Brave New Courses
Harvard Law curriculum expands to meet a changed world
By Michael Armini
In a hushed classroom the discussion focused on threat vectors, tactical nuclear weapons, and the use of T-34 tanks. A white-haired general paced in front of eager students who asked about the secrets of Delta Force and the value of international coalitions.
While it may sound like a West Point tutorial or a lecture at Annapolis, this exchange took place in the Austin North classroom at Harvard Law School. In the wake of September 11, HLS has added new courses to train tomorrow's legal stars—and leaders in all fields—in critical issues related to terrorism, Islamic law, and international relations.
With 268 courses and seminars, HLS already boasts one of the largest and most diverse legal curriculums in the world. Nevertheless, the events of September 11 and the School's commitment to practical education prompted some faculty members to create and add new courses this year. What do students think? They're signing up in droves.
"One of the strengths of Harvard Law School is the quick connection we are able to make between world events and the curriculum," said Alan Ray, associate dean for academic affairs. "Other schools, even distinguished ones, with fewer faculty must 'import' such courses by contracting for the services of visiting professors, whose availability is never assured."
One course added to meet the demands of the post-9/11 world is Terrorism in the 21st Century, taught by Professor Philip Heymann '60, a former deputy attorney general. Heymann, a leading terrorism expert and author of Terrorism and America: A Commonsense Strategy for a Democratic Society, added the course to the HLS Winter Term and brought in guest lecturers whose work in counter-terrorism would bring the course to life.
On January 15, two-star general and former U.S. drug czar Barry McCaffrey spoke about a range of current issues, from the war in Afghanistan to who might be behind the recent anthrax scare in the U.S. "It could be a whacked-out libertarian wearing a three-piece suit," said McCaffrey, pointing out that assumptions about terrorists are often misleading.
Following a forceful and occasionally apocalyptic lecture, students peppered McCaffrey with questions on everything from state-sponsored assassination to the war on drugs. "Let's just say I'm glad he's on our side," said Tim Shannon, a student in the class.
During McCaffrey's visit, the civil liberties ramifications of national identity cards were debated, with McCaffrey weighing in forcefully in favor of using the cards in the U.S. "It is ludicrous that we don't have national identity cards," he said, pointing to other democracies, such as Israel, that use them.
In the area of Islamic law, a new course, Contemporary Islamic Legal Thought, was added to the curriculum this spring and an existing course, Islamic Legal Systems, has seen a 50 percent rise in enrollment. Adjunct Professor Frank Vogel, the instructor for both courses, is quick to point out that students are not specifically citing September 11 as their reason for taking the courses, but the event has certainly sparked interest in Islam both as a religion and a legal system.
"A nerve has been exposed," said Vogel. "If we don't understand Islamic legal doctrine, we're left without a reference point. We need to place the events of September 11 in perspective; we need to explore without making a judgment."
In addition to Vogel's spring semester courses, this summer the HLS Islamic Legal Studies Program is offering a five-day intensive set of lectures and panels on all aspects of Islamic legal systems, from banking to family law to human rights. The summer program is specifically designed for practicing lawyers. "Given this mounting interest [in Islamic law] among practitioners, we felt that we had to offer an introductory summer course," added Vogel, director of the program.
In another sign of the times, enrollment in International Law and International Relations skyrocketed from 40 students last year to 170 this semester.
"I have never taught a class this large in all my time at HLS," said Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter '85. "I have 1Ls, 2Ls, 3Ls, LL.M and S.J.D. students—all focused, engaged, and determined to try to understand both the law and politics of a changed world. It is a genuine intellectual adventure."
Even a seminar on transitional civil administration—typically a very small class—has seen a sharp increase in enrollment, going from four students last year up to 12 this semester. "There has been certainly more interest in the seminar," said Claude Bruderlein, a lecturer on law who teaches the seminar. "Students are very interested in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Palestinian interim administration."
While some students say they never expected to study terrorism or international relations in law school, many are eager to supplement the traditional legal curriculum with a pragmatic look at today's changed world.
"It's scary stuff, but it's very real and very important," said Shannon.
What Do You Think?
- "In today’s complex and changing world, law students need access to a diverse curriculum that addresses very specific areas of law and public policy."
- "Students should stick to the basics. A legal education should not be based on the issues of the day—it is about studying legal doctrine."
- "Students should be required to take both basic legal courses and a broad distribution of electives that address current realities in law, government, and business."
- "Students should be able to build their own curriculum based on their own interests and plans after law school."
Visit Vox Populi and give us your opinion. (Please note: This poll will be active from March 1 - May 1, 2002)