Snapshot: Rumu Sarkar (Poland, 2016/17)
Law is actually an expression of culture insofar as the law reflects the mores, norms, and culturally determined expectations within a given society. Therefore, using literature as a jumping off point for law is in keeping with my multi-disciplinary approach to the subject
Could you tell us a little about your experience as a Fulbright Specialist in Poland? How did your experiences in a Polish classroom enhance your own professional development?
I was deeply honored to be selected as a Fulbright Specialist to lecture at the John Paul II School of Law, Lublin, Poland. For two weeks, I taught about 80 Polish law students (in English) about the dangers of failed and failing states. This could lead to ungoverned and ungovernable territories which may give rise to all manner of criminal activities. With this introduction, I then chose to teach a very complex series of lectures dealing with emerging economies and the disruption of capital markets through three intertwined factors: (1) transnational organized crimes; (2) Islamic-based terrorism; and (3) corruption.
In fact, I divided my 80+ Polish advanced law students into groups to negotiate fact patterns and create legal solutions to extremely difficult problems. This was a very different way of teaching law than what they were used to. It was a very demanding course for them! But it gave me a chance to bring the clinical method of legal education, very prevalent in the U.S., to a strictly civil law based system of legal pedagogy where the law professor lectured but there was not much, if any, student input. Taking a clinical approach to teaching law in Poland was an experiment for me!
At the end, each student was given a certificate for completing an English-language law course. Afterwards, all my students stood up at the same time, and started clapping. That’s strange, I thought. It was only until two of my male law students came up to the stage with two bunches of flowers for me that I realized that I was being given a standing ovation! I promptly burst into tears, and could only blurt out, “My mother tells me I cry too much!” I never dreamed that as a law professor, I would one day feel like a prima ballerina!
This remains a seminal professional teaching experience for me, and one that will always bring a smile to my face.
Your research, including your book, International Development Law: Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Global Finance, blends a range of disciplines. What, for you, is the value of bringing these different disciplines to bear on the emerging field of International Development Law?
When I first began teaching “Law and Development” as a Master of Law (LL.M.) seminar at the Georgetown University Law Center, I (along with other law professors who taught the same subject), relied on miscellaneous law reviews and New York Times articles to organize a topic that was scattered and lacked academic discipline. After two years, I decided to write a text on the subject. It has now gone through four iterations, the latest (and last!) being International Development Law: Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Global Finance (2d ed., Springer 2020).
This subject was not an established one when I started teaching it. Rather, I have described it as “an emerging legal discipline.” It was clear to me through my teaching experience at Georgetown Law that I needed to describe and analyze the underlying foundation for the subject. In other words, it was impossible to understand the legal tenets that I was trying to convey without first understanding the historical, economic, political, and even philosophical foundation for the subject. Thus, by definition, I saw International Development Law as intrinsically multi-disciplinary in nature, and one that had to take those underlying principles into account. This foundation provided the springboard for the actual legal principles that I was teaching my students.
You write in International Development Law about how valuable you’ve found using fictional works in your teaching – such as Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease – to emphasise the human aspects of structural problems. What works of literature have you found particularly valuable in understanding international development law?
Actually, I waited many years before addressing the issue of corruption as a factor impeding development in emerging economies. I avoided the subject because I felt (wrongly) that it almost appeared to blame the victim. When I began teaching the subject at Georgetown Law, I realized that my students needed to understand the phenomena of “corruption” from a human dimension, not merely a legal one. In fact, my simple definition of “corruption” was that it rewards bad conduct, and punishes good conduct. In order to make this clear to my students, I relied on a brilliant teaching technique used by Professor James Mittleman whose class I took while I was a student at Barnard College, Columbia University. Prof. Mittleman used African novels to teach African political theory.
Using Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease was a wonderful teaching approach for me. I warned my Georgetown Law students ahead of time that they would be expected to read a novel in law class! The compelling story of a young and brilliant Nigerian boy who receives a scholarship to study in London, and then returns to Nigeria, and slowly, almost inexorably becomes entangled in accepting a small bribe, after resisting one for months. He is tried in court which added a legal dimension to the story. My law students loved the novel and the novel approach, and urged me to keep using it in the classroom.
One of the points that I make in my teaching is that law is actually an expression of culture insofar as the law reflects the mores, norms, and culturally determined expectations within a given society. Therefore, using literature as a jumping off point for law is in keeping with my multi-disciplinary approach to the subject. It also humanizes the subject, and makes going through the thicket of anti-corruption laws from the UN, the OECD, and the U.S. Government more palatable for my law students. I am very humbled that my students, over time, have enthusiastically embraced this approach.
Your question is urging me to ask myself what other novels may be used to teach International Development Law?