Meet the New Law Dean

Mark Walters, Law’89
Photo by Greg Black
Mark Walters, Law’89
Photo by Greg Black

Mark Walters, Law’89, is recognized as one of Canada’s leading scholars in public and constitutional law, legal history, and legal theory. His work on the rights of Indigenous peoples, focused on treaty relations between the Crown and Canada’s Indigenous nations, has been cited by the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as by courts in Australia and New Zealand. 

For the past three years, he’s held the distinguished F.R. Scott Chair in Public and Constitutional Law at McGill’s Faculty of Law. For the 17 years before that, he was a faculty member at Queen’s Law, where he led the 2008 launch of the school’s doctoral program and co-chaired the committee that developed its 2014-19 strategic plan. Previously, he taught at Oxford University after practising law Toronto in the area of Aboriginal title and treaty rights.

What’s also interesting about his close connection with Queen’s Law is the fact that he literally wrote the scholarly paper chronicling the school’s first five decades in celebration of its 50th anniversary in 2007. As of July 1, he begins his five-year appointment as Dean of Law, he will figuratively write the next chapter in the storied history of Queen’s Law.  

As he takes the helm at his alma mater, Dean Walters shares his thoughts and his plans for the school and its community members.   

How do you feel about being appointed Dean of Queen’s Law?

MW: I’m thrilled to return to Queen’s to lead the law school in the next phase of its remarkable development. It will be a privilege to work with faculty, staff, and students who are committed to excellence and innovation in legal education and research and passionate about law’s promise in building a more just society.

What attracted you to the position?

MW: Queen’s Law is in an enviable position. I’ve always been impressed by the people who make the school a true community. What also impresses me is that this community has set an ambitious path forward: to be a leader in innovative legal education and scholarship with a global reach. The law school has solid foundations and proud traditions, and it has expanded its faculty complement significantly and launched important new initiatives. Leading the school at this important moment is an exciting opportunity.

What did you do to prepare for your new role?  

MW: I begin today, but my work started on March 28, when my appointment was announced. I was in close touch with Bill Flanagan, and we planned a smooth transition. Over the past few months, I met with as many people in the Queen’s Law community as possible. I attended the Queen’s Law alumni event in Toronto on May 23; the international law conference and celebration of Bill’s deanship at “the Castle,” the Bader International Study Centre in England, on May 30-31; and the Kingston alumni reception on June 19. I also met the members of the advisory board of the Queen’s Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace in June.

As Dean, what will you do first?

MW: The first thing I’ll do is to meet the new faculty members. Since I left three years ago, Queen’s Law has engaged in a remarkable expansion, and almost one-third of the faculty are new. I’m astounded by the quality of legal scholars who have joined Queen’s Law, both before and after my departure. I’ll enjoy getting to know the new faculty and learning about their research, and I can’t wait to reconnect with my wonderful former colleagues.

What are your top priorities?

MW: My priorities, I’m sure, are the priorities of all members of the Queen’s Law community. When I picture Queen’s Law, I see a legal-academic community with a passionate commitment to serving society through innovative legal education and groundbreaking research. It’s a school that advances critical understanding about law and the value of legality among the leaders of tomorrow – in the private and public sectors and at the local, national, and international levels. It’s a school that embraces the ideals of inclusion and diversity and, in particular, the goal of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. These are lofty sentiments, I know.

At a practical level, my priority is to work with faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends of Queen’s Law to develop a strategic plan for the next five years that gives these abstract aspirations concrete shape. One important part of this plan will be to address the hard reality that the school must have more financial resources to pursue its dreams. The priority, then, is to develop a plan for success through broad consultation — and then to implement it.

You’ve returned 30 years after your graduation. What has impressed you most about changes in the school over that time? What do you find has stayed the same?

MW: One of my proudest moments was obtaining my law degree in the spring of 1989. The previous three years were a time of intellectual awakening for me. My professors may have disagreed about many things, but in the principled exchange of ideas in the law school, I could see the type of legal inquiry that makes a society committed to the rule of law possible. Their passionate commitment to law and legal education was infectious.

My professors were engaged in the debates that mattered; they appeared before parliamentary committees and the Supreme Court of Canada, they wrote articles and books that lawyers and judges relied upon, and they brought new light to difficult problems. They did all of this in a community of scholars and students who knew and respected each other and worked together. Were there disagreements? Yes. Sometimes deep ones. But such debates are the life of an intellectual community. Queen’s was not a commuter school. In the beautiful city of Kingston, a sense of community developed that made legal education wonderful.

In my conversations with alumni who have established careers in a wide variety of settings, both in practice and outside it, I find that my admiration of the law school is shared. I’m always impressed by our graduates’ loyalty to their school, their appreciation of the value of the education they received here, and the infinite number of ways in which they use it for the benefit of the legal system and society, in Canada and around the world.

Since I graduated, the school has undergone remarkable changes. It has developed clinical and experiential learning opportunities, international opportunities, including the unique “castle” program at the Bader International Study Centre in England; assistance for students ranging from career development to equity counselling to more scholarships and bursaries; a curriculum that allows students to design programs tailored to their own interests and aspirations; a renewed commitment to teaching and learning about law and Indigenous peoples; a doctoral degree that is central to our commitment to research and graduate legal education; a Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace that has revitalized our traditional strength in labour and employment law — and the list could go on.

Yet Queen’s Law has remained remarkably true to the principles of its founders and its traditional strengths. It remains a community of scholars and students who strive for and encourage excellence in an inclusive, cooperative and collegial atmosphere. I’m proud to have been chosen as its dean and pleased to return at this exciting time. 

 

This article originally appeared in 2019 issue of Queen’s Law Reports.