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Remarks by President John J. DeGioia

Signing Ceremony for Center for Transnational Legal Studies -- London, UK

Maughan Library, King’s College
London, United Kingdom
October 28, 2008


It seems fitting that we engage in this historic opportunity in this historic setting—and it’s appropriate that we sign what is very much a landmark document in what was once the Public Records Office of the United Kingdom.

But it’s also fitting that we hold this signing ceremony today. October 28th marks the birthday of Erasmus, the celebrated humanist, theologian, and prolific scholar. Ten columns of the catalogue of the British Library are taken up simply with the enumeration of his works and their subsequent reprints.

Erasmus lived during history’s first great era of globalization: The Renaissance and the Age of Exploration, when merchants, mariners, and missionaries laid new lines of communication and transportation around the world—much like what we’re witnessing today. In doing so, they charted a new course for global engagement and interaction.

Given this background, it’s probably not surprising that Erasmus argued for a “worldview” of citizenship in his published works. For him, what individuals had in common was more important than what distinguished or separated them. [“Erasmus and the Experience of Citizenship Today,” paper presented by Alistair Ross, Institute for Policy Studies in Education, London Metropolitan University.] No wonder that, in a letter to a friend, [Letter 480, to Bude] he once argued that “…it is wiser to treat people and things as though we held this world [to be] the common fatherland of all.”

Erasmus was obviously an early advocate of a vision of a common global community. This vision has certainly become more of a reality due to the extraordinary forces of globalization that were unleashed in the latter part of the 20th century. As he seemed to foreshadow, we now live at a time when, thanks to unprecedented advances in transportation, and communications, and information technology, nations are increasingly interdependent…people more interconnected…and humanity less divided by narrow domestic walls than ever before in history.

As members of the Academy, this interconnectivity brings us three challenges:
• It requires us to adequately prepare our students for this brave new world.
• It requires us to work to build bridges between countries and cultures.
• And it requires that the institutions through which we live our lives become truly global.

Allow me to briefly discuss each of these challenges with you.

As a university, our ultimate mission is to ensure that our students are fully prepared to become capable citizens and leaders. But given that issues, initiatives, and problems no longer stop at regional boundaries or national borders, we cannot fulfill our mission if we work in isolation—if we remain behind our narrow domestic walls. Our first challenge is to ensure that our students are ready to engage the opportunities and embrace the responsibilities our modern world presents—in other words, to be global citizens and leaders. That’s one of the reasons the founding of this Center for Transnational Legal Studies, under the leadership of Georgetown Law Center Dean, Alex Aleinikoff, is so important.

Unfortunately, as our global community has grown closer, it has also become more polarized and prone to conflict. At the international level, we’ve certainly seen this to be true in acts of terrorism across the globe; in “ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans, Rwanda and other places; and in conflicts in the Middle East, the Sudan, Sri Lanka, Chechnya, and East Timor.

This bring us to our second challenge, for in such an atmosphere, the need for building bridges of understanding between peoples, cultures, and countries is undeniably great—and it is an area where those of us in the Academy have a special opportunity.

A university—and a school of law— provides a unique home for multiple traditions, cultures, disciplines, methodologies, and modes of inquiry—what we might call “communities of interpretation.” What distinguishes different communities of interpretation is the “horizon of significance,” the background of social practices, goods, morals, laws, customs, and institutions that provide meaning for individual members of that community.

No where is the engagement between conflicting and competing communities of interpretation…between different horizons of significance…so constant and so part of daily life as in the Academy. This engagement is imbedded in our mission. And providing the context where horizons of significance can be fused—where bridges can be built between communities of interpretation—is one of our continuing challenges…one of our opportunities for greatest achievement…and an objective that will be supported by the establishment of this Center for Transnational Legal Studies.

Our third and final challenge emerges from the other two. We cannot fully prepare our students to be global leaders and citizens…nor can we continue to advance and promote the building of bridges of understanding…unless we become truly global institutions—a goal that is certainly aided by our actions here today.

Helping us to become a global institution is another reason that Georgetown University is so pleased to have played a major role in the establishment of this new Center. Since our founding in 1789, Georgetown has always been a university of international character. At a time when travel was difficult and distances great, 20 percent of our first students came from a foreign country. Today, we have students from 134 countries represented in our student body…12% of our students come from abroad…52% of our undergraduates will study abroad…and we send our students to more than 120 universities around the world. Like all of our partners here today, we are certainly an international institution.

But by necessity, as well as by choice, in the complex and changing world we face—Georgetown, and all of us, must transition into truly global universities…ones that can effectively respond to global issues and opportunities.

There is, of course, no single road map…no charted course…no established path for doing this. But the transition also raises a question: What does it mean to be a global university? I believe that to be a global university requires a different way of engaging with our world. It requires that we recognize that being global entails an engagement in the world that is multilateral, multicultural, and multinational—indeed, transnational…an engagement that requires many partners that transcend national identities, national boundaries…an engagement like what we are undertaking today.

Today, we all take another step on the journey to becoming truly global universities. The document that our ten institutions—premier law schools from six continents—will be signing this afternoon will enable all of our universities to become stronger global universities…it will help contribute to international understanding and cooperation…and—most important—it will help teach those who study the law to think and act globally—to understand, in the words of Erasmus, that we each have a responsibility to be “a citizen of the world.”

Perhaps in no other field is an understanding of the interconnectivity of our global community more important than in the law. Thanks to globalization—to the crumbling of those narrow domestic walls—today’s law practice is increasingly global in nature. Students need to understand the cultures, customs, and legal systems of those living in countries other than their own...they need to be fully prepared to confront global injustice and inequality, and to help advance international security and peace.

On the wall of our library at the Georgetown Law Center is a statement that captures our deepest convictions: That law is but a means—justice is the end. With that in mind, by helping to teach all of our law students to be better “global” lawyers, this new Transnational Law Center will help ensure the promise of greater global justice…and of a stronger global community, of which—as Erasmus recognized nearly five centuries ago—we are all a part.

There is a statue of Erasmus in Rotterdam which shows the scholar—this global citizen—reading a large book. I can think of no better representation that it is the promotion of knowledge—the work of research and scholarship—precisely the kind of initiative that we undertake today—that provides the best avenue to global cooperation and connectivity.

I congratulate all of the universities who have come together in this unique global partnership. And I look forward to continuing to work with you.

Thank you.

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