Columns

Alyssa Ratledge ’11: Lawyers won’t kill IR

By
Opinions Columnist
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Since the publication of a scathing article on Interim Director of the Watson Institute David Kennedy ’76 (“Watson director’s unpopular agenda draws ire,” March 16), several Herald letters and columns have stepped up to defend Kennedy from personal criticism. Few, however, challenged the article’s angle: that it is somehow distasteful for Watson to hire legal studies professors and provide law-themed classes. Perhaps if Kennedy were suddenly forcing every international relations student to be pre-law, I could understand such an attitude, but short of that, what’s the problem?

The Watson Institute is one of the most interdisciplinary institutions on campus. Its faculty members come from a variety of backgrounds and hold a variety of positions, from professors to fellows to visiting scholars. Undergraduate concentrators in international relations have requirements in departments from IR and political science to sociology, anthropology, history and foreign languages. IR students already look at the world through a number of lenses; considering the importance of law in development, diplomacy and economics, it seems perfectly logical to include legal studies.

In fact, legal studies might be just as important an element of international relations as any of the aforementioned fields. Just as we often frown upon leaders displaying ignorance of other societies’ cultural norms, we wouldn’t want them to act without some knowledge of domestic and international law. Providing another option for students in IR (and other concentrations) to investigate the intersection of theory and practice would help them apply what they learn at Brown to careers in the
real world.

Practical, real-world application is, in fact, one of the reasons that Watson hires such a diverse faculty. There are plenty of “nontraditional” scholars working at Watson — one recent addition, Professor-at-large Romano Prodi, worked for the University of Bologna and in the Italian Parliament. For an organization like Watson, finding professors with both academic and tangible experience is not only respectable — it’s necessary. Kennedy chose to hire for temporary positions professors without PhDs, but with relevant experience. No one has criticized appointments of Richard Holbrooke ’62 or Lincoln Chafee ’75 as Visiting Fellows at Watson, because of their knowledge and experience. Why criticize Dan Danielsen, J.D. and Massachusetts Bar member, for teaching a seminar called “How Lawyers Think”?

This is not to say that Kennedy is above reproach. If there are legitimate concerns regarding his management style or nepotistic hiring practices, as indicated by several anonymous sources in the article, they should be investigated through proper channels — but not based upon the assumption that classes about law are bad for students or the department. Instead, legal studies classes seem to be a nice complement to current classes by offering a new outlook within the field.

Kennedy doesn’t have dastardly plans to eliminate the IR degree and fill Watson with Harvard-produced law school drones. In fact, adding legal studies as a choice within the curriculum will give IR students more opportunities. The IR program at Brown will remain a draw because of its multidisciplinary outlook, not in spite of it. A few Harvard lawyers can’t kill one of the most popular concentrations on campus.

Alyssa Ratledge ’11, a public policy concentrator, thinks international relations concentrators shouldn’t be afraid to lay down the law.