Centre for Asian Legal Studies Celebrates 25 Years

From humble beginnings as a singe course in Japanese Law, first taught in 1980-81, the Centre for Asian Legal Studies has grown and flourished at the Peter A Allard School of Law at UBC in the quarter-century since it's start. The program has expanded over those 25 years from a single course to a program with seven courses in the areas of Japanese, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Korean legal studies, and some 60 to 80 students enrolled in some area of Asian legal studies each year. On this anniversary, the Centre is regarded as a leading institute for Asian legal studies both in North America and internationally. But sustaining the Centre through its early years wasn't always easy.

"For most of the 1990s, UBC was an institution in financial paralysis," reflects Ian Townsend-Gault, Founding Director of the Centre, "We were unable to replace faculty members and the only reason the Centre kept going is we all had...outside sources of funding, which we were able to use for UBC purposes. It was a miracle that so many good people stayed. And they didn't stay for the skiing. They stayed because, for those of us who are working in Asia, this is the place to be."

Outside sources of funding were crucial to the Centre's ability to be pioneering academic hub. The Law Foundation of British Columbia, the Max Bell Foundation, the Canadian International Development Agency, and the Korea Foundation should all be recognized as critical supports for CALS. In fact, support from the latter helped build the Korean legal studies program, the newest part of CALS, and the only program of its kind in Canada. Unfortunately, the celebrations for this occasion are bittersweet - one of the early fathers of the program, Professor Stephan Salzberg, passed away in 2005, only a year before this occasion. He was essential in developing protocols for visiting Asian legal scholars to study at UBC.

Still, the Centre's accomplishments continue; It shares credit for the faculty's development of a mandatory first year course in Transnational Law. Townsend-Gault believes such a course is a necessary part of law school, "it simply seems to me to be an element of the basic education for a lawyer that you know how the international legal system works."

On the 25th anniversary, the Centre is as much looking to the future as it is celebrating. "We have, through a visionary commitment of the law school [and] the British Columbia government been able to establish and sustain one the leading Centres for building knowledge on Asian law," says Pitman Potter, "and that's both a tribute to Canada and a tribute to the University."

Read more about the 25th anniversary of the Centre for Asian Legal Studies in the Alumni Magazine