At its October meeting, the Ohio University Board of Trustees approved the creation of a new Center for Law, Justice & Culture on campus. Faculty associated with the center - mostly drawn from sociology and political science - are busy getting the center off the ground, with short-term plans for colloquia and an undergraduate certificate.
"The Center for Law, Justice & Culture is dedicated to both teaching and scholarship centered upon an examination of the role of law on people's lives," explained Director Michelle Brown, associate professor of sociology and author of the recent book "The Culture of Punishment: Prison, Society, and Spectacle."
She contrasts this with what is taught at law schools, saying, "It's decidedly not toward a technical understanding of the law, it's very interested in law as a social force, how it shapes aspects of our everyday life, both consciously and subconsciously."
In other words, the center - which does not yet have a physical home - promotes the study of law within a liberal arts framework. Programs already under way include guest lectures, research colloquia and workshops.
Center faculty have drafted a proposal for an undergraduate certificate that will be based around existing courses in anthropology, criminology, political science, sociology and other departments across the social sciences and humanities.
Brown anticipates a rush of interest in the certificate among high-achieving students, who will have to apply to be accepted into the certificate program.
"It is modeled after the process that students would go through to apply for law school or graduate schools," she said, noting that students will have to have a high grade-point average and letters of recommendation from faculty to gain acceptance.
Although pre-law students will be drawn to the center, Brown says it will be a resource for students who want to go to graduate school, the nonprofit sector, human rights work and dispute resolution careers as well.
The center's faculty also hopes to pursue new course development, including a Tier III capstone course.
Brown points to the benefits the new center will offer faculty, largely providing new opportunities for networking and funding. Faculty working groups include a research committee that will pursue external funding, a development committee for fundraising and an outreach committee that will make contacts to, among others, alumni.
"There's not only a huge interest among our alumni, but statewide I'm being contacted by people who are interested," Brown said, singling out the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction, which has staff working on a statewide prisoner re-entry initiative.
Brown points out that southeast Ohio is not home to a law school and, until now, was not home to a law center. She says this is just one reason the board of trustees as well as university administrators were very supportive of creating the center.
"Seeing that much support in this (economic) climate was heartening."
Brown also adds that there has been a great deal of support among leaders in fields related to law and society. The center's advisory board is made up of internationally prominent academics, and Brown anticipates the center will be a draw for high-caliber faculty and students.
"The goals are grand," she said, "I think we can be a nationally prominent center."