Martin Phillipson: Q&A with the incoming dean
As he prepares for his new role as dean, long-time College of Law faculty member Martin Phillipson answers some questions about himself, the college and his hopes for the future.
Tell readers a bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in the city of Newcastle upon Tyne in North-East England and did my LLB at Leicester University, graduating in 1989. I then came to Canada and the University of Saskatchewan to do my LLM, finishing in 1991. My first teaching position was at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University (1991-1992), I then held tenured positions at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand (1992-1995) and the Australian National University in Canberra (1995-1999). I came back to the U of S and joined the faculty at the College of Law in 1999. I have taught a wide range of subjects including property, international law, environmental law, international environmental law and intellectual property. My research interests lie in the area of biotechnology law with a particular focus on the impact of GMOs on various aspects of domestic and international legal and regulatory systems.
I am married with three children, all of whom were born in Saskatoon. They all think I talk funny.
You’ve held a number of roles at the U of S, including vice-provost of organizational restructuring for the College of Medicine, acting vice-provost, faculty relations, and associate dean of research and graduate studies at the College of Law. How have those experiences prepared you for your role as dean?
I think a key aspect of the dean’s job is to both set and manage expectations. The dean of a professional school serves a broad range of stakeholders including, students, faculty, alumni, senior university administration, the bar and government. Before you can properly meet and manage expectations you need to have a clear understanding of what they are. My range of administrative experiences has brought me into contact with all of these groups and I feel that I have gained a solid understanding of their various, and often divergent, expectations. I have also built strong relationships with key members of these communities that will be essential in building the college’s reputation and partnerships. In addition, I have a thorough understanding of university governance, collective agreements and collegial processes. The dean plays a key role in helping students, faculty and staff navigate these processes. However, I think my experience in the College of Medicine will prove to be the most useful in terms of preparing me to be dean. A major part of my role was to articulate a vision for the future of the College of Medicine and to begin the process of implementing that vision. For an organization to be successful it must have a clear sense of where it is headed. I will ensure that the College of Law sets a strong vision for itself and will do my utmost to ensure that the support and resources are available to the college to realize that vision. I will also ensure that discussion and debate on setting that vision will include current students, alumni and the profession. They must have a strong voice in this process.
You have said that your highest priority as dean will be to maintain and build the college’s profile as a top law school in Canada. What is the first thing you will do in order to accomplish this?
The College of Law, and its graduates, have an excellent reputation across Canada. We are regarded as a good school that produces outstanding graduates that the legal profession wants to hire. Similarly, we are a school that, for over a century, has continually had some of the leading scholars in Canada on its faculty. However, I think in a very Saskatchewan way we don’t make enough noise about what we do, nor are we bold enough in asking for support when we need it, (be it financial or otherwise). My first job will be to ensure that we maintain our solid reputation while ensuring people know exactly what goes on here. We do great things here and more people need to know that.
You have mentioned that the college is well established in the area of Aboriginal law and that it will be at the forefront of the indigenization of our campus. Can you elaborate on that?
The Native Law Centre is one of the leading Aboriginal Law institutes in Canada and has set most of the Aboriginal lawyers in Canada on their way. It is one of the things that sets us apart from the other law schools in Canada. Roger Carter’s decision to establish the Native Law Centre 1975 was truly visionary and way ahead of its time. The new president of the U of S has stated that “indigenizing” the campus is one of his key priorities for the university. The college has an unparalleled record in this regard and we simply must be a leading player in assisting the university to meet its goals in this area. We need to educate and inform students both within the College of Law and across the entire campus about Indigenous legal traditions and Aboriginal law and policy. We have a key role to play in the future development of the University of Saskatchewan and in that regard the time is now.
What do you see as the College of Law’s biggest challenge within the next five years?
I prefer to see challenges as opportunities. We have several, including obtaining enough resources, which is not an easy task in times of fiscal austerity. I have already mentioned the key role the Native Law Centre needs to play in the next five years. However, I think the biggest challenge is to ensure that we maintain a high-quality JD program, one that produces graduates the profession continues to covet, while also innovating enough to prepare our graduates for work in a rapidly changing profession. Our biggest challenge is to strike the appropriate balance between those two aims.
Where do you see the College of Law in five years?
I hope it will be seen as a college with an enhanced reputation and one with a clear direction and focus. A college with a clear sense of self.
What piece of advice would you give to someone who is about to enter their first year of studies at the College of Law?
I always used to tell my first-year property students that the hardest thing about law school is getting in and the second hardest thing is getting through first year. I would tell them that they are incredibly fortunate to be coming to a wonderful law school with a unique history and culture, and that they should seize the opportunity presented to them with both hands. I would also tell them that your professional career starts now. Have fun, but stay classy.
Who do you look to for advice and who are your role models?
By the time this piece is published I will have visited deans at five other law schools in Canada. I think you need to talk to people who are actually doing the job. I also firmly believe that legal academia in Canada is a team sport, not a competition. All of the law schools have a common interest in ensuring we provide our students with the best preparation possible. We face common challenges and should co-operate, share experiences and support each other. In addition, I will be seeking the advice of my predecessors. I have left them alone for now, but that will not last! My experiences in senior administration at the U of S have also provided me with a network of friends and colleagues all across campus including, other deans, administrative staff, vice-presidents, etcetera, that I can rely on for advice and support.
2016 represents my 25th year as a professor, and I have worked all across the world serving under many many deans and administrators so it’s really difficult to pick out certain individuals. I think my role model is probably a composite of several of them but I would not be here today if it wasn’t for the advice, help and support of a recently retired colleague Professor Marie-Ann Bowden. She was my LLM supervisor when I arrived at the College of Law as a grad student in 1991. She taught me how to be an academic and throughout her career was a great teacher, scholar, mentor and friend to me and many many others in the college and across the country. If ever there was a role model to follow in this line of work it would be Marie-Ann.
What do you do in your spare time away from the U of S?
In my spare time I am chair of my children’s home and school association, president of the Saskatoon Jazz Orchestra and president of a soccer club here in Saskatoon. I play soccer year round. I am also a big music fan. I love to cook and am an avid wine collector. I also love classic movies.
What are you currently reading?
The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham—a classic of modern English literature about a man’s search for meaning and enlightenment. It’s brilliantly written. I don’t read enough for pleasure and am trying to rectify that.
What is something about yourself that readers may be surprised to learn?
I am a drummer and am also an obsessive fan of Rush, the greatest rock band in the history of the universe.
Fill in the blank: When my time as dean is over, I will have considered my deanship successful if_______________.
I have helped the students, faculty and staff that I serve achieve their personal goals and aspirations by providing them the resources, structures, support and encouragement that they need to be successful. Fundamentally, the dean’s job is to create an environment where people can flourish.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2016 edition of of NOTE. Phillipson began his five-year term as dean on July 1, 2016.