‘Dean’ Mushtaq gets down to business

Osgoode Dean Patrick Monahan, centre left, is sartorially trumped by students, from left, Peter Kolla, Amer Mushtaq (Osgoode’s “Dean for a Day”) and Jason MacIntosh

Osgoode student Amer Mushtaq stepped into Dean Patrick Monahan’s shoes Thursday and got down to business as winner of the law school’s Dean-for-a-Day contest. For his first official act, Mushtaq gave the jeans-clad Monahan copies of his course notes to stick in his backpack and sent him off to an 8:30am class.

“It was a little like sending your kids off to school,” said an amused Mushtaq, who arrived for work at 8:15am dressed in a suit and tie.

Dean for a Day is designed to solicit ideas and feedback from students on how they would run the law school. Each contestant submitted a 500-word essay outlining what they would do as dean. The event is also an opportunity for Monahan to put himself in students’ shoes for a day by going back to class.

“Osgoode strives to involve the students in their school and get them excited about working together with one another and with faculty,” said Monahan. “It’s a fun way of showing our students that their contributions are valued and that things are constantly changing for the better at Osgoode because of them.”

In his first appointment of the day, “Dean” Mushtaq met with Chantal Morton, Osgoode’s director of career services, to make suggestions for improvements to the school’s career advising strategies. At his second meeting, he asked Osgoode facilities & business manager Peter Lee to look into fixing some squeaky doors and wonky drinking fountains. Later, he planned to meet with Gina Alexandris, assistant dean of student services, and Janet Walker, associate dean of Osgoode, to discuss matters suggested to him by fellow students.

But some of the dean’s tasks left the former naval officer from Pakistan, who once seized 35 tons of hashish abandoned by smugglers off his country’s coast, a bit unsure of himself – such as answering the dean’s telephone. “Hello, Amer here…I’m a student.” Moments later, when Cathy Malisani, secretary to the dean, came in to remove what was left of the morning coffee and croissants, Mushtaq apologized and suggested he should clean up. “No, you shouldn’t,” said a smiling Malisani, who then offered to put callers through to voice mail during media interviews. It was all part of a day’s fun that included Monahan attending classes and taking his replacement and two student associates – both dressed in suits – out for lunch.

Wearing his jeans and an Osgoode T-shirt, Monahan attended two classes during the day, taking notes by hand in each so his counterpart could have them as a memento of the day. Monahan arrived on time, posed for media photographers and promised not to ask professors Paul Perell (real estate law) and Carys Craig (copyright law) any questions. His fellow students joined in the spirit and asked to snap their own photos.

In his winning essay, Mushtaq offered a vision of the future in which he saw Osgoode becoming a “leading school that offers universal solutions to problems that face human kind.” The second-year student, who has an engineering degree from Dalhousie University and has already enjoyed a private sector career as a consultant, says Osgoode is ideally placed for the role. “I have seen two societies in my life and [I know] Canada’s values are respectful of others and that is recognized in the world,” he said.

“I came here for an intellectual debate,” Mushtaq said, warming to the task of giving interviews with reporters from the Toronto Star and Y-File in attendance. As he expounded on the “ethical crisis” facing Canadian politicians and the so-called “brain drain” of talented lawyers and professionals to the United States, student colleagues dropped by to offer congratulations and stayed to listen. “The brain-drain is overblown,” he suggested. “There is no shortage of smart young people in high school who will want to stay in Canada.” Quoting surveys suggesting 49 per cent of Canadians do not trust their politicians, Mushtaq said the problem was almost as bad as in his native country. “This is the number one problem in Canada,” he said. “This is an emergency and needs to be dealt with through the educational system.”

At the end of a long explanation of his thoughts on many subjects, mixed with anecdotes from his “first life” in Pakistan, which he left in 1998, Mushtaq responded to a question about political ambitions by saying he preferred to work in the background. “I am not the most politically correct guy in the world,” he said. As if to underline the point, Mushtaq then smiled and said, “I come from a country of coups. You never know, I might still be here tomorrow.”