This is the first in a series of critical issues to be addressed and conversations to be had:
#1. Relaunching the International Human Rights Program (IHRP)
Law Dean Brunnee has publicly committed to re-launching the International Human Rights Program (IHRP), and we applaud this. She also indicated the importance of awaiting a ‘blue print’ report by Emeritus Professor Rebecca Cook that will set out future options for the IHRP. The stated intention is to use Prof. Cook’s report as a launching point for faculty deliberation about the future structure and direction of the IHRP. The date for submission of Prof. Cook’s report was early March, 2021. It has not appeared yet. We urge the Dean to proceed with reviving the IHRP now.
The core of the IHRP is a clinical program where students learn about international human rights law practice through course work and direct engagement on human rights projects with partners in the field. In the past, both the course and the clinic have been taught by the IHRP Director. There are other elements to the IHRP as well, including summer internships, student working groups, and written work.
While Professor Rebecca Cook’s report will doubtless offer useful ideas for future development of the IHRP, any program that bears the name and a commitment to clinical legal education must retain the international human rights clinic as its nucleus. It can aspire to more, of course, but it cannot do less. No faculty member at UT Law has the skill set to deliver a clinical program. Only a clinical director with expertise and experience in the practice of international human rights law and advocacy can do that.
Restarting the clinical program does not preclude future evolution, expansion and growth in the scope and mandate of the IHRP. This includes the possibility of creating a dedicated ‘clinical law professor’ category (possibly tenure stream) for the directors of all clinical law programs, thereby affirming the protection of academic freedom. We agree with the Law Dean that these matters require collegial consultation and deliberation and should not be imposed unilaterally by the University or the Law Dean.
Indeed, a clinical director would be an invaluable contributor to such an initiative. However, it would be a mistake to await design and implementation of a new model. That process will necessarily be slow and must, in any event, retain the clinical program. The law school is entering its third year without a permanent director and stable program. Law students deserve better.
This means that the Dean should move on hiring a permanent IHRP director as soon as possible. The selection committee identified the best person for that job in August 2020: Dr. Valentina Azarova. She deserves an unreserved apology for termination of her job offer, a renewal of that offer, and good-faith negotiation of terms, all in the hopes that she will accept and the program can be relaunched by the 2021/22 academic year. This would be a great outcome for law students, the law school, and the University. There is no reason or need to wait.
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