All good things …

Posted: January 10th, 2020 | Author: | Filed under: personal, thoughts | No Comments »

Close to 20 years ago I started my Bachelor studies at Concordia International University Estonia Law School. Frank Emmert was the dean and I was 18 and fresh out of school. This is a very short story of the two decades at what is now TalTech Law School and where my employment ends, for now, on Tuesday, 14 January.

I had chosen CIUE mainly because I was interested in law as general education that gives a wide view of the world, and I did not want to get the same education as 99% of Estonia’s lawyers have (i.e. University of Tartu). I wanted something different, something more modern and cosmopolitan. At the same time, going abroad to study in a Bachelor program was going to be difficult and expensive (though I tried, but failed to get into SSE Riga).

Concordia was special. The faculty and the spirit of the school was something more substantial than the slightly worn Viimsi campus led to think. It tried to aim higher and made you try harder, and I am still relying on the argumentation, critical thinking and writing skills I learned there, alongside with a good understanding of law, especially international and European Union law (and the stark contrast in style between the local and international faculty!). I studied international and European Union law in English with brilliant international faculty and Estonian law by leading local faculty members and practitioners.

Concordia was sadly too good to last: it ended in bitter bankruptcy; probably making such an ambitious thing work in Estonia was impossible. And at some point, the academic limitations of a small private university become too much to bear. Weirdly, I missed the bankruptcy itself, because I went on an exchange traineeship in Hamburg during Winter 2003, so it really happened that when I returned from Germany after three months, there was no longer a university to return to.

The intellectual contents of the Law School were saved by another private university, which was almost an opposite of CIUE. It was Audentes University, where academic quality was not the main aim. It was a great and difficult struggle to try to uphold academic standards we were used to, while at the same time trying to sustain the Law School financially. At the lowest point, the whole Law School was located in a single classroom at the old school building of Audentes.

I finished my Bachelor studies at Audentes University in 2005 and also became involved in the administration of the Law School as the assistant of the Dean and current Director of TalTech Law School Tanel Kerikmäe, who had played a great part in saving what was left of the faculty and intellectual property of the university. Tanel has done so much good to legal education and research in Estonia, but as we were always an underdog challenging the dominant university, these efforts were rarely, if ever, recognised.

So, in my 20s, I was helping to write curricula for the law programmes at the law school, which received almost nothing but praise from international accreditation teams. I also did other things to help the Law School to develop and started slowly teaching, first alongside Tanel, then alone. We were getting better, and hired new people. Of course, I had received no training in lecturing, but after years of practice, including going out in the middle of harsh Winter to teach at the Jõhvi branch that we eventually closed down, I think I became quite good at it.

Audentes University, after a few turbulent years and rebranding as International University Audentes, eventually merged with Tallinn University of Technology (the Concordia media school had previously been overtaken by Tallinn University, where it became the Baltic Film and Media School). TalTech gave the Law School the financial and institutional stability that we needed and had never had, and from 2010 onwards I started to dedicate some extra time to Estonian Human Rights Centre, which we had founded earlier and then spun off from the Law School with my good friend Marianne Meiorg.

In 2012 I finally defended my Master degree at TalTech, which had been delayed by the failure to complete the thesis (my previous four year Bachelor was equivalent to Master). In the end I took an extra few weeks after a conference in Boston, shut myself in the Law Library of Harvard University nearby and completed the bulk of the thesis.

After a while, around 2014, I stopped the administrative and project work at the Law School and became just a lecturer, a rewarding thing because of the students and because of how much one learns oneself, when teaching. But not quite that.

Besides the law department, TalTech School of Business and Governance also includes a world-class department on public administration, called the Nurkse school. They reminded me of the academic vigour I encountered at Concordia and the people there were and are also great; people who really want to make the world a better place. After a bit of a rough start, I found a friend and PhD thesis supervisor in professor Wolfgang Drechsler, a great scholar who had founded the Nurkse school and now also has posts at Harvard and UCL.

As a Nurkse PhD student, I was able to get a new understanding of the world and learn so much new about innovation, the state and public administration. Even though I have yet to complete the PhD articles (and will be taking a hiatus for now), it has been a brilliant experience.

It is impossible to put in words things that have happened in a span of 20 years. TalTech Law School and, later also Nurkse, and the people I have encountered there, have given me so much in terms of who I am. Personally it has given me opportunities that I never thought I might have had. It is something that will always will be with me and on which I build my future life. More importantly, it has given me an opportunity to educate myself and others and make an impact in this way.

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