KSU in exclusive interview to clarify position on Legal Studies

This week, Insite met up with John Gabaretta and Thomas Bugeja, KSU’s Secretary General and President respectively, in order to attempt to further understand the circumstances leading up to the confusion surrounding the Legal Studies intermediate subject.

Insite: Can you elaborate on your position and why you have your reservations on making it a requirement?

JG: First of all, to put you into the picture, the legal studies option was first put forward on the senate meeting on 2nd May 2013, and when the question was raised as to the nature of this subject it was made very clear that the reason why this was being offered was for students who were not entering the law course. The rationale was that if, for example, you were entering architecture and you were to face a legal situation, it might be useful for yourself to have that subject as part of the whole experience that you’re getting at sixth form level.

TB: The whole idea of the subject is to have an intermediate where those students who aren’t entering law would get a general idea of how the law works, what the laws is, how the courts works especially since the law touches every aspect of all professional careers.

JG: We have reservations for two reasons. Firstly, it makes little sense for those that go into law to already specify and limit their academic experience at 6 form to a completely legal one. Secondly, the subject covers information that would be delivered at a fundamental level and a greater detail in firstyear at university.

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TB: With the new course requirements in 2015, the requirements will be an A level in English and Maltese at C or better, and a C or better grade in Italian or French intermediate. This means that out of the five subjects available, three of them are already compulsory which means you’re left with two – sciences and humanities. If you were to make legal studies a requirement it would make the requirements even stricter than they already are. You would also be leaving out subjects such as philosophy and sociology.

Insite: In your statement on Facebook, you stated that the student would ‘limit their positive experience’ by choosing this subject. Don’t you think it’s up to the student to decide that? Especially since as things stand, they have absolutely no chance to choose it?

JG: Strictly speaking, whereas learning philosophy can help you in your thought process throughout the law course, learning legal studies might actually be a limiting factor. What we are saying is that this rationale makes sense, and that the intentions behind the decision were genuine.

Insite: If you were to speak to law students, some might argue that they wouldn’t use French or Italian in Law. Wouldn’t it have been better if something more legal oriented was utilised to determine whether someone was fit to enter the law course or not?

TB: I think the usefulness of Italian or French is debatable. Italian would be useful in Civil law areas, while French would be useful on the International and European Law levels. Then again I don’t think that having legal studies as an intermediate requirement would vet students into whether they are capable or not, because the way the syllabus is formulated, the subject is like Systems of Knowledge, and the best description is ‘legal general knowledge’.

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Insite: During the press conference last Saturday, Clive Gerada made it clear that it was necessary to make Legal Studies a requirement because it would introduce students to the legal jargon which will be used throughout the course. Don’t you think that is an accurate statement?

TB: There are pros and cons to the issue. In fact we were speaking to the university administration this morning and I told the registrar that I understand that some students would want to choose legal studies. Going into 1st year law it is like a leap in the dark for many. You don’t know what you’re choosing. When you start law is like learning the alphabet of a new language. Therefore, I understand the reasoning of having legal studies as an intermediate. But when you have a look at the intention of the subject in its inception, it was meant to be something for non-law students to have a general legal knowledge.

Insite: Is it even possible to make it open to law students with the current structure?

TB: The issue would have to be discussed with the faculty board. What would probably happen in this case is that they would be revisiting these requirements and be taking it up to senate eventually for acceptance and discussion. Now in this case, if there is a strong student body that feels that it should be offered as an option and there are students support this claim, then it might be worth debating. We are NOT against that!

One of our main points was that the right forums to discuss these things are faculty board and eventually the senate, where one of the members of the senate could propose the change or amendment.

Insite: With these points you are putting forward, would it be correct to state that if you wanted to make Legal Studies an introductory subject for those that want to get into law, then the syllabus of the subject is not vast enough?

JG: No, it’s not vast enough. One has analyse how much s/he would be gaining from taking legal studies as opposed to taking another humanities subject. When you’re taking legal studies at intermediate you are going to be sitting for an exam on content that you will be re-visiting in the law course itself and on content which you can read up on in your free time. On the other hand, if you are doing another humanity then you are learning things that will start to instil in you a thought process that is slightly different from the intended syllabus that the legal studies unit has to offer. This is where the distinction lies.

TB: Another point is logistics. The subject was meant to be for twenty to thirty students taking it as a group 4 intermediate subject. If it had to be made open to all law students then the three hundred or so students interested in going into law would choose it, and you would go from a class of twenty to a staggering three hundred. We’re in August now. October is the start of the academic year so you’re suddenly looking for teachers and classrooms to accommodate this large number of students. The intermediate subject was never intended to be for future law students.

Insite: In the statement you released, you said that you did not want the topic to be a “dead end”. What did you mean by this?

TB: What we don’t want at this point, is students taking it because they think that it will help them to go into the law course, when in actual fact, it will leave them out! We don’t want students to be penalised through their confusion for choosing it. As things stand, if they choose it they will automatically not have the requirements to get into the law course. Obviously, we do not want this confusion. Its unfair and would have happened due to misinformation.

JG: The first mistake was to rope in the national media before actually being completely informed about the bigger picture behind the situation. In this respect, I think the best option would be to approach KSU. KSU can consolidate the positions of student representatives, the university administration and with any academic complaints we have received in relation to the issue.

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The information that is at my disposal suggests that when this subject was brought up in the Faculty Board meeting where there is also student representation, and discussions where ongoing as to whether it should be made a requirement or not, there was a general consensus that it should NOT be made a requirement.

Insite: What’s the way forward for KSU?

JG: Obviously if anyone wants us to provide feedback, we are very willing to meet, and in fact we put out a call that people can contact us via email, whether its about the requirements or any aspect on this particular issue. We will be following it closely, so eventually, if the discussion is put to the Faculty Board and the Senate, we will be part of the discussions and decisions being taken.

TB: All we can do now is answer any of the students’ questions regarding these issues. Then it is up to whoever wants to push these issues on the agenda to do so, and this has to happen through the appropriate boards. From our end , we spoke to the University administration and clarified the points that we are now also clarifying with you. There is nothing to be done except taking it up to Senate.

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