UAlberta Law PhD candidate hired for tenure-track position at B.C. university

Colton Fehr joins the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University as an assistant professor for fall 2020

Sarah Kent - 22 May 2020

In a rare feat, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law has landed a tenure-track position at Simon Fraser University before he’s even defended his dissertation.

Colton Fehr will finish his PhD this summer and become an assistant professor in the School of Criminology in the fall, an extraordinary accomplishment that’s even more notable during a period of post-secondary cutbacks and economic uncertainty that’s exacerbated by a pandemic.

“There is a lot of competition for these positions,” says Fehr. “I was very fortunate to get one this early in my career.”

But Fehr’s job offer isn’t a case of good fortune. He’s put years of hard work into becoming an expert in his fields of study: criminal law, criminal procedure, and law and technology.

“He thinks very creatively about where the law is headed and where it should be going,” said Professor Steven Penney, Fehr’s supervisor.

“Professor Penney has been very supportive because he’s so knowledgeable in this field,” says Fehr. “He’s made this process considerably easier.”

Fehr’s doctoral research on digital devices, privacy laws and law enforcement addresses a gap in both scholarship and legal practice.

Instead of asking the more common question of what regulations should be imposed on state searches of digital devices, Fehr’s work asks, ‘who should be responsible for those regulations?’

An administrative task force made up of experts in digital law may be better suited than the courts or Parliament for addressing the constantly changing landscape of digital evidence, says Fehr.

Fehr has stuck by the best advice he has received as a PhD student: “Publish, publish, publish.” Chapters from his dissertation have been published in the McGill Law Journal, University of British Columbia Law Review, Canadian Criminal Law Review and the Canadian Journal of Law & Technology. During his time as a PhD student, Fehr has also written 10 other articles on criminal and constitutional law theory that have appeared in national and international law journals.

“Colton is undeniably prolific,” said Penney. “He has an exceptional record of publication.”

Before even finishing his doctorate, Fehr is already 100 pages into writing his next book project, exploring the intersections of criminal and constitutional law philosophy.

But “there is so much more to the PhD process than just the writing,” said Fehr.

As a PhD student, learning to teach was a challenge for Fehr, who has now taught three different courses multiple times and in two different departments during his time at UAlberta Law.

“I took it seriously early on that I was going to gain all of that relevant experience,” he said.

The School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University will be a good fit, says Fehr, whose expertise straddles criminal and constitutional law and empirical studies of crime.

“Being able to teach in a place where some of the best criminologists in the country are just down the way will be invaluable.”

Although the shape of the fall term remains uncertain due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fehr looks forward to the opportunity to continue his research and writing at Simon Fraser University.