Curriculum Building and Teaching


 In my time at the University of Chicago and the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, I have been a curricular innovator and an institution builder. I have developed and taught unique philosophy courses, such as Justice at Work that looks at questions of justice that arise in and around the workplace, and Agents of Change that asks whether and how political philosophy can be relevant to political action and change. I have also been instrumental in creating, supervising, and revising an interdisciplinary team-taught course in the storied University of Chicago general education core, Human Rights in World Civilizations. This nationally unique course provides a critical introduction to human rights concepts, texts, and practice through an interdisciplinary selection of texts including history, law, philosophy, anthropology, and literature. Through a mix of historical and conceptual units, it explores themes like bearing witness and testimony, migration and refugee status, truth and reconciliation, decolonization and Cold War human rights.

I was instrumental to the design, approval, and launch of a new Human Rights Major, for which I now serve as the Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies. Rather than a narrowly legal approach characteristic of law school human rights clinics, this major takes a broadly humanistic and social scientific approach to the study of human rights. The main innovation of the major is the novel way it brings theory together with practice. A course called Human Rights Fieldwork connects the curricular study of human rights with the approaches in trauma informed research, interviewing victims, human rights documentation, and principles of do no harm and self-care needed to do human rights work on the ground. This course prepares students for a fieldwork experience in the summer of their third year that draws on the deep connections of the Pozen Center to match them with human rights organization all over the world to do real transformative human rights work. The major experience culminates in the 4th year with a thesis or student designed practical capstone project that constitutes a real intervention in human rights.

What follows are deep dives on three courses that together give a sense of the kind of curricular development and teaching I do.

Human Rights in World Civilizations

This two-quarter long course was designed by over 20 faculty members across the social sciences and humanities at the University of Chicago, showcasing the broad and humanistic approach to human rights that is the hallmark of the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights. I played a leading role in that process and have directed the sequences over the last five years, redesigning the syllabus with each iteration. The course introduces human rights to students by exploring how human rights have been constructed across transnational, imperial, national, and local spaces in a variety of idioms while exposing students to their contested genealogies and limits. It draws on history, philosophy, and rhetoric of human rights through a variety of disciplinary lenses. The sequence is primary source driven and discussion based, with readings drawn from a range of texts from political philosophy, or international treaties, to novels and films. The course is structured around two-week long units, some historically organized (e.g. human rights around 1948, human rights in the 1970’s), and others thematically organized around a concept or question (e.g. testimony and bearing witness to atrocity, or human rights and migration).


Agents of Change

This course explores the idea that political philosophy is, or might become, practically relevant. We address questions such as the following. What does it mean for poltiical philosophy to be relevant to practice? What is it for political philosophy to be utopian? Is utopianism a defect or a virtue in a theory? What is it for poltical philsophy to be realistic? Is realism a defect or a virtue? How does political philosophy relate to ideology and critique? How does it relate to power and agency? What are the consequences of answers to these questions for method in political philosophy? After wading into these debates, we will spend the last third of the course testing the different approaches, by looking at how they play out in the rival approaches of Elizabeth Anderson and Tommie Shelby to the fraught politics of race and black/white inequality in the U.S. 


Justice at Work

This course combines economic theory (the theory of the firm), legal theory (labor law), and labor history, with political philosophy to examine questions of justice for workers that are often ignored in academic political philosophy. The course begins by considering very basic questions from economic theory, including what markets are, and why production in the economy is organized through firms, and what economists have to say about why firms are arranged so hierarchically. Given this background, we next turns to consider injustices at the work, including domination in the workplace, the “authoritarianism” of the invisible hand, and exploitation. We consider responses including the politics of “anti-work” and universal basic income that decouples access to goods from work; worker organization and resistance through the labor movement and tools such as collective bargaining; and the reorganization of the economy to foster either shared control over firms or worker cooperatives. We end by considering the difficult question of what it might meant to be an “anti-capitalist” in the 21st century. Along the way we consider the right to strike, the connection of race and labor, and different visions of a more just future for workers.

Learn More About the Human Rights Major

To learn more about the Human Rights Major, you may visit the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights website here.