PUBLISHED:June 16, 2010

Duke's Visiting Assistant Professor program 'polishes gems'

This summer marks a time of transition for the Law School’s Visiting Assistant Professor (VAP) Program, as two outgoing VAPs depart to their new jobs in academia, and two new faces enter the program.

Roman Hoyos and Noah Weisbord will leave Duke Law this summer for tenure-track positions at Southwestern Law School and Florida International University (FIU), respectively, after spending two years in Duke’s VAP program; John Inazu ’00 and Christopher Griffin, Jr., will join the faculty July 1 as new visiting assistant professors.

Hoyos will become an assistant professor of law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles; he took advantage of Duke’s interdisciplinarity to teach Modern American Legal History, the topic of much of his research, in the history department during the spring 2010 term. He says his experience at Duke Law was a fruitful one. “It couldn’t have worked out any more beautifully, actually,” he says. “The faculty, students, and staff all helped to make me both a better scholar and a better teacher.”

Noah Weisbord, whose research focuses on international criminal law, and the use of force from an international law perspective, cites faculty assistance and student interaction as factors that made his VAP tenure “the most productive time of my life.”

“I worked at, and continue to work with, the International Criminal Court prior to coming to Duke, and that led to some great back-and-forth with students who were very interested in what the court is doing,” he says. Weisbord arranged for ICC personnel to travel to Duke and talk to students about issues ranging from prosecuting crimes of aggression to complex investigations of individuals for mass atrocities and was instrumental in orchestrating a conference with the ICC.

Weisbord’s departure from Duke to take an assistant professorship at FIU coincides with another professional milestone. In June, the Assembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court added the crime of aggression to its list of prosecutable offenses along with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. “Besides being my primary scholarly focus, I've been an expert on the special working group drafting the crime, so this is a big moment for me,” Weisbord says.

Inazu, who returned to Duke Law in 2009 as a Public Law Fellow, focuses his research on the First Amendment, law and religion, political theory, and jurisprudence. He has been a teaching fellow and instructor in the political science department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he obtained a PhD in political science. Before that, he clerked for Judge Roger L. Wollman in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. From 2000 to 2004, he served as an associate general counsel for the Department of the Air Force at the Pentagon as part of the Air Force General Counsel’s Honors Program.

Griffin has worked as a research associate for two years at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in New York, and was a summer associate at Latham & Watkins LLP in San Francisco. He comes to Duke following his 2010 graduation from Yale Law School.

A ‘launching pad’ for academic careers

Hoyos and Weisbord’s success in a tough job market and the impressive qualifications of applicants are indicators of the VAP program’s success, according to Sara Beale, the Charles L.B. Lowndes Professor of Law.

“The VAP program gives the Law School an opportunity to bring in enormously talented individuals who are planning to go into academic careers, and to really be the place where they prepare themselves,” says Beale, who sits on the committee that oversees the VAP program. “It’s kind of the launching pad for the big show, when they go into the academic market for their first permanent position. It’s very valuable for them to have this kind of post-doc experience, particularly given the fact that many of the candidates will not have had full time to work on their scholarship in their initial teaching.”

Professor Lisa Griffin, also a member of the VAP committee, says the Law School and university as a whole offer young academics a broad range of opportunities and a strong support structure.

“They tend to be fully integrated into the community at Duke. They attend faculty workshops, they get extensive feedback from colleagues about the drafts that they are working on, they get advice and counseling about the job market itself, they have an opportunity to moot their early interviews and also their job talks for later in the process,” she says. “One of the things about Duke that is unique is the extent to which it is a truly interdisciplinary place that has opportunities across the university for pursuing work in allied disciplines. Many VAPS have worked with people in political science, history, and other fields where Duke has rich resources and many options.”

Every Duke Law VAP has gone onto tenure-track positions, Beale notes, crediting both the support Duke Law faculty offer and the talent and hard work of the program participants. “We’ve given them advice, recommendations, feedback which has made their work much better, and which has made them better able to present their work. But we’re choosing people who already have that ability,” she says. “We’re here to polish that gem.”