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Two UNC Law Students Chosen for International Ethics Program

March 30, 2017
School of Law

Rachel High Jennings and Joelle Portzer, third-year law students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law are among 12 law students selected from around the country by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE) to participate in a two-week program in Germany and Poland this summer, which uses the conduct of lawyers and judges in Nazi-occupied Europe as a way to reflect on ethics in the legal profession today.

The FASPE law program, which was developed with the assistance of Eric Muller, Dan K. Moore Distinguished Professor of Law in Jurisprudence and Ethics at the law school, offers an approach that differs from the usual classroom experience by providing a holistic curriculum that looks beyond the legal profession’s formal rules of ethics to the ethical problems faced by individual lawyers in the contemporary settings in which they practice. Daily seminars are led by specialized faculty who engage fellows in discussions and critical thinking about both the historical and the contemporary. The law program examines the role of lawyers in the Nazi state, underscoring the reality that moral codes governing the legal profession can break down or be distorted with devastating consequences. With this historical background, the law fellows are better positioned and more willing to confront contemporary issues.

“In most of my legal (military and civilian) training so far, the emphasis has been on the difficult choices in the most harrowing of situations,” says Portzer, who is a lieutenant in the United States Navy along with being a student at the law school. “Yet while it is the daily challenges that ready us for those newsworthy moments, the simple, fundamental types of ethical questions have received the least emphasis so far. It is my hope that through FASPE, I will develop a better understanding of how to approach the most regular of ethics quandaries in a way that will prepare me to meet the most challenging quandaries with focus, clarity and confidence.”

In 2017, the law program will be led by Muller and Susan Carle, professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law.

“FASPE will facilitate critical thinking about the ethical issues I will encounter in practice, allowing me to continue a principled approach to impacting my community,” says Jennings, who, after graduation, will clerk for the Honorable Henry F. Floyd at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and then move to Washington, D.C., to join the law firm of Ropes & Gray. “I want to be a FASPE fellow primarily to adapt my strengths from previous roles to my position as a lawyer and join a network of lawyers working toward the betterment of our professional community.”

Jennings and Portzer join a diverse group of 63 FASPE fellows across five areas of study—business, journalism, law, medicine and seminary—who were chosen through a competitive process that drew close to 1,000 applicants from around the world. FASPE covers all program costs, including travel, food and lodging.

The experience of the law fellows is enhanced by traveling alongside business and journalism fellows, who together—in formal and informal settings—consider how ethical constructs and norms in their respective professions align and differ. The three groups will begin their trip in Berlin on Sunday, May 21 and travel on to Krakow and Oświęcim (the town in which Auschwitz is located), Poland, on May 26. In Berlin, the program includes museum visits, meeting with a Holocaust survivor and educational workshops at the House of the Wannsee Conference, the site where state and Nazi Party agencies convened in 1942 to coordinate plans for the Nazis’ “Final Solution.” In Krakow, fellows will continue their seminars at Jagiellonian University, one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities. At Auschwitz, they will be guided by the distinguished educational staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

After the program, each fellow will submit an essay focused on a contemporary ethical issue of his or her choice. Select essays are published in the annual FASPE Journal, which showcases work in all five disciplines.

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