Chapter Two: The Heart of Osgoode – Our Students

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Osgoode students bring tremendous energy, exciting ideas, diverse perspectives and experiences and great ambition to their legal studies, and it is those qualities that they will bring to the legal profession. They are the heart of our school and we take great  pride in our student body. The graduates that we produce are an expression of Osgoode’s commitment to academic rigour and creativity, diversity and inclusion, community engagement, and to a legal education that is steeped in a concern for social justice and our dedication to understanding law in context, in theory, and in practice. Over the term of this Plan, as we challenge and support our students through their legal education at Osgoode, pursuit of these commitments in relation to our students and academic programs  will be reflected in a number of strategic priorities and initiatives:

A Commitment to Reconciliation

Osgoode will prioritize efforts and initiatives that will make meaningful and lasting contributions as a law school to the larger Canadian imperative  of Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples envisioned by the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. First and foremost, we are committed to listening to Indigenous communities, students, and scholars about what role Osgoode can play and what steps it should take to serve a leadership role amongst Canadian law schools in this transformative   process.

Building upon past initiatives to enhance our commitment to Indigenous legal studies — such as the Intensive Program in Aboriginal Lands, Resources & Governments and the Anishinaabe Law Camp offered at Neyaashiinigmiing (Cape Croker, Ontario) in collaboration with the Chippewas of Nawash — Osgoode is committed to strengthening and deepening ties with Indigenous communities and ensuring that curricular reform and course development emphasizes thoughtful and deep engagement with Indigenous legal traditions and Indigenous justice issues. Our commitment to reconciliation includes, centrally, enhancing accessibility and support for Indigenous students at Osgoode and our hope is that closer relations with local Indigenous communities and governments will help us to develop supportive links for our students with leaders and Elders in those communities.

Accessibility

As outlined in the introduction to this Plan, the Osgoode community views accessibility as a cross- cutting goal for the Law School over the next three years. Dedication to improving accessibility has a broad set of implications for our program, involving admissions, financial support, and curricular design. In 2007, Osgoode’s admissions policy was substantially revamped, adopting a holistic approach aimed at ensuring that we had the most diverse and accomplished student body possible, and subsequent reviews of that policy and student experience has suggested the policy has had positive effects. Osgoode remains committed to better realizing the vision of a student body that is reflective of the diverse backgrounds and experiences found in Toronto — and Canada more broadly — and will pursue that goal through enhanced outreach to underrepresented communities and developing innovative approaches to reducing barriers to law school, such as our Access to Law and Learning (ALL) program and our collaboration with Law in Action Within Schools  (LAWS).

Osgoode is also committed to providing educational opportunities to qualified internationally-trained lawyers and law students through non-degree and professional graduate programs.

The high cost of tuition is a serious barrier to access to legal education. Financial barriers threaten Osgoode’s ambition to inclusivity and commitment to social justice through law. Additionally, the links between rising tuition and rising student debt jeopardize student mental health, wellness and academic success. For these reasons, Osgoode will expand existing initiatives and develop new approaches to increase financial accessibility to law school.  These may include:

  • Taking a leadership role amongst law schools in advocating for increased public investment in accessible legal education so that Law School tuition increases can be reduced or reversed;
  • Providing tuition transparency so Osgoode students can see how tuition revenues support the academic program and student success, and where tuition reduction might be possible;
  • Extending and expanding our newly-implemented Income Contingent Loan Program so that more students can study first, and pay tuition only when their post-graduation income permits;
  • Expanding the value and number of Wendy Babcock Graduation Bursaries;
  • Prioritizing accessibility in our development and advancement efforts, including funds for both front-end scholarships and in-program bursaries, in pursuit of a goal of growing the total endowment for financial assistance by 10% over the next five years; and
  • Pursuing new, recurring sources of operational funding that can replace tuition revenue so that tuition increases can be reduced or reversed.

A commitment to accessibility also involves innovation in program design, course delivery, and evaluation methods. While our commitment encompasses addressing all barriers to accessibility, we are particularly mindful of the challenges faced by law students with disabilities. During the term of this Plan, as Osgoode continues to strengthen its accommodation practices and policies, the Law School is committed to having accessibility for all students inform curricular design and innovation, moving incrementally towards principles of “universal design” in the provision of our curriculum and approaches to student evaluation, so that the need for accommodations is minimized. This will also require developing approaches to accommodation and accessibility suited to our clinical and intensive programs. A centrepiece of universal design is involving users in all aspects of the design process.

Mental Health and Wellness

Over the term of the Experience Osgoode Plan, Osgoode assumed a leadership role in integrating attention to issues of mental health and wellness into the life of a law school. Expanding its resources dedicated to supporting the mental health of wellness of students, Osgoode appointed its first Student Success and Wellness Counsellor and played a central role in initiatives aimed at assisting law students across the country, like justbalance.ca.

Sensitive to the salience of mental health and wellness issues within the legal profession, Osgoode is committed to continuing to lead Canadian law schools in adopting innovative approaches to enhancing the wellbeing and resiliency of its JD and graduate students, preparing them for healthy and enriching careers.

Osgoode will continue to invest in, expand, and enrich Osgoode’s proactive and reactive supports and resources for student mental health and wellness, aiming to make attention to mental health and wellness an essential part of curricular reform and program development, including additional capacity for the Office of Student Success and Wellness, and roles for Osgoode’s alumni in supporting Osgoode students making the transition from Law School to legal  careers.

Academic Success and Support

With the newly-configured position of Associate Dean (Students), Osgoode has continued to develop its Academic Success Program supporting students with skills development, academic counselling, and learning resources in their first year of studies.

During the term of this strategic plan, the Associate Dean (Students) will build upon the growth in the 1L Academic Success Program by enhancing learning supports to upper-year students. In particular, Osgoode will provide increased writing supports for our JD students to support our upper-year  writing requirements and will provide greater assistance to students in presenting and publishing their research through writing workshops and the JD Research Symposium, organized by the Osgoode Hall Law Journal and the Associate Dean  (Students).

Osgoode will also enhance its support and advising for students’ upper-year academic program planning, helping them to navigate our incredibly rich curriculum and craft a program suited to their professional and learning goals.

Curricular Reform

The period of our last strategic plan saw the implementation of a new upper-year curriculum, involving a new universal praxicum requirement, greater focus on research and writing, and emphasizing the integration of theory and practice.

Over the next three years, Osgoode will engage in a first-year curriculum review and reform, seeking to refresh and renew our approach to the critical first year of law school. This reform will seek to ensure that our first-year curriculum is well integrated with our upper-year program, is responsive  to changes in the legal environment, and continues to reflect Osgoode’s values and vision of legal education. Across our curriculum we will encourage innovation in digital learning and course delivery, explore best practices in methods of student evaluation, and continue to build our offerings of supplemental learning opportunities (for example, our “Leading and Learning” series that offers mini- courses such as “Legal Terminology in French” and “Business Fundamentals”) to give students the ability to add skills and knowledge to their core curriculum.

New courses in “Legal Information Technology” and “Beyond Bay Street: Starting up a Sole or Small Practice” provide students with more exposure to the realities and possibilities of legal practice.

Overall, our objective is to ensure that our JD program continues to produce outstanding law graduates who are excellent researchers and writers; flexible and adaptable in a rapidly-changing legal services environment; with a broad sense of the nature, ends, and social and political context of law; and able to relate theory to practice and practice to theory.

As discussed in several roundtables and retreats on Indigenization, and further to the commitment to Reconciliation and responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, Osgoode will, through our Faculty governance mechanisms, develop an inclusive curriculum that both explores Indigenous approaches to law and the impact of other legal systems on Indigenous communities.

Graduate Education at Osgoode

As they pursue their advanced education in law, supervised and mentored by our full-time faculty, Osgoode’s research-stream graduate students play a key role in the life of the School, producing scholarship that advances debates across diverse areas of law, contributing to our JD curriculum, and enriching our research culture. Our commitment to the success of our students will include efforts to strengthen the culture of supervision amongst our faculty, and to support students in timely completion of degree milestones.

As our Research-Stream Graduate program continues to strengthen and evolve, Osgoode will seek to reduce the financial burden of graduate school on our students by promoting existing endowments and scholarships within the Faculty, by encouraging them in the pursuit of prestigious scholarships  and fellowships, and by working with faculty to build financial support and training for graduate students into faculty grant applications. By providing more financial support, we can reduce the necessity for paid work and enhance opportunities for the timely completion of dissertations and theses. We will also provide support to students in developing a variety of skills necessary for success, beyond excellence and innovation in their written work. We will offer guidance as supervisors and as a program as students develop their academic networks, the opportunities and skills to present and disseminate their work, and personal approaches to pedagogy. We will provide scaffolding and support as they work to identify and build these and other professional skills which are suited to their individual career plans.

Our professional graduate programs, offered through Osgoode Professional Development (OsgoodePD), continue to provide a rich variety of graduate education opportunities for Canadian and internationally-trained lawyers and law graduates, as well as qualified executives and professionals without a prior law degree, seeking to explore new areas of legal knowledge or open up new career opportunities. As we continue to enrich these programs, we will improve our preparatory courses and tools, including online resources, and will increase online, simulated, and problem-based learning and course content across our Professional LLM curriculums. Seeking to support our students through  their studies and into their careers, we will also enhance career development and personal counselling resources for our Full-Time Professional LLM  students.

Beyond degree programs, OsgoodePD offers a wealth of Certificates and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) conferences, in diverse areas from mental health law to mining law, from securities law to the law of search and seizure, and that represents yet another way that Osgoode engages with and supports communities. OsgoodePD is in the midst of an ambitious plan to enhance the flexibility and options in its CPD offerings, including more on-line and hybrid course offerings, and customized certificates and programs developed in collaboration with a broad array of organizations.

An Integrated Student Community

Graduate and JD students at Osgoode wish to see the greater integration of these strong and diverse student communities.  With the arrival on main campus of OsgoodePD’s Full-Time LLM students, we are presented with even greater opportunities for students at varieties of stages in their legal educations, and from diverse backgrounds, to learn with and from one another.

Whether through academic opportunities, research collaboration, or other forms of mentorship, Osgoode will pursue means of facilitating the interaction between JD and graduate students in order to achieve a more integrated student community. As our clinical and intensive offerings have grown and deepened, creating this integrated student community also involves working to ensure that students who are involved in off-campus experiences continue to feel connected to the resources and services, and involved in academic life, at Osgoode.

Additionally, we will aim to better integrate all Osgoode students with the York community, both to take advantage of additional networks, shared commitments and resources, and in order to contribute to the strength and success of the University.

Ongoing Leadership in Experiential Education

As outlined in Chapter 1, the period of the Experience Osgoode Plan saw significant growth and pedagogical innovation in our experiential curriculum, including in our intensive and clinical programming. Guided by exceptional faculty teachers and researchers, our Office of Experiential Education, and our Clinical Education Committee, Osgoode leads thinking and practice in experiential approaches to legal education in Canada.

In the next three years, our priority will shift to evaluating, consolidating, and ensuring the sustainability and accessibility of our experiential offerings and initiatives, focusing on supporting our existing programs, the students who participate in them, the partners with which we work, and the communities that we serve.

Osgoode will explore new approaches to assessment in our experiential learning programs and undertake an assessment of the Osgoode Public Interest Requirement (OPIR), seeking to strengthen the OPIR program and enhance its contributions to the objectives set out in this Plan.

Student Engagement in the Community

As an essential aspect of our dedication to community engagement, discussed in Chapter 4, Osgoode is committed to cultivating law graduates who are dedicated to serving, contributing to, and strengthening the communities in which they live and work as legal professionals. We will invest energy and resources in creating and supporting opportunities for students to make community engagement a central part of their legal educations.

Osgoode’s leading clinical and intensive programs have, for over 45 years since the founding of the Intensive Program in Poverty Law with Parkdale Community Legal Services, provided the catalyst for Osgoode’s collaborative community engagement.

We continue to support our current programs, encompassing 18 clinical or intensive programs, including the recently established Environmental Justice and Sustainability Clinical Program  (EJSCP), the Feminist Advocacy clinical initiative with the Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic, the International and Transnational Law Intensive Program (ITLIP), the Refugee Sponsorship Support Program Directed Research Project, the Community Organizing and the Law, and CLASP’s two new clinical divisions in the areas of family law and employment law.

We will focus on strengthening our relationships with Indigenous communities, communities in the part of Toronto that Osgoode calls home, and communities, like Parkdale, with which we have longstanding partnerships. While exploring new opportunities, we will ensure that we sustain support for our existing community partnerships. We will also remain committed to facilitating student engagement in global communities through programs such as Osgoode’s International Legal Partnership, the Justice & Corporate Accountability Project in Latin America, and   ITLIP.

Career Development Office

With students facing a rapidly evolving legal services sector, Osgoode will invest additional resources into an expanded and responsive Career Development Office (CDO) that can provide tailored support for the diverse needs and career goals of the Osgoode student body, including the following commitments:.

  • We will enhance and modernize existing career development supports and online
  • The CDO will, of course, continue to build new — and strengthen existing — relationships with prospective employers in all sectors and at the local, national and global
  • The CDO will also work to improve data collection about student career outcomes to help to identify systemic challenges that students face in the job market, and to implement strategies to address those

In order to achieve these goals, additional resources are needed. Osgoode is committed to enhancing the capacity of the CDO to better serve Osgoode students’ needs. The measure of the success of the CDO will be our students’ succession a diverse range of career settings.

The Law Library

Building upon its history as one of the finest law libraries in the common law world, our Library has evolved into an innovative hub for engaging with legal knowledge in all of its forms, playing an essential role in supporting students and faculty in their learning, teaching, and research, and helping to advance all of Osgoode’s strategic goals.  The Library serves not just as a virtual and physical   space for accessing legal information, but a site for study, collaboration, exploration, and a place to encounter art, exhibitions, and other expressions of knowledge.

Over the next three years, as we continue to enhance the resources and group and individual spaces available to our students — and as our librarians continue to provide students and faculty with expert training, direction, and advice in their research and study — the Library will prioritize support for advancements in scholarly communication and will provide leadership and resources for digital initiatives at the Law School, including the use of technology in the classroom. Osgoode remains committed to maintaining the existing level of support for the Library and its collection and to expanding that support where possible.