In this blog post, I want to share the introduction of a new minor in Law, Justice, and Society and the discussions and processes that led to the successful passage of the minor at Drew University, a liberal arts college in Madison, NJ. Similar to many other institutions, there was a long history of many law courses being primarily offered in the political science department such as Civil Liberties, Constitutional Law and Civil Rights, International Law and there was a list of recommended courses mostly for pre-law students that also included a few courses from other departments – on ethics, logic and criminology for example. The major criteria for such a list was to cater to students who were interested in getting into law school. Even though we made it clear that there is no recommended major for law school, political science continued/continues to be one of the popular majors that are considered by students interested in law school though it has also changed over time. In such a context, how does one introduce a minor that explicitly asks students to take courses across different disciplines and think of law not just as being for students interested in law school but that linked integrally to questions of justice. As the description of our minor states “Law emerges out of struggles over social, political and cultural values; law affects different communities differently; and law shapes society and is shaped by it.” Further, how does one explain that a more interdisciplinary perspective on law is beneficial for those interested in a legal career as well?
We had some really wonderful conversations across faculty from different disciplines about the need for such a minor. One major impetus for initiating the conversation on the minor for our college was a chance to hear about the Consortium for Undergraduate Law and Justice Programs and have a chance to present an early version of the proposal at a Consortium meeting a few years ago. The possibility of joining a number of universities that were offering a variety of programs – some majors and others minors and concentrations – allowed one to imagine a space where such an initiative at Drew could be a way to become a part of a shared community.
Building the Minor
Over time, a menu of courses that approach law from different perspectives and a more conducive institutional milieu paved the way for the minor. The minor was finally passed in 2016 and currently has courses from 7 different departments in the college of liberal arts and one from the theological school, making it a really exciting initiative. While the majority of the courses still continue to be from the Department of Political Science and International Relations, it also reflected some of the unique features of the department’s offerings – for instance our United Nations semester where students study the UN in close proximity of the space in New York city and also attend some of the events associated with the UN. In addition, courses on International Human Rights; Torture; Gender and Human Rights; on Policing, State and Security also add to the richness of the discussions on law and political science. Occasional courses on Cultural Diversity and the Law also bring together different challenges posed by culture to legal cultures and institutions. But the success of the minor really depends on courses that are emerging from other disciplines and in recent years colleagues have introduced courses on U.S. Legal History; Laws and Trials in Ancient Society; Human Rights in Literature and Film; Law and Literature; Mass Incarceration and Economic Justice; and Censorship and Russian Literature. Currently we just have one course that puts it all together to help students make sense of the minor – Law, Justice and Society – that introduces students to a field of interdisciplinary legal studies. In my next post(s), I want to discuss the structure of the core course, the Minor, and more broadly the vision of interdisciplinary legal studies and the challenges therein. For now, I am just excited that the minor has finally passed.