Each year, the UCLA School of Law presents the Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching to an outstanding law professor. On April 12, 2022, this honor was given to Professor Aslı Ü. Bâli. UCLA Law Review Discourse is proud to continue its tradition of publishing amodified version of the ceremony speech delivered by the award recipient.
Learning From My Teachers
Thank you to Dean Jennifer Mnookin for that very generous introduction. I am overwhelmed with gratitude by this award. I am so moved by this honor that I have broken my regular practice in giving talks by writing out my full speech today. I knew I could not deliver it extemporaneously and maintain my composure.
Thank you to this audience and to my teachers, colleagues, students, and friends who are here today. Those categories are allvery much overlapping and I feel humbled by your presence, especially at a time when we are still grappling with a pandemic and facing the challenges of rebuilding norms of in-person attendance.
Thank you to UCLA Law’s Rutter Selection Committee for giving me this award. I could not be more honored to join the truly exceptional group of teachers that come before me as recipients. I know keenly how much work goes into our shared endeavor of teaching and can only repeat how humbled I feel to be counted among the ranks of award-winning faculty at this great law school.
Thank you especially to Paul Rutter and the Rutter family for their generosity in creating this award and their far-sightedness in recognizing the need to honor excellence in teaching. Each year I am deeply grateful to be in the audience as we take the time toacknowledge the centrality of teaching to our mission by giving this award, and I am so moved now to have the chance to be at the podium.
As we just heard from Paul Rutter, there are a number of law schools in Southern California that received generous gifts from his family to recognize excellent teaching but I will venture to say that none could hold a candle to the elevated art of teaching at this law school. I never cease to be amazed by my wonderful colleagues here—it has been a tremendous privilege to learn this craft alongside them.
I want to especially recognize colleagues that teach with me in several of the specialized programs in which I serve as a core oraffiliated faculty member, including the Critical Race Studies program, the International and Comparative Law program and the PublicInterest Law program, as well as our dedicated core of human rights teachers at the Promise Institute. In so many ways, I view being on the faculty at UCLA Law as a continuous experience of learning to become a better teacher by watching the example set by these and all my colleagues.
I also want to recognize and thank the many people at UCLA Law that make this school such a wonderful, collegial, and supportive institution. I want to specifically thank some of the departments and individuals who contribute enormously to the success of teaching at this school but whose work remains behind the scenes. I have in mind here, especially, our hard-working Information Technology groupand our tireless Audio-Visual Department. Together, they made our transition to Zoom as seamless as possible in the last two years andcontinue to perform herculean tasks daily that enable even the most technology-hesitant of our faculty—and I count myself in those ranks—to succeed.
This year especially, the Faculty Support Group is a department that has had to shoulder a remarkable burden; which they havedone with good humor, can-do-it-iveness and perseverance under the leadership of the indefatigable Jessica Sonley.
Of course, from my own vantage point the most important member of the administrative team that makes the magic happen from behind the curtain is my husband, Tal Grietzer, who is here today and who has been an essential part of the support systems of this law school long before I joined UCLA. I could not be more fortunate that he has brought into my life the kindness, generosity, and brilliant problem-solving skills that are the hallmarks of his career here.
With that, you might think that I would have dispensed with the thanks portion of my speech; but no. From here, I intend to use mytime at this podium primarily to offer further thanks because, at base, the only reason I am up here is because of all of the family, teachers,colleagues, and students who have taught me what I know and made me want to teach. This award recognizes all that I have learned from those who have accompanied me on the journey to becoming a professor. The only way I can imagine accepting an award for teaching is by honoring my own teachers. Along the way, I hope to offer a few thoughts about why I have chosen this profession and what I have learned from the experience of teaching and being taught by my students.
My first teachers to whom I owe the most important debt of thanks are my family. I am especially eager to acknowledge them here today because they fundamentally shaped the person I am. And yet, once I embarked on this career that they made possible I traveled very far from home. They have rarely been able to come to Los Angeles and I have rarely had an opportunity to celebratethem in the UCLA community.
I come from a long line of teachers, though not in the sense of my colleagues who are second and third generation law professors. None in my family are professionals at teaching—nor are any of them lawyers—yet each of them is as gifted a teacher as I ever could hope to be.
My parents—who would have so loved to be here today but could not join us because of distance and declining health—were my first teachers. They taught my siblings and I how to live a life with dignity in a foreign land and how to remain true to the values and culture they brought to their expatriated lives while also enabling us to thrive in the new culture of our adopted home. They were language teachers who made sure we were not only fluent but natively bilingual; they were history teachers who filled in the gaps and silences of Western curricula; and they instilled in us a commitment to justice and a profound sense of duty by their example.
My sister is a model of empathy and patience who has not only been my lifelong source of wise counsel but has set a benchmark for teaching and parenting with her sons that I can, at best, aspire to with my own daughter. The humor and grace with which she navigates the many challenges of our lives is second to none—often dropping a word or a single glance that is enough to trigger uncontrollable bouts of laughter in me in the most inappropriate times and places, to her delight. She can think her way out of almost any problem. She is the kind of person who makes a solution seem intuitive and obvious, so much so that it often takes me a moment to realize that I would never have come to it without her. She talks faster than I do, but in shorter sentences. (I suspect my students would happily accept that tradeoff). Were she a professor here she would surely have been the one to win this award.
My brother has also had to become a teacher by dint of circumstance, trying to instill in his son a commitment to the virtues of are public even as its foundational principles are being dismantled; raising a citizen who values both pluralism and dissent, even as he comes of age in Istanbul at a time when the government is bent on crushing both.
In short: if the best way to teach is by example, then my family have been my most influential teachers. And they have taught me never to waiver in the commitments that brought me to the profession I chose, something that I hope I can model, in turn, as a professor of human rights law. That said, my daughter, Ayla, who is here today, is an excellent judge of the degree to which I can live up to my family’s high standard. When asked about her mother’s profession in kindergarten last year, astutely she told her class that her mother teaches “bla bla bla,” a characterization that has stuck in the family. Time will tell if I can persuade her there is more to know about thelaw. But she is already, at age seven, a model of what I hope to teach: how to think independently, critically, and, when necessary, to pushback against would-be authority figures by reminding them that they are sometimes full of “bla bla bla.”
Beyond my family, I have been incredibly fortunate to have extraordinary teachers at many stages of my long, long formal education to whom I also owe a tremendous debt of thanks. UCLA is a community of dedicated teachers and from the moment I arrived I felt at home here, in part, because I recognized among my colleagues the very qualities that marked the best teachers I knew as a student. I hope you will indulge me as I tell you very briefly—and I know that the phrase “very briefly” is a dangerous one—about some teachers who shaped my journey as a student.
In the late 1980s, I attended United Nations (UN) school where many of my teachers were émigrés, including many who fled the Holocaust as children with their families and found themselves decades later teaching in what was then essentially a public school for the children of UN civil servants. And by the time I was a student, the UN bureaucrats sending their kids to the school were largely from countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean and South America, that is to say the Global South. So it was a school of refugees teaching children from the Global South, and in the case of my high school they were doing this in New York City. These teachers applied incredible insights from their own lives that brought our classes to life and nowhere was this more true than in history classes. In high school, we marked Kristallnacht every year by viewing the film Nacht und Nebel—Night and Fog—a documentary named for Hitler’s directive in 1941 to target political activists and resistance leaders with a program of abductions and disappearances across German-occupied territories. It was a deeply personal choice to my teachers and transformative for me and my classmates. The documentary short features the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and other extermination camps and usesfootage taken in the camps before they were liberated, alternating between past and present, black-and-white and color, and it isabsolutely searing—even if you are not fourteen when you first see it, but especially so if you are.
I had two teachers in particular—Ms. Sylvia Gordon and Mr. David Evans, one originally Viennese, the other Welsh—who were determined that we never forget what drove the founding of the United Nations, the scourge of war and genocide on the European continent, and then what that new international organization achieved in its first decades: emancipation from European colonial rule for over two-thirds of the globe.
Each, in their own quiet way, taught us at least as much through their determination to remember and to commemorate as they did through the curriculum. They were the first to introduce me to the idea of human rights as a global set of tools to be wieldedagainst—rather than by—the powerful. In this school that was technically covered by the UN headquarters agreement, we students were able to join—through the determined efforts of my teachers—a youth chapter of the African National Congress (ANC)to express our anti-apartheid commitments despite the ANC being considered, at that time, a terrorist organization in the UnitedStates. My teachers instilled in me literal awe at an international order that placed human rights at its heart, but equally an early appreciation for the elasticity of the many features of the international order that work at cross-purposes with the aspiration to protect human rights. Above all, they taught me how teachers who draw from their own experiences can inspire their students.
After high school I moved to a college where I discovered another Viennese mentor, another child of refugees from theHolocaust, but this one an avowed Marxist with the most mischievous streak a seventy-one-year-old could possibly possess. Professor Kurt Tauber was a political theorist who fled Nazi-occupied Austria as a teenager and within short order completed a PhD atHarvard. I was among his last students before he retired, but he was among the most energetic people I knew. He would wake up before dawn every day and go leafletting in subzero temperatures in the Berkshire mountains, tromping through inches of snow to leaflet around town on behalf of MASSPIRG (the Massachusetts Student Public Interest Research Group). He did this as part of community outreach efforts to raise awareness about global warming, hunger, and homelessness—at least those were three campaigns I joined him on among the dozens he was regularly engaged with. Few things would have made me wake up and get out the door in thefrigid cold at 5am as a teenager, but it turns out Kurt Tauber was one of them.
I learned so much from Professor Tauber because he married his own deeply held convictions with an equal measure of humor and an openness to all perspectives. The senior seminar I took with him had a cartoon image on the front of its syllabus. In the background was a tombstone marked “Karl Marx RIP” and in the foreground was an image of Marx pulling on his eye with a comment bubble that read “mon oeil.” At the height of post-Cold War, end-of-history thinking, his seminar was titled “Karl Marx: Now More thanEver.” Professor Tauber had no illusions that he was training Marxists. Instead, he was determined to train students in how to sharpen arguments and think critically about the world they found themselves in, drawing on texts that offer powerful examples of how ideas may reshape the world. He was irrepressibly European (for which reason the joke in French on the front of the syllabus fell flat to many of my classmates), determinedly egalitarian, and uncompromisingly committed to forging an intellectual community with his students. He was a faculty member who sat side-by-side with students at protests because he believed that learning happens in theconnections forged between what goes on inside and outside of the classroom and that the intellectual life of a great college, university,or law school forms into intellectual community when faculty engage with their students beyond the four corners of the curriculum.
Many years after I had completed my undergraduate degree and was training to be a lawyer I met the third of the great teachers and mentors I had the privilege to know as a student: Professor Richard Falk. I am delighted to say that he has done me the great honor of attending this ceremony today with his wife, Professor Hilal Elver, who herself has just finished teaching a short course on the human right to food at UCLA Law. Though I did not know it when I first met him, Richard would one day serve as my dissertation advisor. But what struck me when I met him was that the speed of his speech was perhaps as far at the opposite end of the spectrum from me as was possible for a New Yorker like himself. Yet I would hang on his every word and every pregnant pause as would my classmates. He mesmerized us not only with stories from a remarkable range of first-hand international law experiences, but much more importantly with a penetrating analysis of both the possibilities and profound limitations of the doctrine we were studying. In a word, Richard was and is a model of how to take international law seriously as a means of seeking to reshape a dangerously flawed global order without ever losing sight of the many ways in which the law itself is shot through with the very injustices he works to resist.
As I tried to narrow the subject of my dissertation, Richard guided me with endless enthusiasm for helping to work out the ideas of a young woman who was in equal measure shocked by the injustices and inequalities characterizing the global order and determined to contribute to projects for transformative, structural change. I would spend long hours in his office debating whether the nuclear non-proliferation regime offered a valuable if partial defense against arsenals of annihilation, or replicated and entrenched an asymmetric system of nuclear apartheid. For those who know his work, you will know that Richard was often the one arguing the latter position. It was in those conversations that I learned the incredible, even transformative value of being treated as an equal, as a peer in argumentation and in learning, by a teacher and a mentor. Richard never once questioned that I would succeed by pursuing my own interests and idiosyncratic views to the end. Where others counseled me to package myself in ways that would be more palatable for this or that instrumental purpose—for the job market or preparing for an interview or in my writing—he never once suggested I do anything other than pursue the projects that most excited me. And he never tired of finding opportunities for me to present my ideas and work to others. In short, Richard did not seek to mold me into someone who would be conventionally successful; he wanted to empower me to pursue my own ends as I defined them.
Now, I am a stubborn person and even after having been influenced by an extraordinary set of teachers and mentors, I was unsure about becoming a teacher myself. Prior to the PhD program, I had practiced law in a variety of settings, including as a human rights lawyer at the UN, at transnational and also very local human rights organizations, and as a lawyer in private practice representing governments of the Global South. Each of these positions were connected in some way to the issues I was most concerned with in the international system, whether by grappling with local human rights issues or addressing the challenges of sovereign debt in the Third World. Still, when I was offered the chance of a fellowship at a law school in the middle of my PhD, I accepted it with Richard’s example in mind. And when that position led to the legal academic job market, I decided that it was a path worth exploring.
My first time properly visiting Los Angeles was for my job talk—perhaps my luckiest break in a life of stumbling into goodfortune. And Los Angeles is now the city I have lived in longest—by far—in my adult life. This is in large part because I have neverfelt closer to my own goals of reshaping the terms of the debate in international law than in conversation with my students andcolleagues at this great law school.
What brought me to legal academia was frustration with the limits of international law coupled with the deep belief that this setof tools could be wielded differently, better and in ways that might serve emancipatory ends. In short, that writing and teaching international law from the perspective, not of the traditional makers of the law, but from the periphery, from below, might create space for alternative ways of using existing law and developing new norms. At UCLA, I learned that training students in ways sensitive to these perspectives and learning in dialog with them is the most rewarding part of this project. Knowledge production is a collaborative enterprise that occurs first and foremost in our classrooms. To convince students that international law is worth engaging, the possibility of transformation has to be modeled there.
I aspire to teach students about a flawed and limited system in ways that might still inspire them to love the struggle and believe in the possibility that through critical engagement we can not only deconstruct, but also reconstruct prevailing doctrine towards more emancipatory ends. But in teaching, it is, for the most part, not me that is doing the inspiring. Instead, it is my students that inspire. I try to ground what we study in their perspectives—beginning each semester in every class, no matter how large, with introductions in which I invite students to tell us what interests bring them to the class and the backgrounds that shape their perspectives. Over the years, I have found that considering the materials we study through the lens of their experiences—not only mine—is the best way to bring doctrine to life.
I am also keenly aware that learning happens in our interactions in the classroom but also beyond it, and I hope to find ways to contribute to my students’ projects—their career plans, their externships, their community engagements and student organizations—and draw them into my projects as well. I always encourage students in my classes to attend the programming and events we organize in this building; the result is that sometime around the middle of each semester we go from being a class to an intellectual community together, extending conversations that begin within the classroom to the world we share outside those walls.
And finally, I hope to follow Richard’s remarkable example by being an engaged scholar and teacher who empowers her students to have confidence in the goals they set and their ability to achieve them. Among other things, this requires not only teaching the core foundational doctrine necessary to understand and practice international law but also exploring whether and how the law might be refashioned. My students at this school have never failed to embrace this aspiration, challenging me to do better and then joining me in the effort. I was inspired by my own teachers to pursue this career but it is my students who inspire me to continue in it.
Let me end this talk where I began: with thanks. I owe a profound debt of gratitude to my current and former students. Since I arrived at UCLA, they have served as my newest cohort of teachers, patiently suffering through my fast-talking, but also knowing when to slow me down, and engaging with me across all of the courses I have taught with curiosity and enthusiasm, probing questions and challenging retorts. I am consistently impressed with the seriousness they bring to their reading of our shared texts and the dazzling flashes of insight they regularly offer, elevating our discussions by raising points I have often never previously considered.
My students remind me anew each year that learning is a dynamic and collaborative experience and that in joining them in that enterprise there is always more I can learn about the norms, policies, institutions, and decisions that we study together. The global challenges we face are daunting, our tools feel inadequate. Ultimately, it is the enterprise of learning through critical inquiry thatenables us to sharpen what we can and build what we need.
These last few years have witnessed the travails of virtual learning, the intimacy and distance brought by Zoom against thebackdrop of pandemic, climate catastrophe, racial reckoning, paroxysms of violence, and the erosion of democracy athome and abroad. That even through all of this our students continue to show up every day, week in and week out, to join in our shared enterprise is nothing short of miraculous. And because our students remain steadfast in sustaining our conversations, I am able to rekindle faith and optimism in our collective project, grappling with the awesome power and responsibility that comes with the study of the law.
. Ella George, Purges and Paranoia, 40:10 London Rev. Books (May 24, 2018), https://www.lrb.co.uk/the-paper/v40/n10/ella-george/purges-and-paranoia[https://perma.cc/L9JY-BX7F].
. Ayla Bâli, Age 7, Kindergarten Address on Teaching Law (2021).
. See generally About the United Nations International School, U.N. Int’l School, https://www.unis.org/about-unis [https://perma.cc/LP65-3QQB] (last visited
Oct. 18, 2022).
 See generally Anne Garland Mahler, Global South, in Literary & Critical Theory, Oxford Bibliographies,https://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/display/document
/obo-97 80190221911/obo-9780190221911-0055.xml?rskey=eMzKAW&result=16 [https://perma.cc/2AZA-T352] (last visited Oct. 18, 2022).
. Night and Fog (Anatole Dauman 1955); see also Pascal Tréguer, ‘Nacht und Nebel’: Meaning and Origin, Word Hists. (Dec. 9, 2020),https://wordhistories.net/2020
. See generally History of the United Nations, U.N., https://www.un.org/en/about-us/history-of-the-un [https://perma.cc/5KVN-478J] (last visited Oct. 18, 2022).
. See generally The United Nations and Decolonization, U.N., https://www.un.org/dppa/ decolonization/en [https://perma.cc/6X6N-HTHF] (last visited Oct. 18,2022).
. See, e.g., E. Tendayi Achiume & Aslı Ü. Bâli, Race and Empire: Legal Theory Within, Through, and Across National Borders, 67 UCLA L. Rev. 1386 (2021); Aslı Ü.Bâli, International Law & Rights-Based Remedies in the Israel-Palestine Conflict: Settlements, 28 Hastings Int’l & Comp. L. Rev. 387 (2004-2005); Aslı Ü. Bâli,Justice under Occupation: Rule of Law and the Ethics of Nation-Building in Iraq, 30 Yale J. Int’l L. 431 (2005).
. See G.A. Res. 169(II), United Nations Headquarters Agreement (June 26, 1947), https://treaties.un.org/doc/Publication/UNTS/Volume%2011/volume-11-I-147-English.pdf [https://perma.cc/97CG-STVT].
. On the African National Congress (ANC), see Heidi Holland, The Struggle: A History of the African National Congress (2d ed. 1990). On the designationof the ANC as a terrorist organization by the United States, see Olivia R. Waxman, The U.S. Government Had Nelson Mandela on Terrorist Watch Lists Until2008. Here’s Why, Time
(July 18, 2018), https://time.com/5338569/nelson-mandela-terror-list [https://perma.cc/S6U5-33GE].
. See generally Richard D. Wolff, Understanding Marxism (2018) (providing an accessible introduction to Marxist theory).
. For an interview with Kurt Tauber, see Rebecca Tauber, Former Prof. Kurt Tauber Reflects on Time at the College, Williams Rec. (Dec. 6, 2019),https://williamsrecord.com/210493 /features/former-prof-kurt-tauber-reflects-on-time-at-the-college [https://perma.cc/AFL2-MZ27].
. See About, MASSPIRG, https://masspirg.org/feature/map/about-us [https://perma.cc/HY4D -W2F4] (last visited Oct. 18, 2022).
. For a similar illustration of Karl Marx, see Marx Est Mort? Mon Oeil! (Alain Mila),
Les Éditions Arcane 17, https://www.editions-arcane17.net/fr/evenements/
marx-est-mort-mon-oeil-alain-mila [https://perma.cc/7SRW-YMTV] (last visited Oct. 18, 2022).
. See, e.g., Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World: Reflections on Marx and
. Professor Richard A. Falk teaches Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and serves as the Chair of the Board of the NuclearAge Peace Foundation. See Richard A. Falk, U.C. Santa Barbara, https://secure.lsit.ucsb.edu/gisp/ d7_orfalea-2/people/richard-falk [https://perma.cc/GY22-WQT8](last visited Oct. 18, 2022). He is also Professor Emeritus at Princeton University where he taught international law and international relations from 1961-2001. See
Richard A. Falk, Princeton U., https://politics.princeton.edu/people/richard-falk [https://perma.cc/DL6V-3DB4] (last visited Oct. 18, 2022).
. Professor Hilal Elver served as the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy Global Distinguished Fellow. See Hilal Elver, UCLA L.,https://law.ucla.edu/faculty/faculty-profiles/hilal-elver [https://perma.cc/VC8B-DUVZ] (last visited Oct. 18, 2022). She taught the course Law 518: Right toFood & Global Food Justice in Spring 2022 at UCLA Law, with support from the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy and Promise Institute for HumanRights. See Right to Food & Global Food Justice, UCLA Law, https://law.ucla.edu/academics/curriculum/right-food-global-food-justice[https://perma.cc/J7XW-H87Z].
. See, e.g., Richard A. Falk, Towards a Just World Order, Vol. 1 (Richard Falk, Samuel S. Kim & Saul H. Mendlovitz eds., 2019); Richard A. Falk & DavidKrieger, Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers (2012); Richard A. Falk, The Costs of War: International Law, the UN and the World OrderAfter Iraq (2008); Richard A. Falk, Human Rights Horizons: The Pursuit of Justice in a Globalizing World (2000).
. For a succinct introduction to Falk’s views on the nuclear non-proliferation regime, see Richard Falk, The Illegitimacy of the Non-Proliferation Regime, 4 BrownJ. World Affs. 73 (1997). Falk describes Third World scholars as “derid[ing] the non-proliferation emphasis and regime as part of an overall Western posturelabeled ‘nuclear apartheid.’” Id. at 78.
. See, e.g., Richard Falk, Contesting Nuclearism: Management or Transformation? An Urgent Challenge, Citizen Pilgrimage Blog (Jan. 22, 2020),https://richardfalk.org/ 2020/01/22/contesting-nuclearism-management-or-transformation-an-urgent-challenge [https://perma.cc/NJ9P-PV4N].
. See, e.g., Darren Turnbull, Ritesh Chugh & Jo Luck, Transitioning to E-Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic: How have Higher Education InstitutionsResponded to the Challenge?, 26 Educ. & Info. Techs. 6401 (2021).
. See Nicolas Zerbino, How the COVID-19 Pandemic has Impacted Higher Education, Brookings (Mar. 1, 2021), https://www.brookings.edu/events/how-higher-education-has-been-impacted-by-the-covid-19-pandemic [https://perma.cc/PH3N-NCBL].
. See Laura Parker, For Young People, Two Defining Events: COVID-19 and Climate Change, Nat’l Geographic (Apr. 28, 2020),https://www.nationalgeographic.com/ science/article/gen-z-pandemic-will-define-formative-years-coronavirus-climate-change [https://perma.cc/CZ47-JBMN].
. See Ashley Westerman, Ryan Benk & David Greene, In 2020, Protests Spread Across The Globe With A Similar Message: Black Lives Matter, NPR (Dec. 30,2020), https://www.npr.org/2020/12/30/950053607/in-2020-protests-spread-across-the-globe-with-a-similar-message-black-lives-matt [https://perma.cc/L5ST-GEC2].
. See Shayan Sardarizadeh & Jessica Lussenhop, The 65 Days That Led to Chaos at the Capitol, BBC (Jan. 10, 2021), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-55592332 [https://perma.cc/SRW3-UG2Q].
. See Stephan Haggard & Robert Kaufman, The Anatomy of Democratic Backsliding, 32:4 J. Democracy 27 (2021) (discussing data from sixteen cases ofdemocratic erosion including the United States).