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On My Way Out – Advice to Young Scholars V: Writing References

Published on July 6, 2017        Author: 

I have most certainly reached the final phase of my academic and professional career and as I look back I want to offer, for what it is worth, some dos and don’ts on different topics to younger scholars in the early phases of theirs. This is the fifth instalment and regards that staple of academic life: writing references.

If you are at the beginning of your career as a teacher it is likely that until now you have mostly been the recipient of references rather than the writer of such. Let us separate the writing of references for entry-level candidates seeking an initial teaching appointment or for colleagues in the process of tenure or promotion from references for students seeking admission to graduate programmes, which is likely to be the bulk of your reference writing. I do write references from time to time – though, as you will see, I am quite circumspect in accepting to do so. But since I have, throughout my career in the United States, been involved almost without interruption in the direction of graduate programmes at three major universities (Michigan, Harvard and NYU) I must have read – no exaggeration here – thousands of reference letters for potential masters’, doctoral and postdoctoral candidates. And though you are likely to think that the following is hyperbole, I will state here too, with no exaggeration, that a very large number of these references were worthless or close to worthless.

The following is a generalization, meaning that there are plenty of exceptions, but academic (and public life) culture are hugely impactful in determining the quality of a reference. In many Continental European countries and in many Asian countries – some more, some less, there are also North–South variations – it appears that who writes the reference seems to be more important than the content of such. Applicants will go to great lengths to receive a reference not from the Assistant, or Privatdozent or Maître de Conference etc. with whom there may have actually been a much closer intellectual and academic relationship but from a ‘famous’ professor or judge on the Supreme or Constitutional Court and not infrequently even ministers and the like. It must be a spillover from a more general culture of the labour market. Since the who is more important than the what, the content of these references is predictably short and vacuously laudatory. The ‘big name’ might have scant knowledge of the candidate and in a more or less subtle manner the burden of the reference is ‘You should admit X because I (the big name) think you should.’ Often you can tell that the candidate himself or herself had a hand in drafting the reference. One tell-tale sign is similar phraseology in the reference and the personal statement of the candidate. This scandalizes me less than you might imagine, since it is so often the case that the structure of legal education in many of these countries, with large classes and frontal teaching, means that the professor has, at best, a superficial knowledge of the applicant. What can he or she write? This is typically true of Central and South America too. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL: In this Issue (Vol. 28 (2017) No. 2)

Published on July 5, 2017        Author: 

This issue opens with a set of articles that address a range of centrally important theoretical and doctrinal issues. The first, by Niels Petersen, addresses an evergreen topic in general international law, which has been the subject of several studies in this Journal over the past few years: the identification of customary international law by international courts and tribunals. Petersen seeks to explain why the International Court of Justice rarely conducts a detailed analysis of state practice in identifying customary norms, by reference to the specific institutional constraints that the Court faces. In our second article, Bernard Hoekman and Petros Mavroidis analyse the ambiguities in scheduling additional commitments for policies affecting trade in goods in the GATT compared to the process under the GATS. Next, Janis Grzybowski offers a novel perspective on the old debate about the identification of states, deconstructing the accepted criteria and provoking deeper reflection on the role of ‘silent ontological commitments’ in legal assessments of statehood. Noëlle Quénivet questions whether international law should prohibit the prosecution of children for war crimes, taking this problem as an opportunity to test some of the basic assumptions underpinning the current law and examining the relationship between restorative, retributive, and juvenile rehabilitative justice mechanisms. The final article in this section, by Yota Negishi, proposes that the pro homine principle should serve as a point of focus – and thereby, also, of harmonization – for both conventionality and constitutionality control exercises undertaken by domestic courts.

The second set of articles forms the Focus of this issue: international legal histories – looking back to the twentieth century. In the first article, Giovanni Mantilla revisits the signing of the 1949 Geneva Conventions by the United States and the United Kingdom. He uses the reasoning of these states for signing as the basis for a reflection on contemporary discussions of treaty commitments and the pressure of social conformity. Next, Narrelle Morris and Aden Knaap present a carefully researched examination of the United Nations War Crimes Commission and its problematic relationship with member nations. Finally, Felix Lange offers a rich account of the discipline of international law in Germany between the 1920s and the end of the Cold War.

In our Roaming Charges contribution, by Viorica Vita, a solitary figure seeks to carve out a living selling love locks on a bridge in Rome. Read the rest of this entry…

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Vital Statistics

Published on March 29, 2017        Author: 

Each year we publish statistics on the state of our submissions: who submitted, who was accepted, and who was published in EJIL during the previous 12 months. We do this in order to observe and understand any changes that may be taking place in submission and publication patterns in our Journal. We do this, too, because we publish the very best manuscripts submitted to EJIL, selected through our double-blind review process. We offer no affirmative action in selection. Rather we look for excellence, articles that will be read, recalled, referred to and cited in years to come.

Of course, the EJIL Editors do commission some articles. We would risk becoming merely a refereeing service if we relied only on unsolicited manuscripts. Again, statistics are important in order to check that we are getting the balance right. For the past three years the percentage of unsolicited manuscripts has remained stable at around 65 per cent or two-thirds of the total, which we consider to be a sound balance.

The percentage of manuscripts submitted by women authors this past year dropped slightly to 32 per cent, although 33 per cent of accepted submissions were by women and the figure for published articles was 35 per cent. These figures do not differ markedly from previous years. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see that the percentages of accepted and published articles submitted by women reflect or even surpass the percentage of overall submissions by women. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL: In this Issue (Vol. 28 (2017) No. 1)

Published on March 29, 2017        Author: 

This issue opens with the third entry under our annual rubric, The EJIL Foreword. In keeping with the rubric’s mission statement, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes takes a broad and sweeping view of the proliferation and consequent pluralism of international courts and tribunals. In doing so, she argues that an ‘overarching managerial approach’ may be observed in various practices of both judicial and state actors, and notes still other methods that could strengthen this approach.

The next three articles in this issue address the processes of international law-making from a variety of perspectives. In the first regular article, Florian Grisel assesses the top-down processes informing transnational governance. Grisel utilizes the example of the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and the involvement of the International Chamber of Commerce experts to illustrate how transnational expert networks can contribute effectively to the process of treaty-making. Taking on the involvement of non-state actors from another perspective, Nahuel Maisley argues that Article 25(a) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should be interpreted as giving civil society groups a right to participate in international law-making. In their article, Armin von Bogdandy, Matthias Goldmann and Ingo Venzke then address the implications of the proliferation of international institutions, advancing a theory of ‘public international law’ which regards such institutions as exercising ‘international public authority’ and seeks to take account of world public opinion in enhancing their legitimacy and effectiveness.

In a shift of topic, Natalie Davidson revisits the seminal Alien Tort Statute cases of Filártiga and Marcos. In exploring the historical narratives produced in these two cases, Davidson’s article seeks to challenge some of the sanguine assumptions of international human rights lawyers and lay bare the ‘deep foundations of violence’ in the international system and US foreign policy. Relatedly, Alejandro Chehtman examines the moral and legal permissibility of the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems, challenging the intuitive view that the use of drones will contribute to making the use of force proportionate in a wider set of circumstances. Read the rest of this entry…

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Editorial: The Case for a Kinder, Gentler Brexit

Published on February 6, 2017        Author: 

Of course, we know better than to be shooting at each other; but the post-23 June  relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union is woefully bellicose, and increasingly so. In tone and mood, diplomatic niceties are barely maintained and in content positions seem to be hardening. I am mostly concerned with attitudes and positions of and within the Union and its 27 remaining Member States. Handling Brexit cannot be dissociated from the handling of the broader challenges facing the Union. I will readily accept that the UK leadership bears considerable responsibility for the bellicosity and the escalating lawfare. But the inequality of arms so strikingly favours the Union that its attitude and policies can afford a certain magnanimous disregard of ongoing British provocations.

It is easy to understand European Union frustration with the UK. I want to list three – the first being an understandable human reaction. It is clear that when Cameron called for a renegotiation followed by a referendum he had no clue what it was he wanted and needed to renegotiate. The Union waited patiently for months to receive his list – the insignificance of which, when it did come, was breathtaking. For ‘this’ one was willing to risk breaking up the Union and perhaps the UK? Read the rest of this entry…

 
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On My Way Out IV – Teaching

Published on January 25, 2017        Author: 

I have almost reached the final phase of my academic and professional career and as I look back I want to offer, for what it is worth, some Do’s and Don’ts on different topics to younger scholars in the early phases of theirs. A lot of what I may say will appear to many as a statement of the obvious – but if it so appears ask yourself why so many experienced and seasoned academics still fall into the trap. In previous Editorials I addressed the art of delivering a conference paper, the management of one’s scholarly agenda and the pitfalls of editing or contributing to edited books. I turn here to the issue of teaching.

To put it mildly, there is considerable ambiguity, even ambivalence, in the messages, explicit and implicit, that a young university teacher receives upon starting his or her academic career as regards teaching. To be sure, much lip service is paid to the importance of teaching as part of the academic duties of the young teacher. Practice varies but in several systems, especially in the early stages of one’s career, the title itself provides an indication: Instructor, Lecturer (even Senior Lecturer) and in several languages the title Professor itself indicates primarily the teaching function. Applicants are oftentimes required to provide a Statement on Teaching and in some systems there is a requirement and in others it is desirable to provide, in addition to a scholarly portfolio, demonstration of some ‘teaching practice’.

But consider the following, almost universal, paradox. To receive a position as a kindergarten teacher, an elementary school teacher or a high school teacher, in most jurisdictions the applicant would have to have undergone specialized training – in addition to any subject-matter university degree he or she may have earned – to occupy a position of such individual and collective responsibility. The exception? University teachers. There are very, very few universities around the world that require any measure of formal training in the art and science of university teaching. A doctorate has become an almost universal requirement for teaching in our field – the USA being the glaring exception (as regards law). It is a requirement in practically all other disciplines in the USA. And yet typically a doctorate programme is training for research, not for teaching. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL: In this Issue; Emma Thomas – May the Force Be With You!; EJIL Roll of Honour

Published on January 24, 2017        Author: 

This issue opens with an EJIL: Keynote article, in which Philippe Sands contemplates the ends (and end) of judicialization. Based on his lecture at the 2015 ESIL annual conference in Oslo, it forms a fitting introduction to an issue that addresses overarching questions of legitimacy in international law, from the reception of international law in Asia to strong reactions to the idea of global governance by the WTO judiciary. An EJIL: Live! interview with Philippe Sands (posted earlier this week) complements the article.

This issue’s first regular article is Vincent Chetail’s critique of the dominant narrative of migration control, drawing on early doctrines of the law of nations regarding the free movement of persons across borders, and thus offering an innovative path for rethinking this critical contemporary issue. In another example of looking back in order to confront difficult issues of today, Jan Lemnitzer draws on original archival research to propose the adoption of an adversarial model of a commission of inquiry for investigating the downing of flight MH17.

We are pleased to present in this issue a Symposium comprising three articles giving attention to international law in Asia. Simon Chesterman explores the reasons for Asia’s under-participation and under-representation in international law and institutions, and predicts greater convergence and presence of Asia in global governance. Melissa Loja looks to archival records in order to shed new light on one of the most pressing questions of international law in Asia: the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands dispute. And Zhiguanq Yin’s article focuses on the translation of international law in the 19th century into China, thereby questioning the universality of Euro-centric jurisprudence. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ten Good Reads for Christmas – Editor-in-Chief’s Choices for 2016

Published on December 23, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note: As in previous years, EJIL’s Book Review Editor, Isabel Feichtner, invited our Board members to reflect on the books that have had a significant impact on them this year. In the following days we will present some selections here on EJIL:Talk! They include books, not necessarily published in 2016, but read or reread this year, and found inspiring or enjoyable. These editors’ choices are not intended to be a prize in disguise, but rather are personalised accounts of the reading experiences of our Board members. We begin with our Editor-in-Chief’s selection.

As is now our custom, I list 10 of the books I read during the last year which stood out and which I do not hesitate to recommend to our readers. The law books – seven in all – are actually all relatively recent. Though typically I list the books in no particular order, I make an exception this time for the first in the list, Philippe Sand’s East West Street.

Philippe Sands, East West Street (Knopf, 2016)

East West Street is simply a must read; forgive the cliché for a book which is the opposite of cliché. It is both a Law Book and Book about the Law, as the subtitle indicates: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity. But it is so much more. It has novel-like qualities (and a very fine novel at that) in weaving together the lives of its various protagonists as well as being an altogether not kitschy personal roots exploration of the author, Philippe Sands himself. He is not only author but decidedly one of the protagonists. It is not exactly a page-turner – that would actually diminish the quality and achievement of Sands, but despite its considerable length, it is hard to put down. You will learn a lot, become wiser and be moved in more ways than one. Last year I sang the praise of Sebald. Sand’s book has Sebald qualities and there is no higher praise in my evaluative vocabulary.

Mario Vargas Llosa, Travesuras de la niña mala (Alfaguara, 2006)

Travesuras de la niña mala by Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa was an easy choice, even if I typically prefer his essayistic writing to his novels. It is a very traditional novel in style – which is one of its attractions. You will not be struggling with post-modernist experimentation, which is wonderful when it works (not often) and awful when it does not (frequently). The story begins with the first love of a 14 year-old (the dates, at least, correspond to Vargas Llosa’s own time line). It is no less than marvellous the ability of a 70 year-old to describe with such delicate and empathetic precision the mental world of the young protagonist – el niño bueno – whose enduring love affair with the complex and compelling niña mala the novel tracks. Not a ‘masterpiece’ but a piece of wonderful writing by a master that will stick in your mind. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Further Note on Civility and the Moderation of Comments on EJIL: Talk!

Published on November 17, 2016        Author: 

In a recent Editorial EJIL reconfirmed its commitment to a robust policy of freedom of speech and academic freedom. A few weeks ago I also noted that:

We welcome robust and critical analysis and comment — including the slaughtering of Holy Cows. We welcome both the harsh and the whimsical. But it has always been the policy of EJIL that we endeavor to maintain a tone that does not offend good taste and that in interpersonal exchanges — in our debates in EJIL and in comments on EJIL Talk — disagreements are expressed in a non disagreeable manner.

One’s commitment to the freedom of speech and academic freedom is tested when confronted with speech with which one strongly disagrees and might even consider offensive. The ability to respond, contest and debate, on equal footing and in the same forum, is often time the best form of dealing with these issues — which is the default policy of EJIL in all its outlets — the Journal itself with its policy of EJIL Debates, EJIL Talk! and EJIL Live.

There are limits to all freedoms, especially when they conflict with other equally fundamental values such as dignity or reputation – though where exactly these limits lie is an issue itself hotly contested. Our tendency is to err on the side of academic freedom and freedom of expression. In the libel suit against EJIL we vigorously defended a contested book review, but as we stated there, had we considered that the contested book review had crossed the line into defamatory territory we would have withdrawn the book review. The French judiciary confirmed our assessment that the line had not been crossed, offensive and painful as the author of the book in question found the review.

Censoring the substance and material content of a position is thus something that should be done with great caution and only in extremis, no matter how offending one finds the contested opinion.

EJIL: Talk draws another line, that of civility of discourse, particularly pertinent, given the nature of the forum – unedited, non-refereed, comments – and the habits and customs of unbridled talkbacks rife on the net. We would feel such is inappropriate on the blog of a scholarly journal as we understand ourselves.

The comments in response to the recent post on the future of the SOGI mandate give rise to these issues. To judge from some emails I received, some of our readers considered that the substantive content of some of the views expressed were unacceptable for publication. I do not think that they reached that level. I have placed this type of question on the agenda of the next meeting of the full Editorial Board so that it can be addressed with the necessary deliberation and gravitas.

But on one element in that exchange it is our duty to take a position right now. We are aware that in the passion of a debate on strongly held beliefs, the line might be crossed inadvertently. Be that as it may, the ad personam characterization of Mr Vitit Muntarbhorn  as a “a political ideologue [rather] than a serious human rights lawyer,” crosses, in all the circumstances of the case, the limits of civil discourse to which EJIL aspires. Not surprisingly other similar personal characterizations followed.

In writing to me some readers used very similar characterization of the authors of these comments –  but such views would be equally unacceptable for publication in EJIL Talk!

I have therefore decided, in consultation with the Editors of the Blog, in light of the unfortunate turn in the tone of discussion in the comment thread to the post on the SOGI mandate, to close the thread for further comment. The editors of the blog do not wish to engage in substantive censorship, but incivility will not be tolerated and infringing comments will be moderated as appropriate under the circumstances.

I repeat yet again: We welcome robust and critical analysis and comment — including the slaughtering of Holy Cows. We welcome both the harsh and the whimsical. But it has always been the policy of EJIL that we endeavour to maintain a tone that does not offend good taste and that especially in interpersonal exchanges disagreements be expressed in a non-disagreeable manner. Critical in content, civil in expression.

I have asked the Editors of the EJIL Talk! to be vigilant in ensuring the continued civil tone of the blog. We expect contributors to the blog to respect its sensibilities.

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A Note on Civility from the Editor in Chief

Published on October 30, 2016        Author: 

As Editor in Chief of EJIL I also hold overall responsibility for EJIL Talk and EJIL Live — all part of the EJIL Community. I want to post a reminder about our policies in all EJIL publishing vehicles: EJIL, EJIL Talk! and EJIL Live. We welcome robust and critical analysis and comment — including the slaughtering of Holy Cows. We welcome both the harsh and the whimsical. But it has always been the policy of EJIL that we endeavor to maintain a tone that does not offend good taste and that in interpersonal exchanges — in our debates in EJIL and in comments on EJIL Talk — disagreements are expressed in a non disagreeable manner.

 
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