The Life of a Law Professor in Kingston
The Queen’s Law “community”.
An inescapable fish bowl? Or a home away from home? Depends on who you ask.
Studying law in the city of Kingston undoubtedly leaves its mark on students. Basic social interaction is markedly different than for those who opt to study law in a city like Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal. Some would describe it as a beautiful family-like co-dependence while others would describe it as a regression to petty high school politics.
Perhaps the most neutral way to describe it is: It’s intense. For better or for worse.
The purpose of this article, however, is not to delve into how Kingston has impacted the lives of law students. This article is about how Kingston has impacted the lives of the Queen’s Law Faculty. What is the life of a law professor living in Kingston like? Are they yearning to be in a larger city? Are they content?
I was curious, so I asked two professors. One who has lived in Kingston for over 40 years. One who has been here for less than 2 years.
Professor Lisa Kerr
Professor Lisa Kerr teaches Criminal Law and Sentencing and Imprisonment. She has lived in Kingston since 2015. In her short time here she has become highly involved at Queen’s Law outside of teaching. She is the Director of the Queen’s Law Moot Program, she is engaged in the development of the Prison Law Clinic, she is co-coaching the Gale Moot team and was part of organizing the first ever Grand Moot this year.
In her free time, Professor Kerr does yoga and plays some next-level squash. She has made it clear she would be “happy to play any student” so if you’re in the mood to get eviscerated then definitely contact her.
Originally from Vancouver, Professor Kerr moved to Kingston from Brooklyn, New York after spending several years working on an LLM and doctorate at NYU. She was comfortable stating that her social life has changed radically. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
“If I was in a bigger city I would be coping with far more demands on my time. I would likely be commuting, paying a small fortune for housing and engaged in my lifelong habit of excessive socializing. In Kingston, I like that I can walk from my little 1880s house to my classroom in 15 minutes.”
Professor Kerr believes living in Kingston as a junior scholar allows her to focus more on her work. She is not exhausted at the end of the day from urban demands. She still has the chance to meet with leading academics and practitioners who visit Queen’s to give lectures and seminars. Living in Kingston means she has the time and energy to connect with visitors in a meaningful way.
I asked Professor Kerr if she ever stayed away from particular Kingston establishments specifically to avoid students. Her answer was a decisive “never”. In fact, she was surprised she didn’t run into students more often, but then realized maybe that was because she only ever goes to Home Depot, Tara Foods, yoga and 4 restaurants. In the words of Professor Kerr: “I am elderly and I don’t go to night clubs”.
Professor Kerr acknowledges that she travels a lot as an academic – giving lectures, attending conferences and doing pro bono legal work. She is not in Kingston all the time. But when she is, she appreciates that life revolves around the law school and a tight-knit community of colleagues. She was also impressed by the turnout at the recent Women’s Day March in Market Square: “it’s a bit homogenous here, but people seem to have big hearts and good values”. At this time, Kingston seems to be an ideal environment for her as a new professor. She is “living a simple life” where her main daily goals are to get writing done, manage emails and read a good novel. “If I do that every day – plus a little laundry – that brings me joy”.
Professor Don Stuart
Professor Don Stuart teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure and Evidence. He is also the Chair of the Academic Standing Committee and has lived in Kingston since 1975.
Professor Stuart loves swimming, canoeing, golfing in the summer evenings and cottaging by the water. But when I asked him what activity he enjoys the most outside of Queen’s Law, his answer was unequivocal: “I am enjoying getting even more close to my wife, Pam – my best friend these past 48 years”.
Professor Stuart believes there is an advantage living in Kingston. It’s a great place to bring up children, it’s nice to be 5 minutes from work and there is an atmosphere of “community” here that does not exist at every law faculty.
However, over the past 40 years, Professor Stuart has noticed some changes at Queen’s Law that have diluted the “community atmosphere”.
In 1975, more faculty members lived in Kingston instead of commuting. He states that this may be because the partners of professors cannot get jobs in Kingston as easily now and commuting is the only option. In Professor Stuart’s opinion, another factor that may diminish the sense of community at Queen’s Law is the increased class size. He reflected on how a majority of Faculty used to attend Grad Formal and now it is only a student event.
Another change Professor Stuart noticed is the atmosphere on the 5th floor. Professors did not work at home in the 1970s because there was no access to computers. Now, more faculty members prefer to work at home and in the summer the 5th floor is virtually empty.
There was a decisive moment in Professor Stuart’s life when he learned something important about himself while working at home. One Saturday afternoon, when his children were younger, he was trying to get some work done. His children were laughing and playing and instead of joining them, he turned to them and said “Shut up – I am trying to work!”. He knew – as soon as the words left his mouth – that something was not right and he was prioritizing work over his children. For Professor Stuart, there is value in separating work from home.
Despite the changes to the Queen’s Law community, Professor Stuart acknowledges that there is still something different about Queen’s Law compared to other schools. The students and faculty at University of Toronto or Osgoode are more “business-like”. According to Professor Stuart, “there is something about proximity that makes a difference – having people physically in the building more often…there’s something special about that”.
One thing is clear: learning, teaching and researching the law in Kingston is a highly immersive experience. This immersion seems to be the source of both great joy and great anguish for law students. For the professors, however, the unique community of Queen’s Law helps them focus on the things that truly matter to them – both as academics and as individuals outside of law. It appears that students and professors share the following sentiment about living in Kingston across the board: the luxury of a stress-free commute.
Professor Lisa Kerr’s Recommendations:
1. Juniper Café
2. Pat’s Restaurant
3. Curry Original
4. Pilot House
5. Old Farm Fine Foods
Professor Don Stuart’s Recommendations:
1. Casa Domenico
4. Thai House
Harshi Mann (3L) is Opinions Editor for Juris Diction.