As a Law School fortunate enough to have a newly renovated law school building, this is a time of celebration, optimism and enthusiasm at Osgoode. But in the midst of enjoying state-of-the-art learning facilities and fabulous student spaces, a new issue has emerged – signs have begun appearing (with more to come) naming the various spaces in the Law School for the individuals, law firms and organizations whose donations – along with significant government and University funding – made the building possible. Does seeking out and recognizing the donors to the Building Osgoode campaign enhance or diminish the Law School?
I am deeply committed to the public interest mandate of our Law School. But where public funding is not sufficient to deliver the highest quality educational experience to our students, meeting that gap through partnerships with those in the broader public sector and private sector who believe in Osgoode’s approach to legal education strikes me as both necessary and desirable.
Osgoode has staked out a path with a distinctive approach to legal education which reflects intellectual engagement, a pedagogy of problem-solving and experiential learning. In 2006, Osgoode became the first law school in Canada to ensure every JD student has a public interest experience (whether through our new collaboration with LAWS in our neighbouring high schools, through PBSC placements in the community, around the world through International Legal Partnership (ILP) or through work with our legal assistance clinics, Parkdale and CLASP). The purpose of this program is to give every law student firsthand experience of how law can improve society. In 2012, Osgoode will become the first law school in the country to ensure every JD student’s has an experiential dimension to their curriculum (and this year have launched two ambitious new intensive programs in Intellectual Property and Anti-Discrimination Law). These are the kind of initiatives that define a law school. A building can also define a law school. The window-free, brick-filled, old Osgoode building had fallen out of sync with our pedagogy and our aspirations. The new Osgoode building, filled with light, wired for the 21st Century, with an array of reimagined, student-oriented spaces, now reflects and reinforces the emphasis at Osgoode on legal education that is engaged and community focused.
While donors may and likely do have a range of motivations for giving to a law school, I believe that when a classroom is named, a Chair endowed or a program funded, we are better able to realize our vision. I believe passionately in the model of legal education which Osgoode is pursuing, and so, in my view, we should celebrate those who provide the resources which we need to provide the best possible student experience. As I pass by a donor’s name on a classroom or plaques on the walls of the Law School, it is a reminder that our aspirations are shared, and that our success turns on collaboration.
By the same token, however, by putting an individual, firm or organization’s name on any part of our building, Osgoode lends its credibility and stature to that person, firm or organization. This dynamic is heightened where a private donor names the school itself, as occurred at Dalhousie University where the Schulich School of Law was named in 2009. Should law schools only take the name of public figures – such as Osgoode Hall Law School (named for William Osgoode, the first Chief Justice of Upper Canada – who of course now has his own Facebook page)? Is a University less of a public institution because it was named after a private individual who lived two centuries ago, such as James McGill, whose bequest established McGill University in 1821?
Clearly, there are certain people, firms and organizations from whom we would not accept support. This determination, however, is not an uncomplicated one. UCLA’s Law School is embroiled in a controversy at the moment involving former securities trader Lowell Milken, who was caught up, along with his brother Michael, in regulatory prosecutions arising from junk bond trading in the 1980s. In the deal that followed, Michael Milken pleaded guilty and the Government dropped criminal charges against his brother Lowell. Lowell Milken has provided $10 million to endow a new Centre for Business and Law at UCLA (from which he is a graduate), and a member of the law school’s faculty has written to the President of the University of California in protest asserting that the gift will damage her professional and personal reputation. As such experience demonstrates, relationships with private donors have real and lasting benefits for public Universities but are not without risks.
The distinction between public and private money is also not straightforward. While some funding flows from a direct allocation from Government or a direct gift from a private donor, it is becoming more common to find funding that is both public and private – for example, the Law Foundation of Ontario provides substantial annual funding to all Ontario law schools, including Osgoode, from the interest on client funds held by lawyers in trust accounts which are governed by statute. The funds are private, the mechanism of aggregating them is public and the statutory mandate of the LFO is, in part, to advance legal education and research. In cases such as the LFO, distinguishing public and private funds may simply obscure more than it reveals. Similarly, public and private funds are often paired with public, as in the Ontario Government’s recent program to match donations of over $12,500.00 to create bursaries in the private donor’s name (though again, this is more complicated, as many of these private donations flow out of class reunions, and are named for the class rather than any individual or family).
The use of public funds to incent or amplify private funding has been subject to criticism, including by my colleague Neil Brooks and Linda McQuaig. They lament that we give too little recognition to Government who, on behalf of the public, provide not only much of the operating funding for Universities but also substantial funding for capital projects, all for too little recognition in the naming of buildings. They may be right (though others might argue that using taxpayer dollars on public projects for the benefit of taxpayers is rewarded in other ways).
For a law school like Osgoode to realize our aspirations, we need partners of many kinds. We need gifted teachers to give of their time for modest compensation as our adjunct faculty (and some donate even that back to the Law School). Others devote their time as mentors, speakers and Board members. In a thoughtful piece in Osgoode’s student paper, Obiter Dicta, Nick Van Duyvenbode asks whether we lose something important by valuing those who provide material resources more than other kinds of contributors.
While we do not put the names of adjunct professors, mentors and speakers on our walls (though perhaps we should dedicate a wall or two to this kind of recognition!), their impact on our students and our community is enormous. Here too, the reality does not lend itself to easy or stark dichotomies. For example, Osgoode received a generous private donation to launch a history and archives project. Part of that project will be a digital exhibit in the new building called “Catalysts” dedicated to the graduates from Osgoode who broke through barriers and blazed a trail for others, such as Clara Brett Martin, the first woman called to the bar in the Commonwealth, Kew Dock Yip, the first Chinese Canadian lawyer, Bora Laskin, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, and George Carter, the first black Judge born in Canada. This exhibit will enable Osgoode to tell the stories that matter most, and will eventually draw on funding from a variety of sources – but it was a visionary donor who made it possible.
I believe the way forward is to search for a principled balance – seeking out donors who share the Law School’s goals, are willing to invest their resources in realizing those goals, and understand the values they are buying into. My hope is that those partners feel great pride in their association with Osgoode, and that this pride is reciprocated. We should never lose sight of the fundamentally public character of legal education, nor can legal education in this place and time be pursued in isolation.
p.s. I would like to acknowledge the generous sponsorship of the many people, organizations and entities who have made this post possible, but they know who they are…