Thursday, June 21, 2012

Inaugural Conference of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture

Gianmario Demuro Sardinia FlagMare Nostrum, the Inaugural Conference of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture, has just opened in Italy at the University of Cagliari, a city on the Southern coast of Sardinia. (The flag to the right is the flag of Sardinia.)

The opening speaker is Professor Gianmario Demuro of the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law, who addressed the impact of the economic crisis on the European Union, government economic subsidies, the role of the European Court of Justice in promoting European integration, constitutional law and the social state, issues that will promote sustainability throughout Europe, as well as issues of diversity and identity (particularly as they affect southern Europe). Professor Demuro noted with approval observations (such as made by Michelle Everson) that there is only a thin line between the "legitimate" legal-constitutional politics of the establishment of principles of social and political organization and the "illegitimate" personal-judicial pursuit of substantive political programs  Among other questions posed for the conference is whether the market will prevail over social rights, or the pursuit of a neo-liberal notion of economic justice.

David Austin PhotoProfessor David Austin of the California School of Law in San Diego, was the second speaker. His presentation expanded the scope of the conference discussion beyond economic and market issues to cultural and religious identities.  His topic is "A Cross Culture," a comparative investigation of the regulation of the displays of religious symbols in public schools.  He focused in particular on, Lautsi v. Italy, a decision of the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the mandatory display of the crucifix in Italian public school rooms did not violate fundamental rights under the European Charter and that the margin of appreciation doctrine applied to the regulation of religious symbols in school settings.  The case was brought by a Finnish immigrant in Italy, after the local school board had refused to remove the crucifix from the public school classroom. Professor Austin discussed the particular and complicated procedural history of the case.  He explained several points of Italian Constitutional Law (including, for example, articles 7 and 8 of the Italian Constitution). He also explained the original decision of the European Court of Justice prior to rehearing by the Grand Chamber.  He compared the result of that European court decision with U.S. federal court decisions on the displays of religious symbols on government property and raised additional issues involving the tension between secularism and neutrality, as well as national identity and multiculturalism. 

Regina Logan PhotoDr. Regina Lopata Logan of the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwesten University in Chicago served as one of the conference moderators and commentators. Her comments focused on the benefits that schools can acheive when they internationalize their curriculum and activities. She noted in particular that educational institutions that have not yet deeply involved themselves in international and comparative education would derive great benefits from doing so.

Angela CacciaruAnother conference participant and commentator was Professor Angela Cacciarru of the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law (pictured at right), who also shared her perceptions and experiences of legal education in the United States, Europe, and Africa. She urged greater communication as a tool for education as well as enhanced training and exchange opportunities for students.

My own presentation at the conference described legal education in the Mediterranean, with a particular focus on legal education in Egypt and ideas to promote interactive teaching techniques in that country. Mark Wojcik PhotoLast year, shortly after the Egyptian revolution, I had the opportunity to work with a select group of law professors throughout Egypt to discuss legal education issues in Egypt. The conference attendees discussed not only teaching techniques but also a wide array of substantive legal issues facing educators in North Africa and other Mediterranean countries. The participants noted that future conferences of the Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture could help support professors throughout the region on teaching techniques, subjects, and materials.

Dott. Giovanni Coinu PhotoDott. Giovanni Coinu of the University of Cagliari Faculty of Law (pictured at right) spoke on educational policies and goals of various countries, and how those policies and goals may differ (particularly in countries where education is not yet considered to be a legal right). He discussed the influence of standardized tests and measurements, including standards developed by the Organization for Economic Control and Development, as well as the impacts of ranking systems (and in particular, those found in the United States). His presentation highlighted problems that can arise when liberal educational goals focus only on mechanisms of production rather than cultural education, noting that it is difficult to reverse global trends in education and that in future years it will be more difficult to find different educational models. The discussion brought in educational goals and policies from a number of Mediterranean countries, including also various nations of North Africa, and emphasized the rights and duties of education and the social model of education common in Europe. 

Lauren Fielder PhotoProfessor Lauren Fielder of the University of Lucerne Faculty of Law in Switzerland was an additional speaker, bringing her considerable expertise on legal education and legal reform in Africa. Her talk focused on issues of migration affecting Africa, North Africa, and Europe. She spoke of factors that increased the vulnerability of migrants in the Mediterranean region and the importance of protecting and promoting human rights, particularly in the "process" of migration. In the particular context of North Africa, she noted the impact of recent political developments stemming from migration following the Arab Spring. She also noted migration patterns generally and in the particular contexts of Europe, North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. She also discussed the effects of trade agreements and land reform on various African nations and on the issue of migration. She called for a broad effort to improve human rights across Africa in a number of specific areas. She also noted the need to fulfill the promises of human rights protections.

William Mock PhotoProfessor William B.T. Mock of The John Marshall Law School served as the closing speaker. His presentation focused on a comparative analysis of the human rights philosophies in the United States, Europe, and parts of the Middle East and North Africa. He noted the pressure on certain human rights in times of economic stress. His presentation focused on identifying human rights that are most vulnerable in times of economic crisis.

The Society for Mediterranean Law and Culture will likely organize additional conferences in future years, expanding topics, speakers, and locations.  

Mark E. Wojcik (mew)

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