Robin Craig, the William H. Leary Professor of Law and Acting Director of the Stegner Center at the S.J. Quinney College of Law, spent part of the Spring 2016 semester as a visiting professor at the University of Tasmania School of Law in Hobart, where she taught a course on Comparative Water Law and researched resilience and climate change adaptation issues.
She’s recently returned to the University of Utah with a new outlook on world water issues, and shared her travel and teaching experiences with her colleagues and students.
Q: How did you wind up in Tasmania this semester?
A: A couple of years ago, the University of Tasmania was advertising for a law professor to teach a lot of the subjects I teach. I got in touch with the dean, saying that I wasn’t interested in a permanent position but would be interested in a visit. My email ended up in the hands of Professor Jan McDonald, who was already familiar with my work, and together we negotiated my visit. I taught an intensive course in the faculty of law’s summer curriculum and was awarded a research fellowship.
Q: After recently returning to the U’s campus after spending a good amount of the semester in Tasmania, how did your time abroad reshape your perspective of higher education?
A: The three most interesting differences about teaching in Tasmania were that the basic law degree is an undergraduate degree; my students were truly international — about half of my class of 33 students were from countries other than Australia, and there were quite a few countries represented, mostly in Asia and Southeast Asia; and the doctoral students. Only about 20 percent of the law undergraduates actually practice law for any length of time, which was a big difference from teaching at an American law school — law is a more generalist degree, like having an English or biology major as an undergraduate here.
On the one hand, I really appreciated the opportunity to engage in law teaching as a more traditionally academic discipline, not so heavily focused on preparing students to actually practice law. That reality in Australia broadened the issue of “why is legal knowledge important” for me and made me think differently about how I presented information in class. On the other hand, I also came to appreciate from a different perspective why certain types of courses are critically important for American law students who truly are mostly preparing to become professionals. In particular, the experience sharpened my appreciation of why skills courses and experiential courses should be an important foundational component of our curriculum.
Q: Your expertise relates to “all things water.” What did Tasmania offer to you as a researcher as a living laboratory of sorts?
A: Well, I was teaching Comparative Water Law, which was a world tour of water law systems and greatly broadened my own knowledge about how other countries implement water allocation and water resources management. More broadly, Tasmania was experiencing a fairly bad drought while I was there (in their summer), which contributed to some significant bushfires that made for a very interesting comparison to drought and wildfire in the American West. However, as always when I go to Australia, it is very interesting to think about how differences in population concentrations can make a very big difference to water issues — the entire island of Tasmania only contains about 500,000 people. Some issues play out very similarly to how they play out here — for example, the effects of drought on not just wildfire but also on hydropower, which Tasmania has a lot of — while others, notably water pollution, are far less of a pervasive issue than they are here.
Q: What’s next for you on the research and teaching fronts now that you’re back?
A: I met a lot of people in Tasmania who are interested in climate change and resilience theory, and I’ve already got an article planned with two law professors there. It also looks like I’ll maintain a continuing (and nonpaid) adjunct professor appointment at the University of Tasmania Faculty of Law to work with one of the new doctoral students who is working on resilience theory and the law. All that dovetails neatly with a series of articles and a book on resilience and the law that I’m still working on with the SESYNC Adaptive Water Governance group and a co-authored book called The End of Sustainability that is due to the University of Kansas Press in September 2016. I finished up a climate change book project for which I am co-editor while I was there and am currently finishing up two textbook projects with West. And Bob Adler, Noah Hall and I still need to finish up a brand new water law book, also due to the publishers in September.
Learn more about Craig’s time abroad by viewing a news clip from the University of Melbourne’s television program, “Up Close.” The discussion spins off Craig’s forthcoming co-authored book with professor Melinda Harm Benson at the University of New Mexico titled “The End of Sustainability.”