There is little that Professor Emeritus Joost Blom has not done at Allard Law. Professor Blom completed his law degree at the law school in 1970, joined the faculty in 1972, served as Dean from 1997 to 2003, and retired in 2017, but continues to maintain an active presence at Allard Law as well as in the university more broadly.
For only one example of his active current involvement in the UBC community, Professor Blom takes on a new role this upcoming academic year as Principal of the UBC Emeritus College.
The emeritus title, which is a lifetime rank awarded by the UBC Senate, reflects continued participation in the life of the institution. “The purposes of the College include providing a community of scholarship and camaraderie for retired UBC faculty, helping faculty transition into retirement, and promoting social and intellectual interaction within and beyond the UBC community,” shared Professor Blom. As Principal, Professor Blom was elected by members of the College — UBC retired faculty with emeritus status — for a one-year term to head up the administration of the College and to chair the elected Council of the College.
The College consists of hundreds of senior colleagues who, as Professor Blom says, are collectively a great resource for the university, but the College also engages in outreach to alumni and the wider community, both on and off campus, through public events and other activities.
“In a way the emeritus faculty can have a better academic life than when they were full-time faculty. They have time to meet and learn from colleagues from every other discipline on campus. They can explore fields other than their own specialties. That’s one of the reasons why the College has a very active social side, with special events, special interest groups that meet regularly, and so on.”
Some emeriti continue writing and researching for years after they retire. Some, like Professor Blom, do some teaching. “It’s strictly a year-to-year arrangement. I’m an adjunct professor who’s filling a gap. So there has to be a gap that the law school needs filled, and the gap has to be in a subject that I can—and want to—do.” Luckily for the current law students at Allard Law and for the UBC community in general, every year since Professor Blom’s retirement there has been a teaching gap that he has been able to fill.
Although Professor Blom said that he approaches teaching in much the same way that he did when he was full-time faculty, one major difference in the teaching experience for the past couple of years has been—like everyone else—the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Professor Blom’s Torts course was taken suddenly online in March 2020, and the course was taught fully remote the following year, as well.
“For each class there were readings, there was a recorded presentation to lay the groundwork for a Zoom session, and then on Zoom, the class and I had a discussion and asked questions back and forth,” explained Professor Blom, who was surprised to learn that the challenge of getting material across to students by remote teaching was actually not as bad as he had feared.
“From the instructor’s point of view, what you really miss is any sense of how the class is responding to what you’re trying to get across. Of course, when somebody asks a question, you get a sense of whether that person is with you, but you don’t have much of a clue how the rest of the group is doing. The only real indicator I got was at the very end—in the quality of the exams. There, I have to say, I was encouraged to see that the standard of the answers was pretty much what I would have hoped for if the course had been taught in the classroom.”
One might wonder how Professor Blom is not yet bored of the law after fifty years of teaching it. “Any day now I may realize that I never want to read another judgment, but I still love reading, thinking, writing and talking about the law. Law is just so endlessly interesting. It has so many facets and it keeps changing so much that you never feel you’ve gone over the same ground twice,” Professor Blom said.
In the courses that he teaches—Torts, in the past couple of years, and Conflict of Laws in the upcoming academic year—the hot issues of the day are usually driven by developments in the case law.
“In Torts, or at least the law of negligence, the human impulse is to come to the rescue whenever an innocent person suffers harm because of a negligent person. What the courts have to navigate is the systemic constraints to [rescuing that person] in every case. You can’t just give a remedy for every loss. The courts keep adjusting the law to strike a better balance,” said Professor Blom.
Conflict of Laws deals with the cross-border operation of systems of private law, and this subject also continues to be fascinating for Professor Blom, from its overall structure, to the latest case on an international contract or an interprovincial family law dispute.
Although the law continues to develop in fascinating ways, and the pandemic has changed the law school experience in recent years, as Professor Blom commented: “the post-COVID world will still have the same kind of people and the same kind of problems.”
As advice for current students, Professor Blom offered this: “Being able to use a law degree is both powerful and humbling. It gives you great privileges, but at the same time you know that you are only endowed with this status so that you can give real help to people with real problems. My only advice – or wish, really – for graduates is that they get to use their law degree in a career that they love because they can bring to it the best that they have to offer.”