Archive for Saturday, June 18, 2011

Law professor representative of distinguished KU faculty

June 18, 2011


Kansas University is an above-average state-aided university. Some would say KU is a far-above-average school, while others might qualify their grading by suggesting it is an excellent institution but has the opportunity and potential to become an even better and more outstanding state-aided school.

Many facets or elements contribute to the reputation and ranking of a school. Sometimes, it’s the chancellor or president, and, in KU’s case, there have been times when the school has blossomed under excellent and visionary leadership and times when there hasn’t been the leadership and the school has suffered.

However, throughout KU’s history, the one hallmark that has distinguished the university is the quality and loyalty of its outstanding faculty members, faculty who easily could have accepted far more attractive offers at other schools but, for various reasons, remained in their Mount Oread offices.

This loyalty, if that’s the right word, of academic giants is one of the reasons KU has enjoyed such loyalty and pride among its alumni. In turn, these alumni represent another great strength of the university, and it is important to nurture this influential group.

The faculty, however, the quality and excellence of the faculty, is a constant that distinguishes KU.

One such faculty member is KU professor of law Raj Bhala. The Rice Distinguished Professor teaches courses in Islamic law, international trade law and advanced international trade law.

The unassuming Bhala joined the KU faculty in 2003, coming from George Washington University. He is a graduate of Duke University and received master’s degrees from both the London School of Economics and Oxford University. He obtained his law degree with honors from Harvard University and then worked with the Federal Reserve in New York, where he twice was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence.

His honors, publications and memberships in national and international societies and councils are vast, as are his travels and work in numerous countries. He’s an avid runner who has run many half and full marathons, including the Boston Marathon.

KU has an impressive roster of distinguished professors, but the reason for pointing out Bhala is that his latest book has just been released and is sure to be a national and international bestseller at university law schools, as well as governmental centers, international bodies and military schools and training centers.

The book is titled “Understanding Islamic Law (Shari’a).” It is a 1,500-page, 50-chapter book that covers the history and religion of Islam as well as Shari’a. The book examines all of the specialty legal fields of Shari’a: banking, business associations, contracts, criminal, family law, inheritance, international law and property.

The book is the first comprehensive text written on this topic by a non-Muslim American law professor and, although it is a huge collection of information, it is written and presented in a way that is interesting, informative and easy reading for those outside the legal field.

Bhala says, “The book systematically compares and contrasts Islam and Islamic law not only with U.S. law, but also Catholic Christianity.” He adds that he hopes his book serves to expose a vast degree of common ground, highlight genuine distinctions, delineate authentic from inauthentic Islamic precepts and “thereby increase understanding.”

It’s doubtful the book could have been made available at a more important time. Islamic law is a hot and important topic.

Bhala says, “I enjoy teaching courses in two specialty fields: international trade law and Islamic law. My students, who come from around the world and represent many faith traditions, encouraged me to write a textbook on Islamic Law. This course is taught at about half of the 200 law schools in the United States accredited by the American Bar Association and many foreign law schools.” The book represents three years of research.

This column is not meant as a review or promotion of this impressive book, which is sure to gain international attention and accolades, but rather to point out Bhala as one of the unusual number of truly outstanding KU faculty members. These distinguished professors are indeed outstanding faculty members who greatly add to the overall excellence of the university.

Their excellence and recognition is sure to spur other faculty members to try to achieve a record that merits the “distinguished” faculty title. The presence of these scholars and researchers surely is a major factor in attracting outstanding students, as well as faculty, to the university, and they are great Lawrence residents.

Obviously, Bhala is an exceptional faculty member with a tremendous academic and teaching background. However, he is not alone.

Unfortunately, this story of excellence at KU has not been told nor is it adequately appreciated or understood by state legislators or even some members of the Kansas Board of Regents.

Over the last 15 years or so, officials in Strong Hall have done a poor and ineffective job of telling the KU story. This is one of the principal reasons KU finds itself in its current position with poor faculty morale, unhappiness and frustration among growing numbers of alumni, cuts in state funding and growing concern about leadership and the future of the university.

People like Bhala at KU and KU Medical Center, as well as the entire state, need and deserve better leadership, vision and inspiration.


yourworstnightmare 6 years, 5 months ago

A nice column, Mr. Simons.

The leadership at KU over the last three decades has allowed KU to slip into mediocrity, and have not done what it takes to keep a research university at the leading front.

Not only do KU administrators (and many faculty) not recognize and support excellence, in fact there is even an anti-excellence mood at KU. Excellent and successful faculty are actively "kept down", lest they make the mediocre look, well, mediocre.

Until strong leaders emerge who will reverse this trend, who will set high standards, reward excellence, and work against mediocrity, KU will continue to slip.

As for Professor Bhala, one appearance on the Daily Show or Colbert Report, and he will be off to a far superior institution where his talents are recognized and rewarded.

voevoda 6 years, 5 months ago

Prof. Bhala is certainly a credit to KU, especially because of his willingness to tackle a controversial subject in a dispassionate manner. But I disagree that KU faculty morale is low because "officials in Strong Hall have done a poor and ineffective job of telling the KU story." A lot of the KU administrations are doing the best they can in this regard, and the faculty know it. But there is too much stacked against them: A governor who is actively dismantling public education, who has rejected the arts as an area of public activity, who has reduced tourism to hunting, who invoked ecology only to prevent the development of wind energy, who has made the state the laughingstock of the nation with its peculiar legislation (coupled with the antics of state officials from his party). KU has been woefully underfunded for decades, so that faculty salaries, financial support for students, and research funding all trail well behind peer public universities. The Kansas public prefers that KU be cheap, rather than it be excellent (except in basketball). Add this to the anti-intellectualism that is rampant on the political right, and it's a perfect storm for a decline in the quality of KU. The Lawrence Journal-World is part of the problem, Mr. Simons, when it complains about tuition, repeats the canards that most KU faculty are mediocre and lazy, and endorses candidates for public office who are unsympathetic to public education.

Bob Forer 6 years, 5 months ago

KU Law used to have a nice handful of nationally known legal scholars.

Among them:

Ray Goetz, "The Kingsfield of Kansas" and a nationally known labor law expert. He passed away a few years back several years after retiring. He was one of the national masters in the Socratic Method.

Barkley Clark--A wonder in Commercial Law. He left for greener pastures.

Martin Dickinson--Tax law and estate planning. Retired, I believe.

Larry Velvel--now Dean of U of Mass law school. He left after a short time decades ago because of the ultra-conservative climate in Kansas . Bob Casad--A top expert in civil procedure, now retired.

Paul Wilson--Defended the State of Kansas in Brown v. Board of Education.

Sadly, these hugely talented scholars and teachers have not been replaced by faculty of like caliber. The star has fallen a bit on KU Law in the last twenty years.

equalaccessprivacy 6 years, 5 months ago

Kansas University prides itself on being second to no other university in the aggressive retaliatory actions it takes against those who tell the truth about its dishonest and incompetent Human Resources staff. Given the poor quality of its Office of General Counsel little chance exists it could boast capable legal scholars.

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