‘Don’t leave law to the lawyers’ 

By Karen Herland

Eric Reiter Magnifying glass

Eric Reiter

When Eric Reiter joined Concordia's History Department last summer with a mandate to develop a proposal for an interdisciplinary Law and Society program, he expected to build his proposal for a minor on a handful of courses already offered at Concordia.

A review of the course calendar turned up over two dozen available courses in psychology, political science, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, history, communications and at the JMSB.

“It was a pleasant surprise. I could build a program based on what we already had that would be interdisciplinary in the best possible way.”

Arts and Science Dean David Graham was familiar with a similar program at Memorial University, which had high enrolment for its introductory courses. Graham recognized that there were professors interested in the field here. “I had additional stimulus talking to students here. I was particularly impressed by one thoughtful, serious student who regretted that Concordia did not have a coherent program.”

However, interdisciplinary programs require “someone to lead the effort around whom the program can crystallize.” Graham thinks that Reiter has the ideal skill set to take on that challenge.

Reiter comes to Concordia with a background in medieval history and law. He is a member of the Quebec Bar, although he has never practiced law. “I decided while I was in law school that pursuing questions was more interesting than finding answers. I wanted to teach.

“I’ve gone from working with medieval manuscripts to dealing with real-life, current issues. But I bring a perspective from the past.”

It is that combination of experience that he hopes to bring to the Law and Society program. His initial proposal was developed in consultation with professors and department chairs already teaching in and around the interrelationship between law and society.

He hopes that the program will provide students with “a sense of the different roles that law plays in society. And the power that law has to shape society and vice versa.”

He is excited by the opportunity to develop such a program in Quebec, where no such program currently exists. “Quebec has a distinctive legal approach that is often downplayed.” He also hopes that the program will address international issues, like human rights.

Ideally, he would like the program to develop from a set of questions about the relationship between law and society, explored in an introductory course. Students could then expand their knowledge in more specialized courses, depending on their background and interests.

“Law is broader than just what the state says. It encompasses customs and conventions and operates from the bottom up, as well as top down.”

He is aware that students are keen for such a program, and that many of them see it as a stepping-stone to a legal career. But he would like the program to include the practical, everyday questions that attract him to the subject.

“I want students to be able to study what law is and what it does, not just how to do law. Law is too important to leave only to lawyers.”

The project is currently beginning the approval stage. If all goes well, it could be ready for students in 2009.


Concordia University