Teaching for Peace

Benjamin B. Ferencz

It was never my ambition to become a law professor. As the Nuremberg trials were ending, the University of Nebraska offered me a professorship to teach criminal law. I declined the offer without hesitation. Making law seemed more important than teaching it. About 35 years later, one of the Professors at Pace Law School, Blaine Sloan, who retired from the UN, urged me to join his faculty as an Adjunct Professor. I had no idea what an Adjunct Professor was. Since our son Donald and our youngest daughter, Nina, were enrolled in the law school at that time and it was near our home, I agreed to teach “The International Law of Peace” one evening a week. Some clients still required my services abroad, and Germans might be impressed by a moniker like “Herr Professor Doktor.” The fancy new title was rather inflated.

My doctorate had cost me $15. The Harvard Law School awarded me a Bachelor of Laws degree (L.L.B.) in 1943. I already had a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree earned from the College of the City of New York in 1940. To keep up with other universities, and not wishing its alumni to appear inferior, Harvard decided to replace the LLBs, with a J.D.—“Doctor of Laws.” A notice was sent to those holding a Bachelor of Law degree offering to exchange it for a new “Juris Doctor” diploma. All that was required was to send $15 for the English version or $20 for the Latin text. Since the English was comprehensible, and also cheaper, I opted for the English. There are countless wise people whose formal schooling is limited. Academic degrees don’t impress me much. But the Harvard bargain was irresistible. It’s not every day that one can get a Doctor of Laws degree for only $15. I soon learned that the title of “Adjunct Professor” that sounded rather impressive was rather deceptive. It was a disguise for a new form of slave labor. An Adjunct’s pay was a fraction of what a tenured professor received, and the fringe benefits were impressively non-existent. I called it “A Junky Professor.”

My classes at the Pace Law School started in 1985 and were well attended, with rave reviews from the students. My own books were the primary texts, but the class was required to read The New York Times “Week in Review” on topics related to international peace. There was never any shortage of “hot” subjects to be debated. Some students suspected that I was fomenting international crises just to illustrate the topics covered by the assigned readings. No faculty member ever visited my class. Their indifference was overwhelming. Blaine Sloan had retired, and I was not a member of the inner circle. It came as rather a shock when the Law School Dean sent me a brief notice that, because of lack of funds, my class was not being included in the curriculum for the following year. The Dean explained that it was customary for Adjuncts to last only one semester. Recalling student riots against the Vietnam war, some members of the tenured faculty suspected that anyone teaching about “Peace” must be a trouble-maker. I didn’t want to disappoint them.

When rejected at the bottom, I go to the top. I promptly wrote to the Chancellor of Pace University, Dr. Edward Mortola. Since the only reason given for the abrupt conclusion of my academic career was lack of funds, I enclosed a check for my full salary. They could have my teaching services for nothing. It was made clear that if he was unable to reinstate my class, the check should be returned. As expected, after a few weeks, the Chancellor returned the check with a rather apologetic explanation that he couldn’t interfere with faculty decisions. Concurrently, I had been busy trying to create a “Pace Peace Center” with contacts all around the world. The Chancellor and President of the University and a dozen law faculty members who did not wish to be left out of anything that sounded impressive had agreed to have their names listed on the advisory and supervisory boards. I sent each one a copy of a response I had received from an even-higher authority. New York’s Cardinal O’Connell, whose assistance I had solicited, gave me his blessing in a letter addressed “Dear Ben.” It did not take long before I was informed that my class was reinstated for the next semester and I could remain an underpaid Adjunct Professor as long as I wished.

Teaching is a learning experience for teacher as well as students. When Iraq, led by brutal dictator Saddam Hussein, went to war against Iran in the late 1980’s, U.S. sympathies were with Iraq. Iran had outraged the American public by holding its innocent citizens hostage. About a million young Iranians boys were shot down by Iraqi soldiers equipped with the best weapons the U.S. could provide. Mothers of the slain were filmed proudly displaying photographs of their martyred children. I asked each member of my class, many of whom came from abroad, what we, as international lawyers, might have done to prevent the senseless loss of innocent lives. No one had any useful answer. When adversaries are vilified and opponents are prepared to kill and die to uphold their own ingrained beliefs, no one can protect them. Nationalism and religious convictions trump the power of Reason. Every war in history has had an ending, but most wars end only when the parties get tired of killing each other. Utter defeat is another option, but it is the most destructive one. It would certainly be more humane and logical to end disputes before war begins. The UN Charter lists seven specific procedures for the peaceful settlement of disputes or any “other peaceful means of their own choice.” But the Charter, that all nations are legally pledged to uphold, is largely ignored.

The third year law students who chose to study “The International Law of Peace” were generally grateful for the inspiring experience. They recognized, however that before a more rational world could be established, many years would have to pass and many minds would have to change. The students’ immediate concerns were how to graduate from law school, pass the bar exams, and find a paying job as a lawyer. When they signed up for the course, they were warned that there would be no questions on the bar exam regarding world peace, and law firms recruited young lawyers who might bring in paying clients. If they wanted a career trying to improve the world, they should look urgently for a rich parent or even a rich spouse. Most found it necessary to look for a better paying job. It was always clear that it would take more than teaching a few students for a few hours a week to bring about the changes needed to save civilization from its own annihilation. My classes continued until 1990 when I decided that it was not the most effective use of my time. There had to be better ways to teach peace. The Peace Center became the next primary focus of my peace-making endeavors.