'But for Wuhan?': Do Law Schools Operating in Authoritarian Regimes Have Human Rights Obligations?

19 Pages Posted: 21 May 2018

Date Written: 2013


American law schools and universities are globalizing as never before. This academic form of globalization ranges from modest student and faculty exchanges with foreign counterparts to joint degree programs to full campuses abroad. International initiatives by U.S. academic institutions are numerous and only likely to grow. Yet what happens when a U.S. acad-emy reaches out to do business with, or in, an authoritarian regime? The results to date are not encouraging. Scholarly interaction in theory pro-motes such mutual benefits as understanding, dialogue, and exposure to fresh ideas. Two recent, high-profile examples, however, suggest potential costs. Yale, joining with the National University of Singapore, has for the first time lent its name to a campus outside New Haven. Aside from working with a regime that poses significant human rights concerns, the Yale-NUS initiative has gone further to ban student political protests and organizations from its grounds. Along similar lines, a number of deans from self-proclaimed leading U.S. law schools recently held a “summit” meeting in China with their Chinese counterparts. They did so, however, in the midst of a most brutal crackdown on lawyers and law professors that included disappearances, detention, and torture. None of these leading deans indicated any awareness of the situation, commented on it, or took up sub-sequent NGO efforts to involve them in addressing the problem. These lapses suggest that U.S. law schools and universities can and should do better. International human rights law does not directly address this problem, but industry efforts at self-regulation do suggest ways forward. These include a need for institutions to (1) educate themselves about the human rights record of a host or partner regime; (2) consider alternative partners where feasible; (3) refrain from actions that contribute to human rights violations; (4) deliberately promote the rule of law and fundamental rights; and (5) constructively engage a government when it commits serious hu-man rights abuses, especially as it affects those persecuted for exercising academic freedom or providing legal representation for unpopular causes. Whatever the precise solutions, academic leaders in the United States must at least begin by acknowledging that doing business with authoritarian regimes creates problems that can no longer be ignored.

Suggested Citation

Flaherty, Martin S., 'But for Wuhan?': Do Law Schools Operating in Authoritarian Regimes Have Human Rights Obligations? (2013). 5 Drexel L. Rev. 297 (2013), Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 3182744, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3182744

Martin S. Flaherty (Contact Author)

Fordham Law School ( email )

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