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Complex Problems Courses | Justice and Law

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A Kid’s Day in Court

GNED 140
Claire Griggs
MTh 2:30 - 3:45pm

Juvenile delinquency poses difficult and interesting problems for youth policy and criminal justice policy. This course looks at the misconduct of youths that brings them within the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts, and focuses on the complex problem of whether a youth will stay in the juvenile delinquency system or be waived and transferred to the adult criminal justice system. We will look specifically at the legal, social, and policy determinations and implications of that decision. The course will explore the intersection between legal and mental culpability that is critical to understanding the issue of waiver.

Balancing Legal Interests

GNED 140
Michael Mass
TF 12:55- 2:10pm OR 2:30 - 3:45pm

The law is a device for balancing societal and personal interests. Although it might seem that we should look to the law to provide rules for our personal and business conduct that are definitive and clear, in reality the law is more often balancing complex interests that involve many shades of gray. This course will examine a series of legal problems concerning the role of the law in our personal lives as well as in the economic life of our country as part of a community of nations. 

1) What should be the role of the legal system as a device to resolve disputes between parties?

2) What U.S. and international laws should govern trade between businesses across international borders?

3) When should the law award compensation when bad things happen to people?

4) When should the law limit the rights of parties to make deals with each other or impose duties upon private parties to serve the public good? 

Although the course will view these problems through a legal lens, it will be brazenly interdisciplinary: including economic, business, political and international relations perspectives. Most importantly, it will grapple with questions that have no single answer, but where students will have to learn enough about an area of law to develop their own solutions as well as an understanding of the opposing position. Course materials may include book chapters, articles, cases, statutory material, blogs and movies.

Harsh Justice

GNED 140
Robert Johnson
M 5:30 – 8:00pm

America leads the western world in the use of harsh punishments: life sentences, death sentences, and extended solitary confinement. Each of these punishments is a type of death penalty: life sentence prisoners are sentenced to die in prison, death sentence prisoners are sentenced to be killed in prison, and prisoners sentenced to extended terms in solitary confinement (often in notorious “Supermax” prisons) are sentenced to what has been described as a “living death.” As a general matter, conditions in American prisons are uniquely painful and degrading, and have been described by researchers as “dehumanizing” and “hellish,” and ultimately “un-survivable” in the face of widespread violations of human dignity. We will consider harsh sanctions, and the prison experience in general, from different points of view, drawing on the arts (primarily poetry) and the social sciences (primarily criminology).

The Highs and Lows of Drugs

GNED 140
Maria Gomez
W 11:20 - 2:10pm

Every week we hear another story about how the heroin epidemic is ravaging communities across America. Drugs remain a complex problem, despite the investment of billions of dollars and many years into potential solutions. This class critically analyzes the varying approaches (e.g., scientific, public policy, law enforcement) that have been applied to the drug problem. After over 50 years of scientific research, we have extensive knowledge of how drugs work on the brain, but little progress has been made in reducing rates of drug addiction. Why? Are the right scientific questions being asked? Are we using the best legal approach?

Perspectives on Mental Illness

GNED 250
Laurie Stepanek
W 11:20 - 2:10pm 

This course explores not only the scientific basis for mental illness and treatment, but also how cultural, political, and economic forces impact mental health policy. Do patients have rights to refuse treatment? How do socio-cultural perspectives of mental illness influence treatment? How should mental illness affect culpability and sentencing in the courtroom? Students will read and respond to narratives by the mentally ill, clinical and legal case studies, scientific review articles and congressional testimony, as well as lectures by experts in the field. Students will also examine the portrayal of mental illness in film and literature.

Quest for Justice

GNED 140
G. Borden Flanagan
TF 12:55 - 2:10pm

This course introduces students to an on-going dialogue at the core of Western intellectual history about how to think about justice. Though the course hits the major periods, it is not a tour of the history of political theory, and the purpose is not to accumulate opinions about that history. It is, rather, an extended exercise in how the attempt to achieve clarity about the fundamental problems of justice gives rise to new questions and problems that were not apparent at first, which in turn lead beyond themselves again, all while revolving nevertheless around common elements. The central theme of the course is intellectual surprise, as new questions emerge from old solutions and new solutions reveal old questions. We will address and illustrate questions about law, political obligation, freedom, equality, justice and human nature; we will examine different societies such as the ancient city, modern democracy and totalitarianism, and discuss contemporary issues such as race, culture and inequality.

Refugees, War, and Human Rights

GNED 130
David Vine
MTh 9:45 - 11:00am

Millions of refugees and other displaced people are fleeing war and violence from the Middle East to Central America and beyond. This course will examine this global phenomenon as well as one of the world’s least well-known refugee crises—the forced removal of the Chagossian people by the U.S. military base on Diego Garcia, an island in the Indian Ocean. The class will explore topics including the effects and causes of forced displacement, race and racism, environmental refugees, gentrification, and movements to combat human rights violations and assist the displaced. Participants will have opportunities to learn about and support refugees and other displaced peoples outside the classroom.

Why Do We Punish

GNED 120
Andrea Tschemplik
W 11:20 - 2:10pm

We'll be looking to literature, philosophy and the social sciences to understand the complex phenomenon of punishment. We will examine why parents punish their children, why we punish ourselves as well as why the state punishes individuals. We will examine whether there are any links between the different forms of punishment. We will also wonder whether there are forms of punishment which cannot be justified both on the individual and the state level.