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Billionaire buys himself our Faculty of Law

What does $20 million buy these days? How about putting your name on a law school?

On Thursday, Oct. 15, the Dalhousie faculty of law officially announced what everyone already knew. Seymour Schulich, a Canadian oil and mining capitalist, gave the school an endowment of $20 million.

The news leaked to the press on Sept. 25, and an e-mail was sent out to law students on Oct. 1.

The gift was conditional on Dalhousie University renaming the law school after their generous benefactor.

When people heard about the possibility of the name change, there was backlash from students, faculty and alumni.

A Facebook group started a few weeks ago in hopes of saving the Weldon Law Building name and keeping the unofficial Dalhousie Law School name.

Some students felt that names are significant based on Dal’s rich history. The school, founded in 1883, is the oldest law school in the British Commonwealth. Richard Weldon was the first dean of Dal’s law school.

In part, the group got what they wanted. While the building keeps its original name, the faculty will be officially called the Schulich School of Law.

Though the building is still officially called Weldon, its façade bears the new name of the faculty.

“The resistance to the renaming was based on people not being aware of what the money would be used for,” says Michelle McBride, president of the Law Students Society.

“This funding will have a tremendous impact on students. Once people found out about the scholarships, I think they understood. We all love this place and want the best for Dal law.”

But the name change wasn’t the only thing students were concerned about. Emily Rideout commented on the DalNews announcement on Oct.15. She is disappointed the school accepted the money.

“Schulich has made his millions by investing in the most unethical industries in the world: gold mining in South Africa and the Alberta Tar sands. Is this the kind of money we want at Dal?” she wrote.

Rideout is not a law student, but she wrote that the name change “is another example in a growing list of examples of Dalhousie neglecting to consider student opinion in matters that directly affect us.”

Most of the endowment, $10 million, will go toward scholarships. Twenty-four of the scholarships, adding up to $300,000, will be given out this year.

A total of 65 new scholarships will be added to the existing Dal law bursary program. Each scholarship will range from $12,000 to $20,000 with renewal options and will be available to undergraduate, graduate and doctorate students.

Students will be eligible for the funds based on meeting two out of the following three criteria: academic merit, community service and financial need.

The law school hopes that, with the new funding, up to 20 per cent of the students could study tuition-free.

Phillip Saunders, dean of the faculty of law, says educational accessibility is a big barrier to overcome.
“We’ll be able to compete for quality students and give them significant financial support,” he says. “No other school can do this.”

The remaining $10 million will be used for various projects. Some will go to building renovations, to the Dalhousie Legal Aid Clinic, and to fund visiting scholars. Funding could also be used for student exchange programs and research assistant positions.

Schulich is known for his philanthropy. The billionaire has given large endowments to York University, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Calgary and McGill University.

He says he likes the Maritimes, and wanted to add an Atlantic university to his collection.

“If you’re going to do the Maritimes, to do a big school it’s either Memorial University (sic) or Dalhousie,” says Schulich. “I hadn’t done the Maritimes before and no one has done a law school before.”

Schulich’s decision to give to Dal law school came down to doing something new for the community.

“Every functioning society needs law,” says Schulich. “My first duty is support my family and to make Canada a better place. Very few Maritime families are carrying their weight.”

Schulich’s gift comes with a few strings attached. Besides renaming the school, Dalhousie University has to raise at least $12 million within the next 10 years in order to maintain the scholarship fund.

The president of the university says he’s ready for the task.

“The funds help us set a standard for the fundraising efforts we want to do,” says Tom Traves, president of Dalhousie University. “Our tremendous law school will have an even better curriculum and help us to be known around the world as a great school.”

The Schulich fund comes during a transitional period for the faculty of law. Currently the school is searching for a new dean of law. Saunders will finish his tenure as dean in April 2010.

“This makes a very attractive position even more interesting,” says Traves. “We already have the capacity to bring in the very best. People will want to work here knowing they have the funding to try something new.”


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