Meet the Candidates: VP Academic
The VP Academic is in charge of all academic-related activities involving the LSS and sits on the LSS Core, the LSS Council, and numerous committees. They also sit on the Faculty Board and regularly meet with the Faculty’s senior administration.
Juris Diction: Why are you running for this position?
Silvia Cioci (SC): I am running for this position because I have a passion for advocating for the academic interests of Queen’s Law students. Academics are such a fundamental aspect of law school – grades are consistently on our minds, and they play a large role in determining our career paths. I want to be a part of the communication between students and faculty to help relieve some of that worry, by helping to ensure students feel like they have more control over what they are learning and how they are being evaluated. I think we need a more open line of communication between the faculty and the students, and students should be more informed about what is discussed at meetings. I’m easy to talk to, and I hope to make use of e-mails and Facebook to update everyone!
Sydney Bunting (SB): I love being a faculty rep. I am so impressed by our faculty, and I’m eager to represent our student body in a more fundamental capacity.
Nima Hojjati (NH): The main reason I am running for this position is that I am concerned with the lack of first principles in the first-year curriculum. There seems to be a trend that views the law as neutral, amoral, or apolitical yet that is not the case. We should strive to view our education through various lenses such as justice, liberty, equality, or even feminism. As such, I hope to promote “big picture” principles to the faculty and the administration. Another reason I wish to be your VP Academic is that I have fallen completely in love with not just our school but with each and every one of you that I have met and so it would be such a privilege if I could improve your law school experience even by the slightest bit.
Sheida Rezapour (SR): Since first year I’ve been involved in committees that improve the experience of the student body both academically and outside of the classroom. As VP Academic I would build upon my first- and second-year experiences as well as my existing connections with faculty and students to continue working on issues relevant and specific to both first and upper year students. Ultimately, I want to be able to continue to serve the interests of the student body in meaningful ways and I think that the VP Academic position provides this opportunity.
JD: What qualifications/past experience do you have that you think will help you if elected?
SC: I have lots of work and university experience that will help if I am elected as VP Academic. In my undergraduate degree at Queen’s, I collaborated with the faculty in the Biology Department. Together we worked to rewrite laboratory techniques used across the department, making experiments easier for thesis and grad students. I also worked for Microsoft Canada, helping to launch their new Partners in Learning webpage, where I met with educators and created an online resource to share teaching resources with teachers, students, and parents. I’ve also worked in lots of customer service jobs, and I am a member of various clubs at Queen’s Law, so I have lots of experience managing people, collaborating with others, and overall taking a mature and professional approach to my commitments.
SB: I was lucky enough to be elected as a Student Faculty Representative for the 2017 Council. I’ve been actively involved with the work being done by the 1L Council, and I’ve also had a chance to observe the operations of the Core Council firsthand. I definitely understand the opportunities of this role.
NH: My main qualification as your VP Academic is that I was a 2013-2014 Student Fellow at McGill’s Research Group on Constitutional Studies. This fellowship, comprised of students and faculty, allowed me to participate in weekly faculty seminars and to attend a lecture series on the jurisprudence of constitutionalism. I have a passion for academia and rarely do I miss a faculty lecture or talk at QL. I truly enjoy getting to know the faculty and I would love to be your liaison for all things academic. I have experience running multiple committees and student clubs but my main qualification remains my desire to build up the intellectual environment of our school.
SR: For the past two years I’ve worked to improve our collective law school experience through a variety of initiatives.
I’ve participated in committees, both in first- and second-year, which reviewed the first-year curriculum from both the student and faculty perspectives. The final product of these committees is the proposal to change the 1L Legal Skills Program. The first-year experience is expected to significantly improve with these changes and I want to make sure that it does. My involvement in the process so far gives me a unique perspective with which to discuss the progress of the first-year curriculum with faculty and senior administration moving forward.
I’ve also served as an Editor for Juris Diction, a volunteer and Associate Editor for the Queen’s Law Journal, and as a volunteer for Queen’s Legal Aid. I’m also involved in the LSS Sustainability Committee and am currently serving as the Equity and Diversity Commissioner. My experience serving in these different capacities allows me to take into account the different interests that are at stake when making decisions for the student body and engaging with faculty and senior administration.
JD: What are some of the challenges you see for Queen’s Law right now? How would you tackle one of those challenges?
SC: The lack of a coffee shop in the building! The 10-minute break between class is pretty tight to make it to Starbucks/Mac-Corry and back. Coffee enhances our ability to pay attention in class – it should be easily accessible!
SB: The dissemination of information will always be a challenge. While I believe that the current Council does a wonderful job reaching out to the student body and articulating issues, I still think we should continuing working to keep the pathways of communication open. Emails, Facebook, and bulletin boards are extremely useful tools, but I’d love to see an increase in live discussion. I took part in an LSS coffee chat regarding the potential elimination of the mandatory grading curve for small classes, and the proposed changes to the legal skills and research classes. It was genuinely so awesome to have students stop by and shares their thoughts and stories; I felt like this process significantly contributed to the community problem-solving process. The faculty meetings are important and fascinating and I think it would be great to invite a few non-elected student guests to sit in on each meeting.
NH: Overall, I have a lot of faith in the exceptionality of our school but one aspect I would like to address includes the lack of jurisprudential and philosophical elements in our first-year curriculum. The way I would go about doing this is not only a top-down approach but also to promote student engagement with all that the school has to offer. Legal education goes beyond the classroom. I attend talks and lectures because I go digging for them but I do recognize a lack of promotion for these events, which often host renowned and fascinating scholars. As your VP Academic I would make sure that there is an increase in awareness for these events. Another challenge I will address will be to promote equity and diversity not only in admissions but also throughout and after law school.
The social landscape of Canada is changing and we should make sure that the legal profession reflects this change accordingly.
SR: One of the greatest assets of our law school is its ability to offer so many spaces where a sense of community is reinforced and strengthened. I never expected to create such meaningful friendships with so many people over just two years. I think the greatest challenge that Queen’s Law faces is the ability to reach the full potential of what this community could look like.
I think we can really build on what we have to broaden this sense of collective identity and work together to create more inclusive spaces. Queen’s Law has incredible potential to engage the entire student body and also create spaces where the different micro-communities come together and exemplify a greater sense of what Queen’s Law is all about. I think this is something that will take time and effort but I think the existing clubs can play a role in the process by collaborating on events together — this collaboration could also result in new, innovative ideas that take into account the diversity of students at Queen’s Law.
JD: Answer one of these two questions: 1) If you had to describe your personality in a smoker theme, what would it be? Or 2) Who is your favourite judge of the past or present?
SC: My personality as a smoker theme would be “All you can eat buffet” with an actual buffet – because who doesn’t love greasy food to keep the night going.
SB: I love to have fun and I loathe being hungover for my Faculty Board meetings on Friday mornings. So my personality-themed smoker would be the “Saturday Smoker.”
SR: [My favourite judge is] the late Justice David Vickers. He served as Justice of the BC Supreme Court where he dedicated his efforts to promoting social justice. He had a great deal of empathy for the less fortunate and was dedicated to serving the people whether through criticizing government and corporations or risking his life to protect a client. In one case he was stabbed with a knife while blocking a man attempting to attack a client in the courtroom.
As a lawyer, he advocated for persons with mental disabilities in numerous high-profile cases. He was genuinely interested in helping people and well-aware of the prevalent structural injustice; he found it difficult to give out sentences due to the lack of resources and attention given to individual needs in the prison system.
Justice Vickers issued the landmark trial decision granting title to the Tsilhqot’in native band. His decision was written with a keen appreciation for justice and a profound understanding of the Honour of the Crown and reconciliation. His decision was ultimately confirmed by the Supreme Court setting a groundbreaking ruling in Canadian history.
JD: One of the hot-topic issues with the Faculty Board right now is whether to eliminate the mandatory grade curve for small classes (<10 people). What’s your take on this?
SC: I think classes with fewer than 10 people should not be graded on a curve. With a small group of hardworking students in a class, the difference between a B and an A could be negligible in terms of their objective grades. There isn’t a big enough distribution of grades to have a grading curve that benefits the majority of students, like in bigger classes. It does not seem fair that students who are committed to taking these small classes and receiving a more practical learning experience are deterred from doing so based on anxiety about grades.
SB: I think the elimination of the mandatory grading curve is a good move. I want to live in a world where myself and my nine classmates can all receive the As we deserve.
NH: The elimination of the mandatory grade curve for small classes presents an interesting dilemma for fairness in the law school. I would agree that “mandatory” is problematic to begin with and that this decision should be up to the discretion of a professor. The reality will be that students in a small, presumably specialized class will for the most part have enough knowledge and passion for the subject to be able to do well in that class. Therefore, limiting the As could be unfair. However, it would be unfair as well to abolish the grade curve in some small classes yet keep it in slightly larger classes, therefore allowing for an environment of grade manipulation. I do have concerns over “mandatory” grade curves as a whole yet I don’t want to have a specific position without first consulting both the faculty, the administration, and the student body.
SR: I support the elimination. However, the impact could be minimal if students base their course selection on this new policy and cause an effective elimination of classes under 10 people.
If the intention behind this decision is to prevent the size of a class from limiting the number of potential As given out, I would be more supportive of increasing the number to 20 instead of 10. Even with a 20-student class, the mandatory grade distribution limits the number of students that can get above a B+ to around 5 people, and there are a lot of passionate students in those classes who are likely deserving of As. Professors I’ve spoken to have also voiced that they are arbitrarily limited by what the grade curve allows them to hand out in classes of less than 20 students.
This interview is the fifth and final installment in a series profiling each of the candidates for the 2015-16 LSS Core Elections. The questions were designed by Juris Diction’s election coverage committee, which does not include any of the candidates who sit on either of Juris Diction’s two boards or current members of the LSS Core. The views expressed are those of the candidates only; they have not been edited for content and do not reflect the views of Juris Diction or any of its board members.