Professor John Sinclair had a sleepless night before he took his first class at Strathclyde Law School in 1969. He expected a student revolt, but over the following 30-plus years he would build up a very loyal following of law students. Professor Sinclair reflects on his days at Strathclyde’s Law School.
In late 1969 the first law lecturer at the new Strathclyde university, James Copeland, left to join a country practice. The word that a replacement for Jim was sought was passed through the legal profession, and came to my ears. I expressed an interest and, accordingly, was asked to meet Professor Isaac Miller and emerged from a pleasant chat having accepted an offer of employment. That was the way that things were done in those far off days.
There were three weeks left before I was due to start and I went home to write my lectures. Immediately I caught influenza (not a common cold, but the real thing) and spent the next three weeks in a darkened room, every joint aching. Around the turn of the year I began to feel better, and realised that I was due to start lecturing on the 6th of January. From then on, I had to research and prepare my lectures every night for the following day.
I did not sleep very well the night before my first lecture. This was a time of worldwide student revolt, and I had nightmares of cobblestones being dug up and hurled at me, as had happened in Paris. I turned up and found 15 perfectly behaved students, many of whom are still my friends. There should have been17, but that was the extent of any revolt.
Lectures were in the College of Commerce building, which had small classrooms. We were then moved into the main university campus, to the Stenhouse Building, where we shared the sixth floor with the Administration department. Steadily our numbers increased, and in 1978 Professor Millar asked me to assume responsibility for the new postgraduate Diploma. This I did with some misgiving – the Law Society’s mantra of “learning by doing seemed fine but teaching practical subjects in a classroom seemed to me like learning surgery without a patient, who would scream and bleed and sue if your knife slipped. Nevertheless, I was willing to give it my best shot. The Diploma class grew and grew, and we went from having the smallest diploma in Scotland to having the largest, with 114 students. A new tier had been added to the Law School but the least satisfactory feature was that we had to get our rooms centrally from the university, and these might be anywhere on campus. With a dreadful hill to negotiate, and some fairly terrible weather, this did nothing for the collegiate atmosphere, and on occasions we lost whole classes.
In the meantime, under the aegis of Professor Ross Harper, we had been developing extra-curricular classes at a postgraduate and paralegal level, and the entire shooting match metamorphosed into the Centre for Professional Legal Studies (CPLS). Then it was announced that we would move out of Stenhouse, which was very overcrowded, to the refurbished Hope Building. Here at last we could encourage a collegiate atmosphere, and have most of our classes under one roof.
It was at that time that the university entered into an agreement with Glasgow University to merge the two diplomas under the title of Glasgow Graduate School of Law, which also took in the various postgraduate classes. Diploma numbers rose to 200, and since then have risen again to 250.
The Law School itself is now to move to the Hope Building, where between us we will have two floors. Quite a change from teaching a handful of students in the College of Commerce, which is now the headquarters building of Strathclyde Police.