing all of the proposals, and a list of the pros and cons of each, is available on the Faculty Board section of the QLaw Portal.

Callum Miccuci (2L) is Co-Culture Editor of Juris Diction.

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