Reflections on Michael Mandel

On October 27, 2013, Professor Michael Mandel died and a singular voice went silent. Not really, though, since Michael’s ideas and convictions live on both in his many writings, speeches and lectures, and in the many students, scholars, advocates and activists whose work has been enriched by his influence and inspiration.

I first encountered Michael as his student in 1991. I was in second year at Osgoode and after a legal education concerned primarily at that point with absorbing legal doctrine, Michael’s Legal Politics class, his critical stance on the Charter of Rights and his examination of the political and ideological underpinnings of the justice system, was a refreshing tonic. Michael was not interested in students just parroting his ideas but looked to them to form their own ideas. His lectures were electric, eclectic and engaging and the discussion that followed was never boring.

Michael also taught a summer version of the course in the Political Science Department and gave me a job as his Teaching Assistant. This was my first experiencing being involved in teaching legal subject matter and I was hooked.  Michael was a valued mentor for the rest of my law school years and the years of graduate studies that followed.

When I began teaching at Osgoode in 1997, Michael was one of the most welcoming colleagues. Our offices were on the same floor, so I often heard Michael singing down the hallways. He was regularly participating in Osgoode’s exchange program in Italy at this time and often had stories to share about what Canada could learn about political argumentation.  This was a period in which Michael’s attentions were shifting from the domestic justice system, and the Charter, to the international justice system, and war crimes. The Kosovo military campaign by NATO, in particular, galvanized Michael’s attention and passion.

After spending close to a decade at the University of Toronto, I returned to Osgoode as Dean in 2010 not knowing what to expect from Michael. We had not kept in touch regularly during my years at U of T., though I would run into him every few months at the Harbord Bakery. I heard he had grown disengaged at Osgoode.  Whether or not that was the case, his greeting to me was one of the warmest, and he turned out to be the first Osgoode colleague to invite me to his home (for a lovely Hannukah celebration).

In my time back at Osgoode as Dean, Michael was not shy in voicing his disagreement with some of the policies we have pursued, particularly his opposition to the naming of classrooms and other spaces in the renovated Osgoode building, which he felt diminished the public character of the Law School. He also objected on principle to any programs with “Dean” in the title, whether the Dean’s Fellow program or the Dean’s Key given out to outstanding graduating students, as he believed it diminished the egalitarian quality of the Osgoode community. His convictions always made me think, and will continue to shape Osgoode’s distinctive character.

Michael will be missed by so many colleagues at Osgoode for so many reasons. I will miss Michael’s love of storytelling, and his easy smile (even in, and especially in the midst of an animated disagreement). Many also will be grateful to Michael for so much of what he gave.  I know this because I have more than most to be grateful for.