Dr. Armin Rosencranz
Dr. Armin Rosencranz

“There are too many law students in India today”, In Conversation with Dr. Armin Rosencranz (Part I)

Anuj Agrawal

Dr. Armin Rosencranz is currently a Professor of Public Law and Policy at Jindal Global Law School, Sonepat. A lawyer, political scientist and environmental law expert, Dr. Rosencranz has written extensively about environmental issues in India.

In this first of this two-part interview with Anuj Agrawal, Dr. Rosencranz talks about his Stanford days, student politics and protests, the costs of legal education and more.

Anuj Agrawal: In the 1960’s you chose to stand for elections to the Associated Students of Stanford University.

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: I didn’t. I was a teaching assistant and one of the students in my class blanketed the Stanford campus with signs. The signs said “Send a man to do a boys job. Elect Charmin Armin”. I came out of my office and I tore the sign. I thought it was some kind of prank. And then as I walked some more I saw another sign. So I tore that down as well. Then I saw the signs were everywhere. So I thought I would treat it as a lark. I had never heard about the ASSU.

Anuj Agrawal: So it started as a joke but then you said that you were going to run with it.

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: Well I thought it was a joke till nearly the very end. I would give them these slogans for the signs like “Today the ASSU and tomorrow the world!”, and “He will make the trains run on time”. The whole bit.

Anuj Agrawal: One of the things you did advocate was the use of study groups.

Dr. Armin Rosencranz. Maybe. I don’t remember that. I remember I was elected by a landslide. And now that I am elected, what do I do? I had to finish law school, which I did. And this phenomenon arose of people flocking to me as though I was their principal hope for better student power.

And indeed one of the first things I did was demand that we have a meeting of my student community. First of all, I continued the theme of light heartedness by calling it GRIP – Group with Real Inside Power. There was also FOG, Friends of GRIP.

Anyway, I figured that all these very bright people – some of whom became Rhodes scholars – they became the core of the people who met once a month with the [Stanford] President. This had not been done before.

The other thing I did after assuming office was say that students had to be members of committees, which previously only had faculty members. I said there had to be student members on these committees and that I have to nominate the members. And the President said, ‘Okay, send me a panel of three for each position’, and he would choose one.

So of course I would send two names of people he would never choose.

Anuj Agrawal: You also spoke about the need for student freedom to criticize the government.

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: I decided that I am the President of the student body, so I will take part in political activity. I wrote a letter to the then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and a few others in the Justice Department. I wrote about the civil rights movement, and it was publicized in the student newsletter. Not a word came from the [Stanford] President but then I spoke about the [Stanford] radio station whose license was not getting renewed.

The “offence” of the radio station was that it had occasionally broadcasted some socialist points of view, and some communist points of view. I didn’t listen to it but I figured it was violation of academic freedom for the Senate’s internal security committee, and the Federal Communication Commission to withhold its renewal license. I wrote to the head of the internal committee, that on behalf of the Stanford student body I wanted to register a protest against this non-renewal. I said that the radio station provides a range of views that it would be highly useful for students to be exposed to.

And also the freedom of speech, the freedom of press was involved.

As soon as that was published in the newspaper, the Dean of students came to my office with a hand delivered letter signed by the President saying that henceforth, and until further notice, no student may take any public position on a political matter. Period.

So then I went to the student legislature who voted 19-1 to support me. But what I did not expect that this would became a cause celebre; faculty members would write to the student body. A San Francisco newspaper became involved, the TV became involved – it became a major thing.

Not only did the faculty get involved, but so did the alumni. The previous student generation was called the Silent Generation. And as soon as the Silent Generation made its voice known through me, they wanted to clamp down immediately.

So alumni would say we are not going to remember Stanford in our will. Now that got the attention of the Stanford administration. The Board of Trustees, I later learned, met at an emergency meeting to ask the court to amend the founding grant of the University (something that had been done only once before). They changed “there shall be no partisan, political, sectarian or religious activities on the Stanford campus” – they eliminated “partisan, political, sectarian or religious”.

And the whole thing changed. We had a plethora of partisan, political activities. All the religious activities that used to be off campus came on campus.

Anuj Agrawal: Do you think having those sort of conversations are important in law schools?

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: There is greater freedom. What we did was done the following year by Berkeley in a much more public way. And then campuses all over the country took on the issue of academic freedom, and liberalised the issue.

Today, there has probably been very little progress made in the last fifty years in terms of what is allowed on campus. But today, the big issue on American campuses is sexual assault.

University administrations are most interested in protecting the perpetrator who would typically be an athlete. They would say, ‘We have to worry about the rights of the accused’, and not worry about the rights of the victim. The worst cases have been at the US Naval Academy, the Military Academy at West Point where women are now allowed.

They have been assaulted many times, told by commanding officers that it would be against their own interests to make public these assaults.

Anuj Agrawal: How do you change something like this?

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: Congress. Get members of Congress, particularly the women members, to demand that universities take this more seriously, that the superintendents of these academies take it more seriously. It is changing but very slowly.

I am involved with two universities – Stanford and Princeton. And both of them have had significant sexual assault cases where they have, initially at least, rallied around the perpetrators. Stanford had a particularly bad example.

A member of the swimming team took a woman who was unconscious, and raped her. And this came before the local judge in Santa Clara County, and he gave the kid something like thirty days. For rape! Of an unconscious woman.

So obviously there are a lot of things that could be made better in this area.

Anuj Agrawal: Back in 1962, you said there should be study groups and tutorials. Do you think that has become a part of the curriculum now?

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: No. At Stanford, I would do it. We would have a relatively small class size, and we would work like a tutorial. The idea of a tutorial was brought to Princeton by the then President of Princeton, Woodrow Wilson. He invented the tutorial method which is still going on today.

A tutorial would not be led by a graduate student, it would be led by a senior professor. And not necessarily in his field; he would be learning along with the students. It was a great system.

When I was teaching from 1995 to 2013, except for a few classes, typical professors thought that if you were really good, you would not be teaching.

Anuj Agrawal: What does that mean?

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: It means that prominent members of the faculty would be leading the profession; the idea was that teaching should be the lowest of your responsibilities and you should be considered with research, path breaking science etc. Which they have done.

Anuj Agrawal: What are your thoughts on the costs of legal education?

Dr. Armin Rosencranz: First of all, there are too many law students in India today. No one realises it but it is true. Eventually, there is going to be a contraction. Student bodies will contract, the lower level law schools will disband. The jobs available will reduce.

The whole profession will change and this is going to happen in the next ten years. It has already happened in the US.

The costs do need to drop. Jindal [Global Law School] costs five times as compared to NLS, NUJS etc. But eventually, when they want to compete with NUJS and NLS, they will have to drop their tuition. No one is going to pay 3 to 5 times as much where their peers are not as good as their peers at NUJS or NLS.

And I think the Vice-Chancellor knows that. They have a generous endowment from the Jindal conglomerate so they could utilize. So instead of creating more buildings, they can drop the tuition.

(Views expressed in this interview are of Dr. Armin Rosencranz. Bar & Bench neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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