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Inaugural lecture discusses steadying institutions through times of turmoil

February 15, 2019

Bowdoin students and community members gathered in Kresge on Monday for Professor Allen Springer’s inaugural lecture as the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Constitutional and International Law and Government.

Speaking to a rapt audience, Springer stressed the importance of valuing international laws and institutions in his lecture, titled “Institutional Resilience in Turbulent Times.”

“The question of how international institutions evolve, even survive in a changing world seems particularly relevant today,” Springer said in the opening of his lecture. “Promoting institutional resilience suggests the need to strike a balance between a continuing commitment to existing practices and making adjustments that respond to new political and social forces.”

Springer focused the talk on three areas where those political and social forces were placing institutions under stress: international security, humanitarian rights and environmental protection.

In an interview with the Orient, Springer explained that these topics were relevant to his own work and to the interests of U.S. citizens.

“I do most of my own work in an environmental arena, so I was particularly interested in the Paris Agreement,” said Springer. Of his focus on NATO, he explained that “there’s been so many … fairly significant attacks by the Trump administration talking about whether NATO still [is] a relevant institution.”

Gwen Davidson
INSIGHT ON INSTITUTIONS In his talk, Professor of Government Allen Springer discussed ways international institutions could adapt to political and social forces in order to remain relevant in the coming years.

Although the issues Springer brought to light have significant domestic implications, they also carry a broader importance for the international community.

“All of these are areas where I know that there’s been a lot of political turmoil surrounding not just U.S. policy but the policies of other countries,” said Springer.

However, he argues that, it’s not just question of policy.

“Coming up with good, clear and effective standards of law is an important part of this as well, to strengthen the institutions, and to make it possible for them to respond more effectively in the future,” Springer said. “I think that law is an important part of making institutions resilient and effective when they are being challenged politically.”

The William Nelson Cromwell Chair is an honor given to a professor who specializes in constitutional or international law. Springer is only the third person to hold the professorship since it was established in 1948. The position has been open since Richard Morgan ’59, a professor of constitutional law and the second person to hold the William Nelson Cromwell professorship, passed away in 2014.

The William Nelson Cromwell professorship focuses largely on these types of international issues, making Springer—in the estimation of Paul Franco, professor of government and chair of the Government and Legal Studies Department—a good fit for the position.

“Springer’s lecture on ‘Institutional Resilience in Turbulent Times’ was a perfect inaugural lecture for the chair in that it highlighted the importance of international law, even in times of international institutional weakness,” said Franco in an email to the Orient.

“It is a genuine honor to receive the Cromwell Chair, in no small part because of the person who preceded me in it,” said Springer. “Richard Morgan held the Cromwell Chair with such distinction for so many years. Dick was a good friend and a wonderful colleague and we all miss him very much.”

Ellery Harkness contributed to this report.

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