Water and oil the right mix for University Cup winner

(Edmonton) David Percy loves Alberta’s rugged mountains and wild prairies. So when he joined the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Law in 1969 and was encouraged by his dean to teach water law, the opportunity to spend time outdoors while studying his chosen profession proved irresistible.

Percy’s growing interest in water law then spread to the broader field of natural resources law, which “inevitably led to oil and gas law,” he recalls. Today, his decades of scholarly dedication and contribution to the understanding of these touchstone subjects has earned Percy the 2013 University Cup, the highest honour a U of A academic can receive.

Percy is also the first recipient from the Faculty of Law ever to be awarded the University Cup, and as a former dean, is proud to turn the spotlight on his home faculty of 44 years.

“We are a small faculty of 500 students, so the fact that this year we won both the University Cup and the J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research is recognition that our faculty does meaningful work that has a real impact on Alberta and Canada.”

The University Cup is awarded to a faculty member who has achieved outstanding distinction in scholarly research, teaching and service to the U of A and to the greater community. Percy is among top faculty, staff and students being recognized at the university’s annual Celebrate! Teaching. Learning. Research event Sept. 19. All are welcome to attend the event.

Researcher, adviser, teacher

Percy joined the U of A as an assistant professor after earning degrees from Oxford University and the University of Virginia, and has carved out a career as a respected authority in the intricacies of resource law, as well as contracts and construction law—all of them touching aspects of everyday life, though people may not realize it, he said.

“Law is a reflection of our society, so it’s always interesting. If you look at the problems that people are trying to solve, they constantly involve shifts in social attitudes. The law has played a major role in changing views of almost everything, from women’s rights to consumer protection.”

That depth and breadth of his interest in law has guided Percy’s career at the U of A as a leading researcher, policy adviser and teacher in his areas of expertise. “There is no better place in the world to be if you want to study water and oil issues.”

Deeply intrigued by the connection between water and energy, Percy has devoted his career to exploring—and understanding—related complex issues ranging from water rights to the disposition of interests in oil and gas.

“There are so many difficult questions arising as we develop these natural resources, and I want to help influence public policy so that we as Albertans can find the answers we need.”

Outstanding accomplishments in Alberta and around the world

Among his long list of accomplishments, Percy served as founding chair of the University of Alberta Water Initiative, was appointed as the law faculty’s first holder of the Borden Ladner Gervais Chair of Energy Law in 2010 and worked on the preparation of Alberta’s Water Act (enacted in 1999). Currently, Percy is reviewing critiques of Alberta’s water allocation system, including public input received through this year’s provincial Water Conversation.

Internationally, Percy served as a visiting legal research scientist for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and helped write the framework for Namibia’s successful 2003 Aquaculture Act.

Closer to home, Percy served as dean of law from to 2002 to 2009. Under his guidance, the Faculty of Law established a joint degree program with the University of Colorado, renovated the Law Centre and raised $20 million for the faculty during the U of A’s centenary campaign in 2008, which resulted in funding for new teaching positions and scholarships.

Percy remains active in the classroom, teaching contracts, water law, and oil and gas law. Using everyday examples to which his students can relate, Percy is rewarded to see their evolving understanding of legal analysis. “It’s as if you see the light bulbs going on in their heads during the course of the year.”

When his students graduate from the U of A, Percy hopes they leave with “a clear grasp of applicable principles in law, a starting point for solving problems in their areas and an awareness of ethics and the wider implications of their subject.”

And as a teacher and researcher, he is gratified to have witnessed the U of A’s growth as a leading research and teaching university over the past four decades.

“The University of Alberta has always supported me in my teaching and in valuable collaborations with fellow researchers in other disciplines, and I am extraordinarily grateful for that.”