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A temporary farewell to Associate Professor William Lahey, now President and Vice‑Chancellor of the University of King's College

Posted by Rachael Kelly on July 8, 2016 in News, Faculty Interest, Staff Interest, Student Interest, Alumni & Friends
(Photo: Rachael Kelly)
(Photo: Rachael Kelly)

William Lahey has been an Associate Professor at the Schulich School of Law for more than 15 years. Over the course of his Schulich career, the former Deputy Minister of Environment and Labour (2004-2007) taught everything from immigration to public law to health systems law and policy. He also served as the director of Dalhousie’s Health Law Institute from 2007-2011. On Friday, July 1, Lahey climbed the hill and crossed the quad to start his five-year appointment as President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of King’s College. Thankfully, there’s no need for final farewells. In addition to his duties at King’s, Lahey will continue to teach legal history at Schulich on a part-time basis.

What do you consider to be the highlight of your professorship at Schulich?

I’ve always really enjoyed teaching. I remember one year, when Schulich had renovated one of its classrooms, something funny started happening with the lights. Something hadn’t been put together properly, and I acted like there was an attack happening or an earthquake or something. I backed my way out of the classroom, pretending I was bolting for cover. The students loved that – it had them rolling in the aisles, as they say. I had a bond with that class after that like no other. That was the moment when I really became comfortable being myself as a teacher.  

What was the greatest challenge you faced as a professor at Schulich?

I think it’s very important to be prepared to make mistakes in anything you do, especially when you’re new at it. I remember one occasion where I was in full rhetorical flight about a case when I had a student put up her hand and say, “So Professor Lahey, you want us to follow the dissenting opinion in that judgment?” I had read the whole case and prepared my notes without appreciating the fact that the judgment I thought was the majority judgment – and therefore the decision in the case – was actually the dissenting judgment. You can only laugh at yourself and move on when things like that happen.

What will you miss most?

The students. King’s is a physically small place; there’s interaction between the president and the administration and students and faculty and everyone else who works at the university. The culture of the place is about accessibility and close relationships. But it’s not going to be the same as teaching my own class of law students. I’m looking forward to having different kinds of interactions with students, but I’m going to miss being a law professor full-time.

Do any other humorous moments stick out to you?

In 2003, my character was the highlight of the Pith & Substance Variety Show where students in first-year put on skits that essentially made fun of their first-year professors. What they reenacted was the talk I gave to my first-year public law students after I gave them back their Christmas marks. I guess I hadn’t appreciated at the time how condescending I had been, or the doom-and-gloom quality of my message. Of course, they exaggerated all that for comic effect and it was very, very funny. The character playing Bill Lahey started the skit by coming into class with a green garbage bag full of paper and throwing it in front of the students saying, “There are your midterm exams. Take any one – doesn’t matter. They’re all sh*t.” Law students in particular have a way of cutting you down to size, reminding you there’s room for improvement. I laughed at that and learned from that.

Do you have any advice for students beginning their legal studies in the fall?

Look out for each other. You’re entering a very competitive profession. Law depends on debate and argument and competition – all the more reason to take care of each other. Be ardent in whatever you seek to accomplish, and try to be better than others, by all means, but make sure you leave room for being kind.

What are you most looking forward to as the new President and Vice-Chancellor of King’s?

Enrollment in humanities everywhere is dropping. In terms of attracting students, we have to think about doing things differently than we’ve done in the past. Whether that means going to parts of Canada where we haven’t historically attracted students or going beyond Canada, I’m not sure. One thing that’s really important is the need to become more diverse. The quality of education that everyone receives in the humanities and in journalism will be higher the more diverse the student population is at King’s.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I am incredibly grateful for the 16 years I had teaching at Dalhousie Law School. I’m looking forward to the day when I get to teach full-time at Dalhousie again, because I am just taking a leave of absence. Meanwhile, I’m going to continue to play in the student versus alumni and faculty hockey game. So far, we’re tied one-one. Faculty and alumni won the first year, students won the second. This year is the rubber, and I’m planning to be there to do my bit. I play defense – badly, mind you, but I do play.