Professor Ben Laurence Takes on New Role at the Pozen Center

Even as their campus offices sit empty, the faculty and staff of the Pozen Center are hard at work on initiatives to expand human rights work in the College and across graduate disciplines in the coming academic year and beyond. Professor Ben Laurence, who will be stepping into a new affiliation as Associate Instructional Professor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and the Division of Social Sciences next month, will play a key role as the Center reimagines and expands its programming. 

Among other duties, Ben will be tasked with restructuring the Human Rights minor, developing joint offerings with other academic programs, coordinating the Pozen Center’s September Study Abroad in Hong Kong, and developing new courses, including new gateway and capstone sequences for students in the College.

“The Pozen Center has always offered very dynamic programming,” Ben says, noting the success of the Human Rights minor, internship program, essay competitions and other offerings. He sees this as a moment to deepen and strengthen what the Center already does so well, including “offering high-level courses that also involve getting out into the world, whether it’s through the Human Rights Lab, the internship program, or beyond.” 

In tackling the myriad tasks assigned to him, Ben will draw on his experience in helping to design, launch, and oversee revisions to the Human Rights in World Civilizations Core. Working with faculty from across many disciplines, Ben was part of a team that put together a nationally unique two-quarter sequence for the College.

“I found that process very exciting,” he says. “It’s been amazing to be with it from the beginning up until now—to see how it’s grown. Building the sequence and teaching in the Core has taught me such an incredible amount about human rights, which has benefitted my own research and thinking.”

In addition to continuing to teach in the Core this coming academic year, Ben will once again be teaching Human Rights: Philosophical Foundations in Autumn Quarter (you can watch a video recording of the first lecture from that course below). In Winter, he will teach his Justice at Work course on labor rights. “Justice at Work is not the kind of course that gets taught very much anywhere else,” he says. “We’ll be dealing with issues that are of immense practical importance right now.”

But it’s not just his own teaching that has Ben excited for the coming academic year. The Pozen Center will welcome two new Social Science Teaching Fellows beginning in Autumn 2020, who collectively will teach six new Human Rights courses a year.

“This is an incredible opportunity for us,” Ben says. “There’s a kind of energy that comes from people who are dedicating themselves wholly to teaching—and teaching courses related to their own research—for the first time.”

For the Fellows, the Teaching Fellows Program is an opportunity to develop courses they can replicate and carry with them as they enter the academic job market. For students in the College, it offers the chance to learn from individuals “who live and breathe their topics, who are just completing dissertation projects during which they’ve immersed themselves in questions of human rights. Students will get to see the fruits of new and exciting research first-hand.” 

The addition of the Social Science Teaching Fellowships will greatly expand the Center’s course offerings; College students can expect courses on topics ranging from disability in East Asia to group identity in ethnic conflict. 

“We’ll be bringing in people who are doing the most exciting human rights-related research at the university and brainstorming with them about what courses they can offer to supplement our curriculum,” Ben says. “It’s going to extend our reach into many student interests and bridge many disciplinary divides.”

The Pozen Center has also begun exploring the possibility of a new Human Rights major in the College, which Ben believes could provide “another opportunity to increase the set of resources available to students in the College and provide an even richer experience in the Human Rights Program.”

The proposed Human Rights major is currently under development and will be presented to the College Council for input later this year. If approved, the major would allow the Pozen Center to further expand its course offerings, launch a curricular component to the internship program, and supervise more BA theses.

There’s a lot to do in the coming months, but Ben is no stranger to the value of building something from the ground up. “I’ve always liked introducing people to things,” he says. “I think that’s one of the great pleasures of teaching: to try and think through basic, foundational ideas in ways that grab people’s imaginations and are compelling, but also give them the building blocks that will let them go forward.” 

“That’s fun,” Ben says, “and it’s also immensely rewarding.”

Watch the first lecture (16 minutes) from Ben’s course Human Rights: Philosophical Foundations, on Wesley Hohfeld’s analysis of rights as relations between people, with special reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.