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Being an academic, and ‘Hollow’ academics

This is just a short post to document a growing issue I’ve been noticing more and more in recent years. What I would describe as ‘Hollow Academics’.

What do I mean by this? Well this is after a long time following multiple institutions, organisations, and individuals from a range of disciplines and countries, and I will not be drawn to be any more specific than that. What I have observed is a group of individuals who, to my mind, miss (intentionally or unconsciously) the point entirely of what being an academic should fundamentally be.

To me, being an academic should, through whatever methods and routes, boil down to one thing. One end goal (which can be expanded with detail). It should be about making a difference, an impact, in such a way that it improves or advances either the lives of specific people or greater humanity in general. Again, one may identify different strands or nuances to this, but at the basic level this is what academia should be about.

Yet sadly there are people I see who I don’t believe ‘get’ that this is what academia should be. Or perhaps become too wrapped up in simply proving that they are a ‘good academic’ in a methodological or administrative sense. The work these ‘hollow academics’ do often has no scope or potential to actually make that necessary difference that should distinguish what is just simple research and who is truly an academic worthy of the title.

I have a suspicion that much of the time this ‘hollow’ form of academia is created by individuals who get lost in the ‘game’ or the ‘business’ that academia has become within many institutions (which to  my mind is an endemic-systemic problem running through the profession), where autonomy and true individuality and creative thoughts are being stifled in the face of accountability to targets and corporate objectives (again, no specific institutions are my target here, this is a widespread issue).

A few days ago I read an article regarding a contemporary issue asserting that a proportion of academics are afraid to take risks, and I wholeheartedly agree with this. However contrary to that article I don’t believe it is an ‘age’ thing (the article was asserting that it was young academics who would not take risks). I believe it is a profession / culture issue that has bred or relegated some academics to this ‘hollow’ status where they either never learned, have been forced to forget, or have become too scared to embrace that true meaning and purpose of academia and being an academic, even if their own career progression suffers through having the courage of their convictions and staying true to what they know and believe to be true in an academic sense. 

The day I think that the work and research I do does not have that potential to make a difference; the day I feel I cannot continue to be a true academic; the day that I think the work I do has become ‘hollow’, will be the day I retire, quit, or am fired. I hope that day doesn’t come for a long, long time, as if that is the case then I know that to somebody I might have made that difference. I will do this even if it means being overlooked for promotions, positions, or institutions. 

To do otherwise, I could not look at myself in the mirror and call myself an academic.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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General Update / PhD Thesis Submitted

There has been somewhat of a lengthy gap since I last posted anything here, mainly due to the last few months being the busiest I have ever had in some eight years at UWS. Since my last post I have been working in Rwanda, London, Aberdeen, Tilburg, the Hague, and will be travelling back to Rwanda in four weeks time. Lecturing, and in particular marking during the February – June semester was also significantly busier than had been predicted at the start of the year, leaving me little time for additional activities such as writing here.

Then came the summer and although I have taken a significant amount of annual leave, in reality I have only had one (yes one) week off since June, with the rest of annual leave having been taken in order to completely ignore all other work matters and concentrate on nothing else other than completing my PhD thesis (on the subject of contempt of court in facie curiae, courtroom environment, courtroom behaviour, Human Rights law, comparative law, and other linked areas). And so, for three weeks of annual leave taken I was in reality physically in my office with the door locked simply working in private. I am delighted to say that I successfully completed my thesis and submitted it just before the end of August. This should now be in the process of being sent to examiners to consider prior to a viva examination hopefully sometime around November.

Trying to complete a PhD whilst working full time has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do in a working sense, especially so with the exceptionally limited time that one is able to devote to it in reality during any of the teaching semesters. I would never say to anybody not to embark on this same endeavour, however I would make it absolutely clear that it will eat into your personal time significantly, it will require significant dedication and self-motivation, and it will in all likelihood leave you both physically and mentally exhausted at points. BUT – once it is all over, even in advance of any sort of result or feedback, it will feel worth it when you have a final bound thesis, effectively a finished book, in your hands, knowing that it was something that you created (albeit with some assistance) all by yourself.

Of course, whatever the result, good or bad, I will post here with an update in due course once the thesis has been examined and viva taken place.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Practical / Clinical Education of Undergraduate Students in Law, Criminology, and Criminal Justice

It occurred to me a short time ago that having presented a short(ish – it’s circa 4,000 words) paper at the 2011 Higher Education Academy 3rd Annual Legal Education conference in Edinbugh, I never edited my paper for publication. Now some three years later it would likely be too late for this, however in order to ensure that what I discussed does not vanish into oblivion, I feel that my blog site is an ideal place to self publish. Please note that this is unedited, and so I apologise for any minor (or major!) typos, awkward sentence structures, and other errors!

 

Law, Criminology, and Criminal Justice Education: Skills and Engagement: The ‘MiniTrial’ project: Engaging pupils and students in mooting and other mock courtroom exercises.

Introduction

Education and teaching; the pedagogical side of things that Higher Education Institutions do on a day to day basis has always interested me, although it gradually began to interest me more and more as I completed my own postgraduate certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education between 2008 and 2010, when having to hold discussions with other lecturers and tutors about their teaching methods, and having to complete assessments relating to issues such as innovative teaching and assessment methods, engaging students whether in large or small groups etc.

I’ll be the first to admit that at that stage as a young lecturer, having only started teaching in 2007, this was not something I had until that point put a great deal of thought into. I was taught using lectures, tutorials and seminars therefore I taught using lectures, tutorials and seminars. I was assessed through examinations, essays and oral presentations therefore I assessed my students using examinations, essays and oral presentations.

The problem with this is of course, that whilst developing skills in writing essays and presenting information (as well as the associated research skills) is important and useful, it often does not go far enough in developing specific practical skills that lawyers and criminal justice professionals have to use throughout their careers. Nor does it really engage students with the subject area in any meaningful way beyond basic theory.

The Amsterdam Article of the Future

There is a wonderful article written by Anthony G. Amsterdam, who is a Professor of Law at New York University School of Law for those of you that may well not have heard of him, that was published in the Journal of Legal Education in 1984, stemming from a presentation he made at the National Conference on Legal Education and the Profession – Approaching the 21st Century, with the title ‘Clinical Legal Education – A 21st Century Perspective’. I would of course highlight that this is an American paper, however this does not make any difference as the areas from the paper that I would highlight are transferrable to legal and criminal justice educational debates in any jurisdiction around the world. What is particularly strong and relevant within this paper, is that the theme of this HEA conference is about ‘approaching the 21st century’, the very position that Amsterdam adopted in his writing. This may appear initially to be confusing as the paper itself was published in 1984, however to illustrate, here is the way in which the author explained the issue;

I can put behind us certain debates that bedevilled legal education at the end of the twentieth century. These debates had to do with so-called skills training and clinical legal education – what they were all about and whether they should be taught in law school…. Now that we are in the enlightened twenty-first century, I can happily assume that they have been resolved… please recall that I speak for twenty first century ears, not twentieth.[1]

From the above, it should be clear to you that Amsterdam was writing from when he rather idealistically hoped we as educators would have reached almost a Utopian standard, where all problems with law, criminology and criminal justice education have been swept aside. I’m sure you’ll agree that we have of course now reached that point…. or maybe not….

So, with a reflective outlook then, it is useful to analyse this article to assess the key points that Amsterdam discussed, and then try to compare them with the actual reality of the situation as it stands today.

From the outset, it should become obvious where we are going with this when look to the very first point Amsterdam discusses from his ‘twenty-first century’ perspective which is:

…one of the principal ways in which legal education at the end of the twentieth century was too narrow. In those days the criticism was often voiced that legal education was too narrow because it failed to teach students how to practice law, failed to develop in them practical skills necessary for the competent performance of lawyers’ work. We now realise that this criticism… concealed a deeper more valid one… (That legal education) failed to develop in students ways of thinking within and about the role of lawyers – methods of critical analysis, planning, and decision making which are… the conceptual foundations for practical skills…[2]

He goes on to say after debunking twentieth century thinking:

In the twenty-first century we realise, of course, that a major function of law schools is to give students systematic training in effective techniques for learning law from the experience of practicing law.[3]

Now, Amsterdam then goes on to discuss the merits of clinical legal education and in my opinion everything he said, now some thirty years later was and still is valid relating to all law, criminology and criminal justice undergraduate education. The question I would pose at this moment is:

Do you think that now as we stand in the real twenty first century that we have actually competently addressed and resolved these issues on a consistent basis in HEI’s across Scotland?

I would like to clarify, that of course there will be individual examples of good practice in some individual law, criminology and criminal justice modules of some HEI’s, and so universal failure is not an assertion, however through my research what I am asserting is that the examples of good practice are neither the majority, nor indeed consistently applied in HE in Scotland.

An example of a good practice initiative is the Law Wise Law Clinic at the University of the West of Scotland. This was set up in 2010 jointly by Dale McFadzean, one of the organisers of this HEA conference and various members of the Renfrewshire Law Centre in Paisley, and has been a success with positive feedback from all concerned, including the staff at the law centre and the students who have taken part. For this initiative, students in their degree or honours year of the BA (Hons) Law may apply through competitive interview process for a position at the clinic, and if successful will spend a day a week working in the law centre on both administrative tasks as well as assisting in conducting client interviews. This is a good example of the development of clinical legal skills – i.e. what lawyers actually do on a day to day basis. It is hoped that in the future, similar initiatives may be created for other degrees in similar areas at UWS such as the BA (Hons) Criminal Justice.

The problem remains though, that in spite of being a successful initiative, the practical training is still only one day a week, for one trimester in one year of a degree, at one Institution. Is this really enough?

Some educators may quite rightly point out in the past that various professional and practical skills specific to legal education were covered in what would have been the diploma in legal practice, and then further through CPD, now of course the equivalent argument might be presented in the context of PEAT 1 & 2. I would argue to rebut that however that I firmly do not believe that effectively a ‘crash course’ in legal practice is enough to teach and then develop these skills. Likewise, when it comes to specific practical skills in different areas of criminology and criminal justice, many of these are left until either Master level, or indeed not taught at all and left up to the industries taking on graduate trainees.

To illustrate why I do not believe that these current ideas of leaving practical training to this stage is unsuitable, I would highlight this example: It is well established educational fact that ‘cramming’ before an exam only leads to short term memory retention of the concepts in question, and that only long term learning and contextual understanding actually leads to full retention and ability to properly apply that knowledge. It is my assertion that teaching specific law, criminology and criminal justice skills, and engagement of students with the key concepts of these areas, should be viewed in the very same light as this. A one year ‘crash course’ at diploma or masters level may allow us to assess students and the majority to pass the test, however will they really after this be ready to take on the challenge of going straight into employment within the fields of law or criminal justice with well-rounded and fully developed skills? I do not believe so. As professionals in Higher Education, we can and should be doing better in this regard.

Indeed it seems that those at the top of assessing what makes a graduate suitable for employment specifically in the area of law are beginning to take note of many of the points made here. When I was given the task in 2010 of evaluating a variety of modules for a prospective LL.B degree validation recently at UWS, and having to align those modules with the most recent Law Society of Scotland foundation programme accreditation guidelines, I noted that in the most recent iteration of the criteria (in force since 2010), that specifically within the ‘Skills’ section of the required outcomes which now all qualifying law degrees must meet, these are two of the specific outcomes:

  • Apply knowledge and analysis

o   Creatively to complex situations in order to provide arguable solutions to concrete problems by presenting a range of viable options from a set of facts and law.

And;

  • In all formats demonstrate an ability to address the resolution of disputes by a variety of adversarial and non-adversarial skills.

So in what way is this all relevant then, and where is this heading? Well let me refer back again to Amsterdam, in conjunction with the criticisms I have asserted of the current situation with law, criminology and criminal justice education in Higher Education. Amsterdam was saying in his position of looking back from a fictional twenty-first century, that we now, actually being in the twenty-first century should realise that students will effectively learn about areas such as law, criminology and criminal justice most effectively by actually practicing the law. One of the main objections that educators and programme designers may well cite is that they simply don’t have access to a facility such as the Renfrewshire Law Centre, who are willing to enter into a collaboration Neither do they actually have the ability to send a large number of their students into any other relevant firm or criminal justice organisation in order to develop these skills relevant to professional practice.

However this is overcomplicating the issue, as of course for many years our students have in fact being developing these skills themselves, albeit often on a purely voluntary basis through their student law and criminal justice societies. In this regard I am referring to specific activities such as mooting and making use of mock court facilities, when the students will prepare and argue out in practice a fictional adversarial case, often based on real life examples. This is an option that I believe should not in fact be an option. I firmly believe that in order to at least on some level make consistent across law, criminology and criminal justice education the need to develop relevant practical skills, that mooting should be built in to the programme design for all qualifying law degrees, as well as any criminology or criminal justice degree where the student should expect upon gaining employment that they will have to regularly liaise in some way with the criminal justice system (or indeed civil courts). At the most basic level, this practice can be built in to tutorial exercises, where students role-play the parts of prosecution and defence lawyers (if law students), or ordinary or expert witnesses (if criminology or criminal justice students). Perhaps even more appropriately, these exercises can even be used as a form of summative assessment for relevant modules (examples being Criminal Law, Evidence, Family Law, Criminology, Criminal justice, Victimology etc.).

Some anecdotal evidence for you about this purely based on my own personal experience: As discussed earlier, I only began fully considering these types of issues relating to law, criminology and criminal justice education to a serious extent in 2010, and the mooting idea was one grabbed my attention. I had just taken over as coordinator of the UWS BA (Hons) Law degree’s third year ‘Law of Evidence’ module, and put in place a strategy leading towards potentially using mooting as a means of summative assessment. In order to see if it would work as part of an assessment strategy however, rather than leap in head first, I decided in that first year to run the mooting exercises as tutorials only. For the module I ran alternate sessions – one week it would be standard problem questions and mooting preparation questions / legal research in teams, the next week it would be the physical moot where I would act in the capacity of the Judge. This rotated so that by the end of the module, the students had taken part in four separate moots, yet still carried out their other necessary problem based examination preparation style tutorial questions.

In order to assess the impact of this format on the module and to help to ascertain if it was viable to carry this forward for assessment I handed out standard anonymous ‘stop, start, continue’ evaluation forms toward the end of the module – and these are just some of the positive responses I received from the students in the ‘continue’ section:

The moots are a good way of going over the material and are enjoyable. It gives us an opportunity to practice legal skills.

Mooting – a good way to put into practice what we have been taught.

The use of the moot style set-up is extremely beneficial to students.

Having mooting in our tutorials – it allows us to put theory into practice.

The structure of the tutorials (mooting) has given us all a good experience.

Tutorial structure – this is more enjoyable than to just answer a few questions. It is easy to copy a textbook or lecture notes to give an answer, the mooting requires the student to have an understanding of the module material and allows them to develop their practical skills in relation to the material.

The mooting is the best way of learning. I have learned so much from researching and applying areas of law learned within tutorials.

Mooting in tutorials. It is a better learning experience for the student and gives the student a better understanding of the law.

Continue the mooting in tutorials as I’ve never done this before and it is a good experience.

From this feedback as well as how smoothly the mooting sessions all ran, I have taken the decision to progress the mooting to form part of the summative assessment in 2011 / 2012, as it was clear that on the basis of my own trial, the students not only felt that they were developing their practical skills, but that they also appeared to be more engaged with both the module material, and also wider areas of the law and education as a result. Of course I could not yet draw any conclusions on the success or failure of the assessment method yet, as this would involve my having to adopt Amsterdam’s position as being in a fictional future in order to do that, however I cannot foresee at this stage any real barriers or problems that don’t also exist with other more generic forms of assessment such as general group work or oral presentations, and can only see the positives to both the student experience and also the development of both skills and engagement.

Engagement

Of course until this point, the coverage has been mainly focussed on skills issues with only really a fleeting mention of engagement until the anecdote about my own teaching experiences. So I would now like to discuss engagement in a more detail.

It may not be the case in all Higher Education Institutions, however I have discussed with acquaintances in other institutions certainly the issue of engagement, or rather disengagement. This can either be lack of engagement with the individual subject, or indeed lack of engagement with the law in a wider context. As such, I think that this is something that should be addressed in a bit of detail.

The main question I would have is: Why is there this disengagement and how can we engage students better?

What I would say is this: Get them engaged earlier!

When pupils move on from high school to become students in FE and HE, in many cases they have some degree of contextual background to base their choice of course and subject area on. Degrees in natural sciences and engineering all have a background in sciences and technical subjects taught in schools. Degrees in English, Mathematics, History, Geography and Languages can all be chosen based on subjects pupils have covered in schools. Even for degrees in management there are a range of both standard grade and higher grade subjects that can be taken at a number of schools in Scotland.

But what about law, criminology and criminal justice? Where is the contextual background for students who decide to go on and study any of these areas once they leave school? I would assert that the majority of law, criminology or criminal justice issues that students will have encountered before attending university will have been more relating to law enforcement and courtroom dramas such as Taggart, CSI, Law and Order etc. rather than them basing their decision to study their chosen area on real life relevant and accurate representations of the varied aspects of the world around us in these areas. Once many students actually then begin their undergraduate studies, it is not uncommon to see many visibly detach and disengage as they realise that law, criminology and criminal justice are not all about murders, solving crimes at a fast pace, and shouting in a courtroom, but that there are many more intricate, though perhaps in the mind of a young law student not ‘exciting’ aspects to these areas.

This disengagement is simply wrong, and is something that must be addressed.

There are two initiatives that spring to mind that have taken steps to alleviate this problem in some way, one in England and Wales, and one in Scotland.

In England and Wales there is the ‘Lawyers in Schools’ initiative, which has been running now for twenty years. The policy statement relating to this initiative is:

Lawyers in Schools places legal professionals in the classroom to work with young people to develop their awareness and understanding of the law.[4]

In short, there is a formal structure in place at this organisation whereby specific law firms are paired with specific schools whereby the activities are:

We train the lawyer volunteers, who in turn visit the school that we partner them with. In teams, the volunteers lead small groups in six hour-long, interactive sessions on various aspects of the law.

Our education experts write the resources that the volunteers use. These are designed to foster debate and discussion, as well as to encourage critical thinking from the young people.

The sessions cover a range of legal topics and draw on the volunteers’ legal expertise. We support the volunteers throughout the programme, monitor and evaluate throughout the year and provide a full brokerage service between the business and the school.[5]

In addition to these activities, the Lawyers in Schools initiative also run two annual mock trial competitions for school children, the first is the Bar National Mock Trial competition, always based in a criminal law context, and the second is a Magistrates’ court mock trial competition.

So this initiative is in effect carrying out what I would propose all HE institutions ought to be doing in legal education i.e. teaching the theory, but crucially also encouraging the practice of the specific legal skills relating to that theory.

However in England and Wales this is not enough, as there is currently only coverage of about twenty law firms and eight hundred school pupils involved at this stage, a drop in the ocean comparative to the number of children in School up and down the country.

In Scotland, we have the Mini Trial initiative, which was founded by the Hon. Lord Kinclaven, and is described by the Faculty of Advocates as:

…an enjoyable way to learn about the Scottish legal system. They are mock court cases which secondary and primary school pupils act out, using materials devised by one of Scotland’s senior judges, the Hon. Lord Kinclaven.[6]

The structure is somewhat similar to that of the Lawyers in Schools initiative and is described in this way:

A single class or school can put on a MiniTrial.

There are also inter-school events. These take place regularly in real court-rooms at Airdrie, Ayr, Dundee, Edinburgh, Kilmarnock & Paisley through co-operation with the local Education Departments, Sheriffs, Sheriff Clerks, Procurators Fiscal, solicitors and advocates. It is hoped to extend them to other areas.

The Faculty of Advocates helps schools to put on MiniTrials, by providing advocates who volunteer to visit schools, offer guidance, and sometimes play the part of the judge.[7]

In addition to the actual Mini Trial courtroom exercises, there is a regular blog maintained that discusses many areas relevant to Scots law, criminal justice, legal education, and school education issues in general.

The success of these initiatives in England and Wales, and also Scotland, appears to be very high as the feedback from all concerned (pupils, teachers, lawyers and criminal justice professionals) has been very positive, however it has to be stressed that these initiatives are still only reaching a small proportion of schools and school pupils.

The reality though, is that all of these great efforts are still not enough, and I would assert the idea that to put law, criminology and criminal justice on an even footing with the various examples of subjects that link from school to further and higher education such as mathematics, English and sciences; education similar to what is currently being done on a small scale with initiatives such as the MiniTrial project should in the future be provided for within the national curriculum. Only by providing the correct context of law, criminology and criminal justice to the next generation and those that follow will we ensure that all (or at least a healthy majority) of our students will be capable of fully engaging from day one of their undergraduate studies. And combining this early education with uniform, skills based approaches to teaching, learning and assessment as I have suggested with the use of mooting and mock court exercises would in my opinion be the ideal way of tackling both the skills and engagement deficit that can be found in law schools up and down the country. Although in conclusion, perhaps I am being a little bit ‘Amsterdam’ in my optimism that this may happen in the near future.

[1] Amsterdam, Anthony G.; Clinical Legal Education – A 21st Century Perspective, 34 J. Legal Educ. 612 (1984)

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

[4] Lawyers in Schools Website, Citizenship Foundation – Individuals Engaging in Society, September 2011, http://www.citizenshipfoundation.org.uk/main/page.php?377

[5] ibid

[6] Mini Trials and the Faculty of Advocates, The Faculty of Advocates website; http://www.advocates.org.uk/minitrials.html

[7] ibid

 

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Scottish Independence TV Debates – What I would have done

After watching both of the main tv debates on Scottish Independence between the leaders of the respective ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ campaigns, Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling, I was left utterly bemused and disappointed at what I was watching.

Let us take the most recent of these two poorly produced and structured events:

  • A few minutes each to set out their introductory case
  • A few minutes each to cover important issues such as the economy and Scotland’s place in the world
  • About 12 minutes to ‘cross examine’ each other (this was the most embarrassing and cringe-worthy, unprofessionally managed piece of political nonsense I think I think I have ever seen with each just talking over the other and playing ‘tit-for-tat’ points scoring’.
  • A few minutes for each to sum up their entire case for independence.

A few minutes, A few minutes, A few minutes….

It seems that this is all that the life and future changing event is worth; a few minutes, on barely a handful of the dozens if not hundreds of major issues of relevance.

To make matters worse was the audience. The odd relevant and thought provoking question aside, the vast majority were simply loaded questions from one side of the divide (because it now clearly IS a divide with a gulf of polar opposite opinion between the two sides) or the other.

The whole thing was an absolute shambles that pandered to the worst aspects of modern society. In particular, feeding the ‘I want everything NOW, and in 140 characters or less’ aspect of society, where if it can’t be said in a matter of minutes then it can’t be worth it.

Well shame on you, the producers and broadcasters of this meaningless trash. You have had years to prepare for this, months to work out a reasonable format, whilst not bowing to the notion that everything must be covered ‘on the quick’. Because to cover the issues that needed to be covered properly, it is literally IMPOSSIBLE to do with the format that was utilised. Again – shame on you. You failed in what I personally believe was an absolute DUTY to get this right.

I belive that Scotland is worth more than this, and I believe that hundreds of thousand, if not millions of people living in Scotland (and indeed the rest of the UK and world) would have been interested in seeing the debates on crucial issues carried out in a competent and more balanced way – yes, even if this meant taking a bit more time to do so.

So having thoroughly criticised what WAS shown, if I was given the responsibility to plan the TV part of the referendum build-up, how WOULD I have done it? Well here is what I would have done, and what I think SHOULD have been done by any producer with an ounce of common sense:

  1. Realise that the necessary issues could not be covered in the course of two programmes alone, and demand more airtime. This should not have been even a slight problem given the magnitude of the issue – what controller or scheduler would want to go on record saying that such a massive political event should not be given maximum attention?
  2. Schedule a two hour slot once a week for the 8-10 week run-up to the election.
  3. For each event, here is what the format should have been:
    1. ONE area covered per debate (say, week one – the economy, week two – education, week three – NHS etc. etc.)
    2. Main panel consisting of EITHER Salmond and Darling, OR appropriate representative from each side such as cabinet member or shadow cabinet member responsible for the area in question currently.
    3. Alongside those indviduals, also having one academic expert on the area in question on each side such as a professor or author in that area who is willing to discuss their researched opinion.
    4. Moderator in the middle.
    5. PART ONE: Each side has 30 minutes to present their arguement on the area in question in the form of a lecture or presentation with any visual aids necessary – and here is the important part – ENTIRELY UNINTERRUPTED BY THE OTHER SIDE.
    6. PART TWO: 40 minute Audience Q&A. Another part of the televised debates that irritated me was that the audience was ONLY populated by random everyday people. I would have 50% of the audience  being workers FROM THE AREA RELEVANT TO THE DEBATE IN QUESTION at each debate. So for the debate on NHS, 50% of the audience should be Doctors, Nurses, Health board workers, researchers etc.. The first 20 minute Q&A would come solely from these people who would be best placed to ask specific questions relevant to the area in question. The final 20 minute Q&A would then come from the other 50% of the audience, who would be the equal share of everyday people asking general questions on the area in question.
    7. PART THREE: Back to the panel – each side has 10 minutes to sum up and conclude their argument. AGAIN UNINTERRUPTED!
  4. The final show, having in the weeks preceding covering important issues such as the economy, NHS, education, international issues, industry etc. would then be the full blown debate between the leaders. In this show, each side would have the opportunity (again, guess what – uninterrupted), to present for 30 minutes rebutting any perceived spin etc. seen over the preceding weeks from the opposing side. There would then be a final 30 minutes each to sum up the entire campaign of debates, positives for their side and reason why you should vote YES / NO. No Q&A for the final debate.

This is how I would have arranged the televised debates. Treating the electorate with respect, and providing them with a substantial amount of uninterrupted information from each side of the debate in a number of the most crucial areas relevant to the independence issue. Carrying out the programming in this way would have ensured that major issues were covered in detail (I think I heard circa 40 seconds on education in totality between both actual ‘debates’), and ensured that people who watched would then be able to make an informed decision.

It is such a shame that the reality of what we got was nothing short of a disgrace.

 

Please note, the above is my personal opinion as a qualified and experienced academic in various areas of domestic and international law including Constitutional Law, Administrative Law, EU Law, Criminal Law, and Employment Law and not the opinion of my employers.

 

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Government manipulation of European Union report

For those of you reading this that might not know too much about my background, I have taught various combinations of Constitutional Law, EU Law and Advanced EU Law at UWS since 2007. In addition to this, I am also currently an external examiner for Constitutional Law, EU Law and Advanced EU Law at another University in Scotland. In other words, I have been heavily involved in the area of EU law in both a research and teaching sense for a number of years as part of my day to day job.

The EU is a complex organisation that is not simple to explain in all of its intricacies to a lay person who doesn’t have hours upon hours, days upon days, or even weeks upon weeks to devote to learning all about it to gain a balanced and fair understanding and opinion. Sadly, the general lack of specific knowledge on matters EU naturally leads a lot of people to be sceptical and negative about the organisation. This is understandable – I mean, who wouldn’t be negative with often (incorrectly) cited terms such as ‘federalist’, ‘lack of democracy’, ‘sticking its nose in’, ‘benefit tourism’ etc. etc. Sadly though, this is a problem created by a combination of various individuals in Government and the media, who do not responsibly report on the European Union.

I have long tried very, very hard when teaching EU Law to inform, without giving my own opinion; to create a balanced perspective on matters such as the creation of EU Laws, Immigration, security and defence, and the rights and responsibilities associated with EU Citizenship. I ask students to leave their preconceptions at the door when entering my EU Law classes and keep an open mind, then at the end of the course to make an informed personal opinion as to if they truly do believe that the EU is a good or bad thing for the UK.

This is why when stories such as this one come out, they really annoy me:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-28368567

In case the article is removed, I would like to share a couple of quotes from it to remain here for posterity:

A report on UK immigration has caused a row within government because Tory ministers believed it was too pro-European, sources have told Newsnight.

The leaked Home Office report draws together evidence from 67 businesses, think tanks, unions and experts.

It concludes the influx of EU migrants has had a largely positive effect, and cites evidence suggesting they are less likely to use benefits than Britons.

The report was re-written twice….

…..Whitehall sources have told Newsnight that the Home Office balked at the initial draft.

Home Secretary Theresa May sent it to the Home Office implementation unit, which rewrote it with more sceptical and negative comments.

The new text could not be agreed on within government and the report was eventually given to a Cabinet Office “star chamber” of civil servants to rule what stayed in and what was left out.

I have a hard enough job as it is trying to foster into large numbers of impressionable students the balanced perspective that I do, without this sort of trash going on. I personally consider it disgraceful that a report is commissioned, with the evidence that follows coming from a large number of relevant sources, which doesn’t ‘fit’ with the Government’s agenda, and so they simply refuse to publish it. Instead they want to deliberately manipulate the content of the report to put in negative rhetoric and spin.

Sadly this is not the first time this sort of nonsense has gone on, and it likely won’t be the last. What is even sadder is that few people will have noticed the news report, and even fewer will care or remember anything about it in months or years to come, yet a large proportion who may eventually see the headlines from the final ‘report’ in all of its manipulated glory, may take from it the negative ‘evidence’ and continue to hold their overwhelmingly negative viewpoints.

A very sad state of affairs, given how important (in my opinion) the UK retaining membership of the EU is in reality.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Moving Employment (sort of) in January 2014

This is just a short update with some major news. I will be leaving the law group at the University of the West of Scotland in January 2014. I will not, however, be leaving the University, rather I am taking a sideways move away from the Business School within the Faculty of Business and Creative Industries, and moving into the School of Social Sciences within the Faculty of Health, Education and Social Sciences. There, my post will be specifically as a Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice within the Centre for Criminal Justice and Police Studies.

By 2014, I will have had a near sixteen year association with the Business School (and the same subject grouping prior to it being known as the Business School) of UWS (formerly University of Paisley), having initially been a student there as far back as 1998, then taking evening classes in the early – mid 2000s, full time postgraduate study after that, and then working within the School from 2007 to date. As such, it will of course be very sad and somewhat of a wrench to leave them. That said, I am immensely looking forward to taking on the fresh challenges that a move to another School and Faculty will bring. There are a number of exciting areas that the Criminal Justice and Police Studies group are involved in, which no doubt I will update within this blog as time goes on, and once settled into the new role after commencing it on Monday 6th January 2014.

Of course, any of you who have read my blog will know that Criminal Justice is not a new area for me to be involved in, having recently spent over a year working on an HEA project which involved familiarising two cohorts of students with the Scottish Criminal Justice process and observing a number of live court cases, albeit within the field of the laws of evidence. This is in addition to the fact that I have previously reviewed criminology and youth justice textbooks for the Scottish Legal Action Journal, and of course the area of my own PhD research is in common law contempt of court.

Although I will be finishing my current post and commencing my new one in eary January, I will still have a transition period, and will still have some responsibility and ties to my old group until the end of the 2013 / 2014 academic year as I will be setting and marking assessments for the current modules I am coordinator for, and will be continuing to supervise all of my dissertation students through to completion in summer 2014.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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HEA Teaching Development Grant Project Update 31st May 2013

Just a short update to let anyone reading know the latest on my Higher Education Academy funded project. I presented an update on my progress along with some preliminary findings yesterday, Thursday 30th May 2013 at a small HEA half-day conference that happened to be held at the University of the West of Scotland – so it was only a 5 minute walk from my own office to get to the venue! The conference was titled: Disseminating outcomes of Teaching Development Grant projects in Scotland, with the given remit “Disseminating practice and the benefits of undertaking a Teaching Development Grant project“.

Preparing to start my presentation – HEA Teaching Development Grant Conference, UWS, 30th May 2013. Picture courtesy HEA.

The results I was presenting were indicators from the summative assessment for the law of evidence module which covered the areas used by students in their courtroom observations during phase one of the project. By comparing their results to those results of students who did not take part in the practical phase and only learned about the subject via traditional classroom teaching, this allowed for some analysis on the areas of understanding and retention of key concepts. Thus far, the results are positive as the indicators are that indeed those students that took part in the practical phase of the project have improved performance relative to those that only learned in the classroom. These results will only be corroborated following some further analysis of both the summative assessment and also the set questions given to students during both phase one and two. At present I am still awaiting receipt of a few of these sets of questions prior to the final focus group to round off the project. It is anticipated that all of this will be complete within the next 4-6 weeks, allowing the remainder of the summer for analysis, refinement of results, and creating a full dissemination plan.

Further updates will be made as progress continues.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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