Sunday, April 15, 2007

On Collaboration as the Essence of Student Run Law Journals

The following remarks were presented at the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the PennState International Law Review, held on April 14, 2007.

Remarks on the Closing of the Formal Program of Celebration:
On Collaboration as the Essence of Student Run Law Journals

Thank you, Jason, for that introduction.

I am greatly honored to have been asked to close the formal portion of the celebration of this truly wonderful milestone. That honor is deep, for, as we have been reminded this evening, it is no small thing to be able to celebrate 25 years of a student run legal academic journal in a field barely acknowledged by your teachers at the time of its founding.

I want to close on a soft note—I wish to spend a few minutes in celebration of what I believe is the essential character of any successful student run legal academic journal, a character that serves as both essence and justification for the Penn State International Law Review in particular and its student led academic publishing organizations in general—I will speak to collaboration.

The word itself derives from the Late Latin collaborare, to labor together. In its modern form it describes a condition of working jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor. There has been no better space for the cultivation of collaboration in this, its most positive aspect, than in the offices and on the pages of student run legal academic journals—and the Penn State International Law Review in particular. Students work with each other to produce a discrete and specific product several times a year. This is the way they learn a lot of things, and importantly among them students learn how to employ positively, proactively, the dynamics of institutional operation so critical to success as lawyers. As the embodiment of the active principle in this endeavor, students either work successfully to produce an issue or it does not get published.

But students do not operate this journal in isolation. Students at the International Law Review have cultivated a years long tradition of collaboration with faculty. Faculty members often suggest ideas, approaches and specific contributions to the journal. They might, like Professor Del Duca, devote the substance of a lifetime to the elaboration of an idea in collaboration with others. This is teaching by example and advice. This is the essence of active collaboration between mentor and apprentice in a context of mutual respect. There can be no better form of imparting knowledge. And this form of collaboration serves the faculty well. It serves as a substantial discipline to a profession, like ours, which is sometimes all too tempted by notions of traditionalism, parochialism, incompetence, venality and fear of the new and more talented, to use a power to choose articles for publication as a basis for preserving the borders of “fields of law” or preventing the competition of ideas to overwhelm their own. Students arrive fresh to these campaigns, and are better able to resist their logic. For every story of bad choices by student editors in the selection of publication, there is a story of students facilitating the expression of fresh ideas in print—from critical race studies to transnational law. Lastly, students must also learn collaborate with the institution to which they contribute by their efforts. Students have been sensitive to institutional needs and have a long tradition of working well with those charged with the stewardship of their schools. Indeed, this banquet is a testament to that sort of collaboration. Thus, I can think of no better word to define this institution.

But “to collaborate” has a darker meaning as well. Lately, it has come to mean a coerced assistance, or a willing assistance, of a superior force, sometimes an enemy, for personal benefit or for the benefit of those superior or coercive forces. In this form, collaboration degenerates into servitude. It implies the giving up of independence, initiative, and the self, to serve another. It is the essence of the passive form of existence that strikes at the heart of what we, in this country at least, have come to understand as an essential component for the development of the full potential of individuals and organizations. In a world, even in our small part of that world here, which appears more and more relentlessly hungry for the imposition of vertical relationships—for the imposition of systems of subordination based on assertions of a self serving power grounded in distinctions of status without substance, collaboration becomes an inversion, a perversion of itself. A journal grounded in status distinctions, for their own sake, a journal in which students become little more than the passive vehicle for the compliance with orders might well lose its soul. It could become something altogether different.

Nothing marks this institution more than collaboration understood in its positive sense. I wish you 25 years more of a similar successful and productive collaboration.

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