Law school controversy raises questions on UNB’s handling

The uproar over the UNB law school dean has potential applicants from St. Thomas students weighing their options.

(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)
(Andrea Bárcenas/AQ)

Jeremy Levitt, who only began his tenure as dean in September, has been on a leave of absence since January. Three female law professors have taken leave since September, leading to scheduling and class cancellations. As well, Janet Austin resigned her position as the associate dean of law. However, she said her resignation is in support of Levitt and his academic vision.

Late last week, the CBC’s Jacques Poitras revealed that two former colleagues of Levitt’s former employer, Florida A&M University, have filed suit against that university, alleging sexism and harassment by Levitt. In a statement, Levitt called the allegations “entirely false, regurgitated, distorted and defamatory.” None of the allegations have been proven in court.

UNB is yet to clarify the situation or soothe student concerns. The administration has been tight-lipped and asked students to be the same. A UNB senate motion to affirm students right to speak freely and be involved in the resolution failed, with a tie vote that featured an abstention from UNB president Eddy Campbell.

“It’s obvious that UNB law has issues and publicly silencing the student population is just going to make things worse,” said fourth-year STU student Megan Russell. “Look at Dal. It’s like universities can’t get their shit together, as if they’re above the public radar.”

Russell is still considering going to law school, but not at UNB. The dean’s list human rights major will most likely pursue a masters in criminology next September.

A number of current and former STU students, including two who recently received acceptance emails from the UNB law program, refused to speak on the record.

“We should never jump to conclusions,” said second-year STU student Brandon LeBlanc of the sexism and harassment allegations. “If someone isn’t found guilty of something, society shouldn’t continue to press them as if they are guilty.”

The Florida charges by the two female professors have not come to trial. Levitt is on a two-year leave of absence from Florida A&M. Both claim Levitt contributed to a hostile environment, and one claims he helped block her advancement within the law faculty because she is a woman.

UNB says it was unaware of the allegations when they hired Levitt.
Levitt stated the complainants were “disgruntled former and current employees.”

“I just think even pre-law students at this school, all we’ve heard is, ‘Someone said this, someone said this, and someone said this,’” fourth-year STU criminology honours student Evan MacKnight said. “We don’t want to be the ones to lay down some statement that would [reflect badly] on us after all the facts come out.”

Some reports from students suggest Levitt wants the school to expand into a boutique international law school. As it stands, the school is known for a balanced legal education and admits about 90 students a year – 12.5 per cent of all applicants.

When announcing his hiring, UNB described Levitt as a world-renowned legal scholar in human rights law and the use of force.

“Not everyone is comfortable with the change that I represent,” Levitt told The Daily Gleaner last week.

For MacKnight, UNB is still his best option for a law school, and he hopes to be accepted soon. He likes the idea of new or more electives.

“I’ve wanted to do law since I was in Grade 5. It’s plan A,” he said. “I only have experience in criminal law at this point but UNB is known for ‘you have to take a bit of everything,’ so to speak, so it’ll be interesting to see if there are some other aspects of law I might enjoy more.”

LeBlanc, who is still more than two years away from his undergraduate degree, doesn’t like the rumoured change in focus, but isn’t condemning UNB just yet.

“Law school is pretty expensive, and UNB is one of the cheapest in Canada. All I can say is [Levitt] knows what he’s talking about. I’d go there anyway,” he said.

“The fact that they’re trying to silence the students I don’t particularly like, but I’ll take it for a grain of salt overall.”

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