U of Manitoba law dean who left under mysterious circumstances gets new gig at U.K. law school

By | August 24, 2020

The dean who left the University of Manitoba’s faculty of law in May suddenly and without public explanation is now running a top-ranking law school in the United Kingdom, the CBC has learned.

Jonathan Black-Branch was announced as the University of Southampton law school’s new head of school on Tuesday in a press release issued by the university.

The news comes less than a week after six law professors penned a letter to the Law Society of Manitoba outlining their concerns about Branch’s tenure at the university and questions surrounding his departure.

The CBC has agreed not to name the authors of the letter as it was sent in confidence to the Law Society.

Internal U of M investigation

The letter outlines the findings of a recent internal investigation by the U of M which found a senior employee mismanaged and misused money. The internal investigation does not name the employee. 

“We believe it is reasonably likely, albeit not certain to us, that the investigation concerned Dr. Black-Branch,” says the letter sent Aug. 14 to the Law Society of Manitoba.

“These reasons include Dr. Black-Branch’s own earlier mentions last fall that the central administration of the University was intensively looking into his management of certain programs and his sudden and unexplained leave of absence and later complete departure from the university.”

The authors told the law society — which regulates all lawyers and the legal profession in Manitoba — they felt it was “our duty, in all the circumstances, to alert the law society to the situation.”

Black-Branch was appointed dean of the U of M’s faculty of law on July 1, 2016, for a term scheduled to last until June 30, 2021.

However, faculty members and staff were quietly and suddenly told in May that Black-Branch was on leave and Bruce Curran, an assistant professor at the faculty, would be temporarily acting as dean. 

CBC spoke to nearly a dozen people affiliated with the university who all corroborated that no explanation was given and his departure came as a surprise.

Auditor general considering investigation

The internal investigation at the U of M was launched sometime in 2019-20, after a whistleblower came forward with allegations money was being misused by a senior employee.

It found that “wrongdoing” had occurred with respect to the purchase of goods and services and there was “mismanagement and misuse of funds.”

Manitoba Auditor General Tyson Shtykalo says his office might begin a probe into the findings from the internal investigation. (Submitted by the Office of the Auditor General of Manitoba)

The findings were sent to Manitoba’s auditor general. 

“We are aware of some financial irregularities at University of Manitoba and are considering a potential audit,” Auditor General Tyson Shtykalo said in an emailed statement to CBC News.

U of M declines to explain why dean left

In mid-July, an internal email was sent to members of the U of M faculty of law announcing Black-Branch was no longer with the university and David Asper had been appointed the acting dean. 

Repeated requests to speak with Black-Branch through the University of Southampton have not been returned. The university also did not respond to a series of questions posed by CBC about its decision to hire Black-Branch.

In a press release issued Tuesday, the university welcomed Black-Branch to the school.

The university, located in Southampton, United Kingdom, is considered one of the top 100 schools in the world, according to international rankings.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Black-Branch to the University. He brings a wealth of experience in directing a research-intensive law school. His international scholarly reputation, combined with his managerial experience, make him exceptionally well-qualified to lead Southampton Law School,” stated the release

In a statement, a spokesperson for the University of Manitoba said it learned of Black-Branch’s new position on Tuesday but could not comment further, citing privacy concerns.

For the same reasons, the university has refused to say why Black-Branch left the position or give the name of the senior employee at the centre of the internal investigation.

When asked about the letter to the law society, the spokesperson said the U of M would work “with the law society if contacted regarding concerns that were communicated to them.”

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