The University of Manitoba senate approved a proposal for a master’s degree in human rights at its regular senate meeting Jan. 3.
The proposed program now awaits a final approval by the university’s board of governors at its upcoming meeting, Jan. 30.
In June, the law faculty council voted unanimously to locate the master of human rights (MHR) program, including its staff and students, at the U of M’s Robson hall faculty of law.
Robson hall faculty of law dean Jonathan Black-Branch said the program will be the only degree of its kind in Canada. He explained that unlike similar graduate programs offered throughout the country, human rights will be the main focus of the MHR program as opposed to only a component of a broader degree.
“It will be unique in that it is focused on human rights issues completely,” he said, adding that the proposed master’s degree program is “the first one to be called a ‘master of human rights’ not, for example, a ‘master of arts in human rights.’”
While the program will be housed at the university’s faculty of law, it will run as an interdisciplinary and inter-faculty program under the faculties of graduate studies, law, arts, education, and social work. The program’s director will report to the dean of law.
Further, the MHR program will work in collaboration with Robson hall’s Centre for Human Rights Research, St. Paul’s Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice, and the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.
Black-Branch said that for the University of Manitoba, offering a human rights master’s degree program “shows that there’s academic leadership in the area to having a master’s degree that focuses on professional development and with a view to promoting human rights and understanding human rights issues and dialogue and discourse and promoting the importance of protecting human rights.”
The proposal for the human rights master’s degree has gone through a four-year-long process of consultation and revision.
Joking, Black-Branch said, “A member of the university told me that he’s been here 13 years and it was on the agenda when he started.”
“But in all fairness, the last three to five years has been much more of the nuts and bolts of getting the curriculum together, the courses together, and going through the curriculum course change committee, the various senate committees, the various faculties,” Black-Branch added.
Once approved by the U of M board of governors, the MHR program will begin accepting applications during the 2019 fall term and is expected to begin in the fall of 2020.
The human rights master’s degree has received a gift of $3 million dollars that will be transferred following the board of governors’ approval. The MHR program has also received two donations of $500,000 for master’s student fellowships and bursaries to offset costs of travel for international research and practicums.
The initial program fee for Canadian students will be $6,000 annually and will be subject to tuition increases.
The program will require students to complete 18 course credits and either a practicum and major research project or a thesis.
Black-Branch explained that students will be allowed to select from a wide range of electives, so that through the courses they choose the program can be tailored to their liking.
The MHR program “will offer [students] the opportunity to do a specialist-focused program to develop their expertise, to develop their knowledge-base, to develop their skill set within a professional context,” Black-Branch said.
“The impact for the student will be an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and knowledge that will be directly applicable to the type of work they want to do in human rights. And their dissertation or their placement – their internship – will allow them to develop that expertise or those skill sets even further.”
On student recruitment, Black-Branch said that potential students have already expressed a desire to apply for the program.
“We have so much interest once the program had been on the books,” he said. “It’s been a program that has people following it in terms of waiting for it to happen. So we already have a wide range of interest in the program as it stands now.”
The program aims to redirect the flow of Canadian students who would have otherwise elected to pursue international human rights graduate programs abroad, and to attract new international students to the University of Manitoba.
“It will raise our profile, but also provide opportunity to the student[s],” Black-Branch said.
Black-Branch also emphasized the importance of offering such a program, explaining that the MHR degree will place Manitoba and Winnipeg at the forefront of human rights education and scholarship in Canada.
“Manitoba has progressed quite far in terms of human rights recognitions and in terms of human rights agenda within both the city of Winnipeg, but also the province,” he said. “We now have the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, as you know, that’s a very unique museum. It’s the only Canadian museum outside of the capital.”
Black-Branch added that the MHR program “will put Manitoba firmly on the map within Canada and abroad as being an area of human rights.”
Over the past years, the program has received numerous letters of support – including letters from Juan Carlos Mendoza, permanent representative and ambassador of Costa Rica to the United Nations, and Kimberly Prost, Canada’s judge-elect for the International Criminal Court.
“I think we are at a place in the world where human rights is not an afterthought,” Black-Branch said. “It is a mainstream discipline, and therefore needs a unique approach.”
Calling it “monumental” for the university, Black-Branch said, “In terms of having this on the books, you can never underestimate or understate how important this is for raising the University of Manitoba’s profile globally, internationally. It is a very important masters.”