Inviting students to offer advice in an ongoing legislative procedure for the House of Representatives; that is what Professor of Sociology of Law Marc Hertogh proposed doing. The students surprised Hertogh with the quality of their work, in spite of the unpredictable and erratic nature of the procedure and shifting deadlines. Members of the House of Representatives were impressed by the students’ recommendations. Hertogh’s students nominated the course unit for the 2023 Best Practice in Teaching & Learning Award. To his great surprise, Hertogh won the award for his Policy Analysis seminar, in which active learning, legal practice, and the students’ practice-oriented skills form the main spearheads.
‘Actually, I really didn't. I was really impressed by all the submissions. Every single one was a fantastic project, and I really enjoyed seeing what other faculties are working on. I also felt really honoured to be nominated by the students, but I did not expect to actually win. I personally never really saw it as a best practice. It was just something I came across and that worked out really well. I see the award mostly as a recognition for the innovative teaching at the Faculty of Law, and within our own degree programme in Legal Public Administration. In addition to teaching the required lectures and seminars, my colleagues are always busy innovating to make the subject materials even more interesting for students. This award is an encouragement for our faculty and my department to keep up the good work.’
‘In the Netherlands, we have legislation that protects whistle-blowers. Think of the construction sector fraud, or more recently the Voice of Holland scandal. Whistle-blowers raise the alarm in an effort to draw attention to a malpractice, often with societal impact. How do you prevent people who raise the alarm from being marginalized? We have legislation for this, but at the moment, the Netherlands is lagging behind the new European guidelines in this domain. The Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations has put forward a proposal to modify the legislation. The House of Representatives asked me and one of my colleagues from VU Amsterdam to critically examine this legislation, using what is known as the science test. Since this question coincided in terms of timing with the Policy Analysis seminar, I thought it would be fun and interesting to invite the students to think along. Usually, in this seminar, I ask them to write a policy recommendation for a fictitious client that they choose themselves. Now I had them join in an ongoing legislative procedure. I provided some explanation around the most important sticking points of the new legislation, and the students got to work on each of the sub-topics. For example, they looked at whether an emergency fund should be set up for whistle-blowers. The students also looked at who is involved, what potential policy instruments might be needed, what their advantages and disadvantages are, what they cost, and how much political support there is for this law. I integrated the students’ recommendations in the presentation of the science test to the House of Representatives.’
‘I was surprised by the quality of the students’ contributions and their deep knowledge of the case. We invited the students to attend the presentation for the permanent Parliamentary Committee in the public tribune. They heard their own policy recommendations in my answers to the House of Representatives members, which is great, of course. The students all took it very seriously, because they felt taken seriously. Unlike a regular teaching method, this kind of procedure can be quite erratic and unpredictable, which required the students to be flexible, because the House needed the recommendation to be ready earlier than planned. The idea was to have the students hand in an assignment every other week, but the deadlines were moved forward. This placed extra pressure on my students, but they handled it very well. I was personally impressed by the quality of their work. There was also some disappointment because not all of the students’ content-related recommendations were adopted. This was due to political power relations and dossier knowledge, among other things. House of Representatives members sometimes just want to make a political point, and not necessarily to make any substantive changes. All these elements of the procedure are good for students to experience. In addition, they can see what their future work might actually look like. Clearly, not all law students go on to become judges or lawyers, but many do end up in the public sector, working on legal policy. They now have a clearer idea of what this looks like in practice.’
‘Absolutely. Our department often conducts research for external parties, such as ministries, municipalities, or courts. We are looking into how we can link an interesting case study to next year's seminar. We have a number of options that are similar to last year’s case.’
‘We often teach a course unit in the same way year after year. When innovation does take place, it usually involves meetings, reports, and protocols. I believe that educational innovation is much more a matter of experimenting. Of course, you depend on having colleagues who are willing to give you the space to try something new and enthusiastic students who take part. But it's fantastic to step into this kind of adventure, and be honest about the fact that things might have to be adjusted, for example in terms of scheduling, and that not everything will go as planned. Don't be too afraid to try something new. Who knows what amazing things may come of it, for the students and for you?’
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