Like universities and schools across the globe, UNSW had to rapidly implement online learning to continue delivering courses under the restrictions of public health orders. In the early weeks, this required a concerted uplift in technical capability, which was then followed by other, more complex challenges.
“After the initial phase, the challenge shifted from being ‘how do we do it’ to asking how we would sustain student engagement over the longer haul,” he says.
“Having students still feel connected to a university experience in the traditional sense, including relationships with their teachers and their fellow students, all while their ability to meet on campus, or even to move within a few kilometres of their home in some local government areas, was not easy.
I know that teachers worked hard to build a sense of community and camaraderie in lots of different ways – and also to be available to support those who were really struggling with the isolation and uncertainty."
The unpredictability of the pandemic was itself a significant part of the challenge. “It was one thing to respond to the first lockdown”, says Professor Lynch, “but another thing altogether to cope with the constantly evolving conditions, usually at very short notice. We didn’t know, for example, just how long and tough that second COVID-19 wave would be.”
COVID-19 highlighted the importance of law in everyday life
Professor Lynch says one side-effect of lockdowns and government restrictions, including border shutdowns, was that it brought not just health experts, but also legal expertise, into Australians’ living rooms, in a way that was unprecedented.
“The pandemic provided a dramatic illustration of the potential extent of government power. Unusually for the general public, everybody faced significant restrictions on their freedom and experienced a degree of policing that many would have found unfamiliar.
For some in our community, that experience was not so novel. It was interesting to see a much broader public discussion about the intersection of individual liberty and community safety in light of these experiences. Law came into our lives in ways many people would never have even considered before COVID-19,” Professor Lynch says.
“As a constitutional lawyer, the part I found most fascinating was the significance of our federal structure of government in shaping pandemic responses. Australians have tended to dismiss the value of the State level of government, but the the States were the frontline of our domestic management of the pandemic, with the individual Premiers being very dominant players.
The value of the knowledge in the nation’s universities, whether expertise in science, medicine or law, was also particularly apparent.”
Criminology degrees a step forward for UNSW Law & Justice
As Australians begin to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of a world where we live with COVID, Professor Lynch says the Faculty is looking to how it can enhance what it has to offer to students. A return to the full range of experiences and opportunities offered by studying at UNSW is a high priority.
But there are other changes as well. Last year, the Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, a joint program with the Faculty of Arts, Design and Architecture (ADA) since its inception, has moved to its new home in Law & Justice.
“One of the defining features of criminology at UNSW is that it is a shared program, drawing on expertise from the two faculties,” Professor Lynch says.
“But the shift to Law & Justice for the criminology academics and students is a really good fit given the Faculty’s values of social justice and commitment to understanding law’s operation in our community. It will also open up greater opportunities for collaboration and impact in research.”
“Not only will students of criminology obtain a clear understanding of the social context and phenomenon of crime, as well as policing, deterrence and punishment, but the move will also generate new conversations for students in all our degree programs around the interplay of law and society more generally,” he says.
‘We’re not just a Law Faculty, we are a Law & Justice Faculty’
For Professor Lynch, welcoming the Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice to the programs offered by the faculty is in line with the its guiding ethos.
“Emeritus Professor Hal Wootten – our founding Dean of Law - said at the very outset that, ‘a law school should have and communicate to its students a concern on those for whom the law bears harshly.’
Law’s impact and role in our society, particularly its impact on the most vulnerable, makes an understanding of the law all the more important today,” Professor Lynch says.
“Hal’s founding vision for the faculty at UNSW, and legal education generally, remains as important as ever.” Read the full article.
“We are here to contribute to conversations about law’s operation – at the global and local level. We’re part of something bigger. Law is not an abstract discipline, it reflects powerful interests and can have a transformational effect,” Professor Lynch says.
“I like that our new name signals these commitments unambiguously”, he concludes, “We are a Law and Justice Faculty, and I think that says that we will have a voice and will use it”.
Being the Dean of a top global law school is not without its stresses. Professor Lynch says switching off from work is easier if relaxation is tied to activity.
“It’s important to have a life beyond work and study. I’m always impressed by how many of our students manage to find time to do something extra – it’s not an indulgence or distraction but seems to be part of what helps them to manage the pressure.
Exercise, however you take it, is essential. But going to live music – never to be taken for granted again after COVID – is also something I find restorative and head-clearing. And while my younger self would never have believed this, I have to also recommend gardening as incredibly satisfying – it’s meditation in motion.”