Vanderbilt Lawyer - Volume 37, Number 2

A Dispatch from India

Jane Schukoske,'77, writes about how her career in poverty law and teaching has led to her role in developing a new law school in India.

Jane Schukoske,'77

I did not imagine when I graduated from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1977 that I would spend a substantial part of my life living and working in India. When I came to India in 2000, my plan was to be here two years. I had taken a leave of absence from my work as a clinical law professor at the University of Baltimore to serve as executive director of the U.S. Educational Foundation in India, which is the Fulbright Commission, headquartered in New Delhi. The foundation had been without a director for 10 months, and was experiencing organizational difficulties. My legal experience proved invaluable in strengthening the organization, particularly after I discovered that some of the organization's problems stemmed from embezzlement. I worked with the Board to fire two staff members and hired internal auditors and a local financial expert to put together the case for prosecution.

I had been in India for just over a year when the events of September 11, 2001, changed everything, including the world of international education. I decided to stay on beyond my original two-year commitment to help rebuild the foundation. One of my goals was to strengthen its support -financial and logistical-for international scholars and students. Professor Frank Bloch at Vanderbilt helped work out a tuition waiver for a Fulbright-Vanderbilt Masters Fellowship in Clinical Legal Education, and other cost-shared fellowships followed. I gained insight into the strategies used by U.S. universities to engage with students and scholars abroad. This period was one of rapid growth in internationalization of higher education, and India became a hotbed of U.S. university recruitment and an increasingly attractive venue for collaborations with American scholars in a variety of disciplines. I had an opportunity to promote collaborations between U.S. and Indian universities, transform the Commission campus into a hub of Indo-U.S. activity, and interact with higher education networks in every field.

In May 2008, having accomplished my goals for the Educational Foundation, I moved on to take up consulting projects that combine my administrative experience in international education with my background in legal education. In Delhi, I am an advisor to a non-profit society that is planning a new, private university and law school with the aim of providing a culture of research, a strong faculty and world-class facilities. The proposed O.P. Jindal Global University will inaugurate the Jindal Global Law School as its first institution (you can read more about it at jgls.org). Its first program will be a three-year LL.B. program for students who have completed a Bachelor's degree in another subject. The school will also offer the legal five-year LL.B. /B.A. program for students who have graduated from high school. I am working with an international team of academics, architects and corporate executives to secure enabling legislation that will establish the university, design the new curriculum, develop a 54-acre campus, recruit law faculty, set up a world-class law library, and deal with a host of other start-up issues. An international board of advisors is supporting the project, and we have commitments for collaborations with law schools around the world.

When I started law school in 1974, my motivation for studying law was to help low-income communities. After I graduated, I practiced law with legal services offices in Virginia and spent three years as director of the Virginia Poverty Law Center, where I facilitated coordination of legal strategies and training of lawyers and paralegals serving low-income communities. Then I earned an LL.M. at Georgetown, which prepared me for the next stage of my career: establishing law school clinics at University of Baltimore (UB), where I became a tenured professor. I really enjoyed teaching students how to assist neighborhood associations, urban gardeners, and other non-profit groups seeking to improve their environments.

At UB, I became involved with the Center for International and Comparative Law, which led to work with the American Bar Association Central and European Law Institute and Study Abroad programs for J.D. students. I taught comparative housing law in the study-abroad program offered at University of Aberdeen, Scotland. My work with colleagues abroad often raised familiar issues of assisting communities to address local problems through legal strategies. In 1995-96, I visited the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, as a Fulbright Scholar, and participated in a professional development program for Indian law teachers. By the end of the year, I knew I would find a way to support legal education in India in some way. In the late 1990s, I worked with kindred spirits, including Frank Bloch at Vanderbilt, to form the Global Alliance of Justice Education (GAJE), which promotes reform of legal education to better serve the needs of communities. (Read more about it at gaje.org) GAJE, which held its first Worldwide Conference in India in 1999, will hold its 5th conference in the Philippines in December 2008.

Throughout my career, one rewarding professional opportunity has led to another. I'm grateful that, for the past 15 years, my opportunities have literally taken me around the world and allowed me to connect with people at home and abroad.