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Proposal to Establish a John Joseph Moakley Human Rights Center and Human Rights Program at the University of Massachusetts, Boston


The worldwide human rights movement has led to international criminal tribunals being set up for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet on charges of crimes against humanity, an increasing focus on poverty and income distribution in international forums, and an effort to establish an international criminal court. It has also led to human rights centers and programs being established at scores of universities around the world. Strikingly, however, there is still no university in the United States which enables undergraduates to major in and receive a human rights degree.

The importance of bringing human rights issues into our classrooms was pointed out by Harvard Law Professor, Henry Steiner. “Literacy about human rights,” said Steiner, “is urgently needed within the university” because human rights issues touch “many ideals of an open and just society that are the university’s own ideals: the equal dignity of human beings; freedom of inquiry and advocacy; broad political participation. Involvement by the university with the concerns of international human rights should then take active as well as scholarly expression.”

Despite the need for it, however, there is still no undergraduate Human Rights Degree granting program in the United States. Hence, by establishing a Human Rights Center that develops a program which enables undergraduates to earn a Human Rights Degree, the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMB) can play a path-breaking role which will give it a pronounced international profile and have positive repercussions for its students, faculty, and the worldwide human rights movement. The Center might be called The John Joseph Moakley Center for Human Rights in honor of the late Congressman John Joseph Moakley.


? develop and administer a Human Rights Undergraduate Degree Program.

? promote research on human rights related issues.

? host human rights scholars from around the world.

? organize and sponsor human rights forums, conferences and similar


? provide human rights internships for students.

? develop an on-line distant learning program.

? establish and manage a UMB human rights worldwide web page with links to other human rights programs and organizations.

engage in fund raising activities in order to become self sustaining.


? expose UMB students to issues of importance to the world community and relate those issues to local concerns.

? give a UMB undergraduate education the greater international profile sought by the administration.

? lead to greater interaction between students and faculty at UMB.

? lead to greater interaction between students and faculty at UMB and individuals and institutions involved in human rights activities elsewhere.

? provide the opportunity for collaborative research between faculty members in different departments and between faculty members at UMB and other universities.

? generate favorable publicity for the University.

? lead to financial support from individuals and organizations engaged in or wanting to promote human rights work.


But despite its promised benefits, a proposal to establish a human rights center and human rights program at a state university facing serious budget constraints raises a number of questions, including:

1. How great is the need for a Human Rights Center and/or program?

2. Would students at UMB choose to major in human rights?

3. Are there any special advantages to having a Human Rights Center and Human Rights Program at UMB?

4. What would a Human Rights curriculum look like?

5. Would the benefit to students, faculty and the community at large of a Human Rights Center and program outweigh the cost?

6. How might a degree granting Human Rights Program, considered separately, be established and what would it cost?

7. If the decision is made to go ahead with the center and/or program what is the best way to proceed?

Each of these questions is addressed below.


As the world community attempts to frame a just world order in the post-cold war era the need for journalists, lawyers, judges, politicians, health care professionals, election monitors and human rights activists with human rights expertise is growing and with it the need for universities to provide the requisite knowledge and training in human rights. Furthermore, as indicated by the success of a human rights forum that took place at UMB on April 25, 2001, students and faculty recognize that need and would welcome a program that addresses human rights issues in a systematic way.

The April 25 forum was organized by students and faculty and co-sponsored by academic departments, student groups, and the administration. Over 300 people packed the room in the Faculty Club where it was held. Most, furthermore, remained following the speakers’ formal presentations to engage in a profound and animated discussion of human rights issues. After it was over many commented that it was an eye opening event and that there was a need for regularly scheduled human rights forums that would enable students and faculty to keep up with human rights developments taking place at an ever increasing pace around world.

Within two weeks of the April 25 forum, for example, according to stories which made the front page of the New York Times: a trial of four Rwandans in Belgium marked the “first time a jury of civilians from one country” were “asked to judge people accused of war crimes committed in another;” former Senator Bob Kerrey acknowledged that a combat mission he led killed at least 13 unarmed women and children in Vietnam in 1969; a federal judge condemned the conditions in Alabama’s Morgan County jail as resembling “the holding units of slave ships during the Middle Passage of the 18th century;” and “the United States lost its seat on the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the first time since 1947, when it was founded under American leadership.” More recently, the former Yugoslav President, Slobodan Milosevic, was arrested and now awaits trial in The Hague for war crimes, Vladimiro Montesinos, Peru’s former intelligence chief, was arrested and charged with murder and torture, and the U.S. reacted to the destruction of the World Trade Center and one wing of the Pentagon by declaring a war on terrorism.

Each of these events raises human rights issues which academics in a wide range of disciplines can and should address. Jose Ortega y Gassett warned in 1930 that humanity’s future is threatened when all we create in our universities is hermetic, self-satisfied, learned ignoramuses shut up in their laboratories like bees in the cells of their hives and unaware of the larger world of which they are a part. Shortly after Ortega y Gasset published this warning, university trained specialists were designing death camps for Adolph Hitler. An interdisciplinary undergraduate human rights program that encourages ethical issues to be addressed across the academic spectrum will help ensure that students at UMB become true scholars and not narrow minded specialists. That is a third reason such a program is needed. Finally, an interdisciplinary human rights program is needed to help provide the diversity and interaction between departments and programs called for by the Provost Committee on Academic Affairs as well as to realize the university’s goal of strengthening its international offerings.


Student attendance at the first human rights forum is evidence of a latent interest in human rights issues. The HRWG is in the process of organizing a second human rights forum in which Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Noam Chomsky will discuss terrorism in Colombia. This forum, scheduled for December 12, will provide another opportunity to inform students about our efforts to establish a Human Rights Center and Human Rights Program and to gauge their interest in both.

The HRWG is also currently surveying UMB students to determine if they would choose to enroll in a Human Rights Program were it available. We believe that many would do so immediately and that once the program was up and running and more became aware of it, more would choose to major or minor in human rights. Furthermore, we believe that a Human Rights Program would induce a number of highly qualified students to apply to UMB who would not apply if the program did not exist and that over time, as the program gained recognition, this number would also increase.


UMB is well suited to establish a human rights program. Its unique blend of students, faculty, and course offerings gives it advantages other universities do not have.

Many of UMB’s students, for instance, come from countries where human rights violations are commonplace. Most are from the working class. Students at UMB who choose to pursue a Human Rights Degree, therefore, would likely be motivated by a deeper understanding of the importance of human rights issues than students who are motivated solely by a sense of noblesse oblige. Hence many potential donors would find the human rights program at UMB to be particularly worthy of support.

UMB, furthermore, has the faculty resources to ensure that a Human Rights Program, once established, would be successful. Political science professor, Winston Langley, for example, is a human rights expert and many other professors throughout the university have a special interest in human rights issues that is reflected in their research and in the design of their courses. Indeed, as indicated in the next section, many of the courses now taught at UMB would fit easily into a human rights curriculum.

Finally, in setting up a human rights program for undergraduates, UMB has the advantage of being able to draw on Human Rights Programs at other universities for guidance. The programs at Trinity College and Carleton University, for instance, might be especially helpful.

Trinity College in Connecticut established the first interdisciplinary human rights minor at an undergraduate liberal arts college in the United States. “The minor consists of five courses and an integrating exercise,” according to a brochure which outlines the program’s requirements. “Students must take at least three courses from a core list, including at least one from a set of courses offered by the Philosophy Department and the Public Policy and International Studies Programs. Students must also take two additional courses drawn from the list of core courses and/or from a list of elective courses offered through the departments and programs participating in the Human Rights Program.” All students in the program are required to take a Public Policy course in International Human Rights Law and Advocacy or an International Studies course called Human Rights in a Global Age or a philosophy course entitled Philosophical Foundations, Issues, and Debates. “Students fulfill the requirement for the integrating exercise by taking either an approved, one-credit, independent study in conjunction with the summer Human Rights Fellowship Program or enrolling in an approved one-credit internship supervised by a member of the Human Rights Program Faculty Advisory Board. Students conclude the exercise by writing a substantial paper integrating the component courses.”

Carleton University has the only comprehensive interdisciplinary undergraduate Human Rights program in Canada. The program allows students to choose a combined major in human rights and law, philosophy, political science, sociology or anthropology.


The work of setting up a human rights program at UMB, as indicated in the previous section, will be made easier because many existing UMB courses could form part of a human rights curriculum with few if any changes. Courses in the African Studies, Women’s Studies, or American Studies departments which examine slavery, racism, sexism, or the exploitation of Native Americans, for example, might serve as electives for Human Rights majors. These courses give students an understanding of how human rights have been and are violated in this country and raise questions about how individuals and society might best respond to such violations.

UMB courses in Anthropology which examine questions related to “cultural relativism” and whether it is ethical for the west to insist that other countries adhere to our concepts of justice might also form part of a Human Rights curriculum. These courses help students understand why the American Anthropological Association adopted a human rights declaration in 1999 which reads, in part, “People and groups have a generic right to realize their capacity for culture, and to produce, reproduce and change the conditions and forms of their physical, personal and social existence, so long as such activities do not diminish the same capacities of others.”

UMB’s Philosophy Department now offers many courses which discuss rights, equality, ethics and moral issues of importance to those interested in framing a just world order where human rights are clearly defined and protected. One of these courses might form part of a core sequence in human rights.

UMB’s Economics Department has a number of courses which address social welfare issues and therefore might serve as human rights electives. In at least one of these courses students are required to read the United Nations Development Program’s year 2000 Human Development Report which is titled, “Human Rights and Human Development.”

Both UMB’s College of Management and UMB’s Philosophy Department now offer classes that discuss Business and Management Ethics. These courses would also be appropriate for human rights majors since they ask how nations can ensure that corporations don’t violate human rights.

The College of Public and Community Service Legal Education curriculum has added a Concepts of Justice track with an explicit focus on human rights. Furthermore, CPCS’s Historical Change in the US: the Struggle for Human and Civil Rights by Oppressed Peoples; Impacting Poverty in America; and Workers’ Struggle in the 21st Century are among its many classes which would easily fit into a Human Rights curriculum.

The Political Science Department has courses that examine the relationship between democracy and human rights and which look at how international human rights organizations have developed. The Psychology Department offers a course in Moral Development. Professor Reyes Coll-Tellechea in Hispanic Studies teaches a course entitled: Hispanic Literatures and Human Rights. The History Department offers a variety of courses which acquaint students with some of the most egregious violations of human rights that have occurred throughout the world. All of these courses, too, might form part of a human rights curriculum.

But our purpose here is to be suggestive, not exhaustive. Departments participating in a human rights program would be asked to flag classes they think most appropriate for human rights majors. Course descriptions indicating how human rights issues are emphasized in those classes would then be developed with the assistance of the individual hired as the director of the human rights center. Then, with the cooperation of faculty members in the departments wishing to participate in the program and the advisory board, criteria for a

human rights major would be established. Finally, the program would be publicized and UMB would become the first university in the country with an undergraduate program in which students can major in human rights.


Because of a heightened concern for human rights issues following the destruction of the World Trade Center and one wing of the Pentagon and the even more recent discovery of Anthrax in U.S. news organizations and the Capitol, the case for this proposal and its potential to receive financial backing from state and private sources is greater than ever. But the support of the administration is required if that potential is to be realized. Below we discuss the forms such support might take and the costs of each suggested option. The reader should keep in mind that the cost to the university of any of these options would diminish as the level of external funding they generated increased.


President William Bulger and Chancellor Jo Ann Gora sent a letter to the HRWG, stating in the strongest terms possible that the administration supports the HRWG’s efforts to establish a Human Rights Center and Human Rights Program at UMB. Given clear evidence of support from both President William Bulger and Chancellor Jo Ann Gora, the HRWG will draft a proposal seeking support from foundations, other private sector sources, and (with the administration’s approval) the Massachusetts State Legislature. The administration and the HRWG would then work together to coordinate fundraising efforts for the Human Rights Center and Human Rights Program. Obviously, the more time and resources the administration commits to fund raising efforts the more likely those efforts will bear fruit.


Fund course load reductions for faculty members so they can work on two aspects of this proposal: i. Fundraising and, ii. Devising a Human Rights curriculum. Since both activities require enormous amounts of effort and time it is unrealistic and unreasonable to expect faculty members will undertake them if they are not compensated for their efforts.

Advantage of Option 2. Option 2 is so inexpensive it should be attractive to a wide variety of potential benefactors.


Hire an assistant professor to head a Human Rights program within an existing department. The primarily responsibility of the Human Rights Program Chair (HRPC) would be to coordinate efforts to establish a human rights program and spearhead the drive to raise funds for a Human Rights Center. Both these efforts will require assistance from faculty members and staff that, as in option 2, will need to be provided with stipends or reduced course loads for their support.

The HRPC might occupy a tenure track position in the Economics, Political Science, Philosophy, Hispanic Studies, History, Women’s Studies or other academic department, the College of Public and Community Service or the McCormack Institute. She or he might be expected to teach a human rights oriented course in her or his specialty and engage in human rights research but the primary responsibility of the HRPC would be to oversee the creation of a human rights emphasis or an interdisciplinary Human Rights major, minor, or certificate program and spearhead efforts to raise funds for the Human Rights Center.

If option 3 is chosen, after it is determined which department will be responsible for the human rights program, the HRWG will draw up a detailed job description for the HRPC which includes the academic and human rights credentials required of prospective candidates. The job description would then be submitted to the administration for approval.

Advantages of Option 3. Option 4 (discussed below) envisions hiring someone of stature to head a Human Rights Center, establish a Human Rights Program and begin undertaking all of the activities envisioned in this proposal. Option 3 is less expensive than option 4 and, unlike option 4, allows for a gradual step by step approach.

As suggested in Section III above, it will take time to develop a Human Rights Program and to publicize it. Option 3 allows for that time. It also allows for testing the water with programs that enable students to earn a Human Rights certificate, a degree in another discipline with a Human Rights emphasis, or to minor in Human Rights. These programs would be easier and less expensive to set up and supervise than a human rights major or human rights center. Hence, the interest they generate might be used as an indicator of whether it would be worthwhile to establish a Human Rights Center or major at this moment in time.

Option 3 is preferred to option 1 and 2 because it involves a more serious ongoing commitment to realizing the goals outlined in this proposal. One person whose primary ongoing responsibility is to devise, with the assistance of others, a human rights program and draft fund raising proposals for a human rights center is likely to achieve those objectives more readily than faculty members with a variety of other responsibilities.


Immediately begin implementing this proposal in its entirety. Option 4 is the preferred option from the point of view of the HRWG.

Option 4 requires appropriating funds to hire an academic and human rights expert with stature to head a stand alone John Joseph Moakley Human Rights Center and provide her or him with the support needed to undertake all of the activities described in Section II. These activities include fund raising aimed at making the Center self-sustaining.

Option 4 also requires finding office space for the center’s director and perhaps a secretary and providing the center with telephone, fax and other facilities. As with options 2 and 3, furthermore, option 4 implies appropriating funds to reduce teaching loads or provide stipends to faculty and staff that help carry out the center’s activities.

If option 4 is chosen, a committee to hire the center’s director should be formed. This hiring committee should be composed of faculty, administrators and students and charged with: i) developing a job description for the director, ii) determining an appropriate salary range for her or him, iii) establishing hiring criteria, iii) preparing and circulating a job announcement, and iv) screening applicants.

Advantages of Option 4. As noted in the first paragraph of this proposal, Human Rights Programs have been and are being established at many universities around the world. Nevertheless, there is still no program in the U.S. where undergraduates can major in human rights. UMB, therefore, has the opportunity to be a precedent setter by establishing the first such program. But this opportunity will not last long.

That is one reason option 4 is the preferred option. The distinction of being the first university to establish an interdisciplinary undergraduate Human Rights Program administered by a Human Rights Center would enhance the reputation of UMB in this country and around the world.

A second reason for choosing option 4 is that it sends the clearest message to potential donors that the university stands solidly behind this proposal and has confidence that the John Joseph Moakley Center for Human Rights will play an important role in helping to make the study of human rights issues a central part of the undergraduate curriculum at UMB and other universities. Foundations and private sector donors should find that message more compelling than ever in a world struggling to come to grips with all the human rights issues raised by the destruction of the World Trade Center and one wing of the Pentagon; discovery of Anthrax in letters sent to individuals at news organizations and the Capitol, and the war against terrorism that was declared by President Bush.

A third reason for choosing option 4 is because it is the most effective way to bring human rights issues into the university arena at a time when, as Henry Steiner, Jose Ortega y Gasset and many others would point out, academics have a moral imperative to elevate the discussion of these issues and to see that they are addressed in a rational and careful manner.


The benefit to students, faculty, the university and the wider community of the proposed human rights program and John Joseph Moakley Human Rights Center at UMB far outweigh the cost of establishing them. A John Joseph Moakley Center for Human Rights which administered a first of its kind undergraduate human rights degree granting program and carried out the activities described in Section II above would give UMB a more prominent place in the international arena and fire the imagination of students, faculty and others concerned with questions of justice in an increasingly interconnected world. That is why UMB students, UMB faculty and others have joined together to form the Human Rights Working Group and draft this proposal. The HRWG hopes the administration will support its efforts to:

1) establish a John Joseph Moakley Human Rights Center

2) develop an undergraduate Human Rights Program and

3) raise funds to make both the Human Rights Program and Human Rights Center self-sustaining.