Students gain new perspectives in Ireland

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This summer, 10 Maryland Carey Law students joined Professor Peter Danchin and Professor Mark Graber for a weeklong seminar in Galway on the west coast of Ireland. The program, which focused on the state of constitutional democracy through global and comparative lenses, was a partnership with the National University of Ireland.  

Students and faculty from both schools engaged in an academic workshop and were treated to lectures and seminars by invited experts from around the world. Top scholars included Martin Loughlin from the London School of Economics and Adrienne Stone from the University of Melbourne, Australia. 

Katelyn Leisner ’23, editor-in-chief of the Maryland Journal of International Law, says the experience transformed her thinking on constitutionalism. She was particularly impacted by Loughlin, who presented on his recent book Against Constitutionalism, which compares the United States’ brand of constitutional democracy with others around the world. Leisner started the week believing in the rectitude of the U.S. Supreme Court’s structure and came home from Ireland questioning if judicial supremacy was instead the source of problems in her home country. 

“This is why I think classes like this are so important,” she said. “It is too easy to get stuck in the American way of thinking. This was a watershed moment in how I was thinking.” 

“You get a different vantage point when you travel,” agreed Danchin, who is director of Maryland Carey Law’s International and Comparative Law Program, as well as associate dean for research and faculty development. “You think when you do comparative work that you are going to learn about other systems and that’s of course what you set out to do, but the paradox of the exercise is that you end up learning more about your own system.” 

Students also benefited from the seminar’s design, which cast them more as colleagues than students. This was intentional, Graber explained, because one of the program’s goals was to give students an experience in professionalism—not merely being lectured to but bringing their own original thinking to the table with world-renowned scholars. “We taught our students that as a professional, you don’t simply defer; you have something to say,” he said. 

To the delight of the professors, the Maryland Carey Law students rose to the occasion and were “spectacular,” engaging with the readings, showing up prepared, and overcoming nerves to have elevated conversations with thought leaders. 

Leisner, who looks to build a career in international criminal law, appreciated the high expectations. “They treated us as equals,” she said. And the rigor coupled with a supportive atmosphere was the right environment for students to flourish. “At first it was nerve-racking,” but “toward the end of the week, we had all found our own voice.”  

Participants got to use their voices outside of the classroom too. Evenings were filled with excursions to sites of historical significance and natural beauty, as well as socializing with classmates and locals in quaint pubs and cafes. 

Many students, like Leisner, are eager to include study abroad in their law school experience, said Graber, pointing to the 36 applications received for the Galway trip. Originally, the program offered eight slots but expanded to 10 to help accommodate demand. Maryland Carey Law also gives students opportunities to travel to Malawi, Scotland, and Australia. 

The addition of the Galway trip is one prong in an expansion of Maryland Carey Law’s International and Comparative Law Program that has been underway for the past couple of years.  

One of the first steps toward the expansion was the 2020 establishment of the Comparative Constitutional Democracy Colloquium, which brings together Maryland Carey Law students and faculty, and prominent comparative constitutional law scholars from the United States and Europe. The colloquium builds on Graber’s leading work in comparative constitutional law in his recent book, Constitutional Democracy in Crisis?, co-edited with Sanford Levinson and Mark Tushnet; and Danchin’s recent work in international law in a new global research partnership with Australian National University and Indiana University on “Navigating the Backlash Against Global Law and Institutions.” 

Last year, the International and Comparative Law Program also launched a new Consortium in Comparative Constitutionalism with the University of Milan School of Law in Italy and Simon Reichmann Law School in Israel. Consortium programming includes faculty and student visits and exchanges among the three law schools, with joint participation in the colloquium and Maryland Carey Law’s long-running Constitutional Law Schmooze, which brings together leading scholars in the legal academy, political science, and political development. 

At this moment in history, with the rise in populist movements and a weakening of democratic institutions around the world, offering students and scholars rich opportunities to put their heads together on these topics is essential, said Danchin, adding that there is an explosion of interest in international and comparative work. He and Graber are pleased that Galway was a success and look forward to forging additional international partnerships so students will have even more travel opportunities. 

The Galway seminar was funded by the Rudy and Frances Wine Memorial Fund and a UMB President’s Global Impact Fund (PGIF) Partnership Support Grant awarded by the Center for Global Engagement.