In April 2012, the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University added to its substantial roster of study abroad programs by holding the first Ecuador Field Study in Otavalo, Ecuador. The one-week, 1-credit spring-break program — the first academic offering in Ecuador by an American law school — was taught by Carol Casazza Herman '84, visiting practitioner-in-residence in environmental law and special professor of law.
While a student at Hofstra Law, Casazza Herman founded the Environmental Law Society and studied under Professor William Ginsberg, a pioneer in the field of environmental law who taught at Hofstra Law for 29 years. Now, after practicing environmental law with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a global company, Casazza Herman teaches the Ecuador Field Study at Casa Mojanda, an ecolodge owned by another alumna, Betti Sachs '78.
The Ecuador Field Study was created to allow students to dive deeply into select international environmental law topics, such as climate change, biodiversity and forest conservation. "However, this course isn't only about environmental issues, important as they may be," says Casazza Herman. "It also provides the student with a wonderful platform to explore international law concepts — for example, treaty negotiation and sovereign authority — the rights of indigenous populations, and corporate liability and social responsibility."
The course also covered topics specific to Ecuador, such as the high-profile litigation against Chevron for alleged harms in Ecuador's Amazon region and the rights given to nature in the new Ecuadorian Constitution. "For me, the most memorable concept I retained from our lectures, readings and my time in Ecuador overall was the idea that Pachamama, Mother Nature, is something to be worked with, understood and honored," says Stella Goldstein '12. "While no piece of legislation is perfect, the depth of the conviction held by those who are seeking to make it work was beyond inspiring."
Conducting this course in Ecuador allowed students to see firsthand how public policy set at the international level through the United Nations is implemented at the national level. Ecuador, as one of the most ecologically diverse countries on earth, has taken the lead in protecting its natural resources, so it provided the perfect setting to discuss the challenges inherent in advancing global environmental protection.
Supplementing the classroom learning were a visit to the renowned Otavalo craft market, a demonstration at a mountainside raptor rehabilitation center and a tour of a rose farm on an agricultural cooperative certified for fair labor practices. Brian Hamm 3L describes the raptor rehabilitation center as "truly spectacular" in "a huge amphitheater with a mountainous background where we were treated to dazzling displays of raptor flight."
After class, Casa Mojanda offered students several activities that took advantage of the magnificent Andean setting, including hikes to a local waterfall and the breathtaking crater lakes, horseback riding through the surrounding farmland and a trip to a nearby hot springs.
"This is an experience for a lifetime," says Casazza Herman. "It's so much more than one academic credit. My hope is that the discussions we had there will inform our students' view of their place in the world for years to come."
Judging from the students' comments, the experience truly was extraordinary. "The program cemented my views on environmental law and exposed me to new areas of the law that I have not studied before," says Hamm, while Goldstein says, "No other course I took in law school was able to make the law, and the values embedded within it, come alive in the same way."
Learn more about the Ecuador Field Study, visit law.hofstra.edu/Ecuador.