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Under Robinson’s Tutelage, Students Learn by Doing
IT RESEMBLES THE PLOT of a reality TV show. Last fall, Professor Paul Robinson enlisted a group of Penn Law students to help him draft a penal code for the Maldives, a secluded island nation in the Indian Ocean. He asked his students to make sense of Islamic law and impose international norms on a Muslim country where adultery and drinking alcohol are punishable offenses. And you know what? The project has turned out remarkably well.
Robinson and the 17 students in his class produced a comprehensive criminal code in three and a half months, stunning the U.N. officials who reached out to Robinson for help. The code awaits approval. "Initially they were rather hesitant about law students working on the project," says Robinson, the Colin S. Diver Distinguished Professor of Law. "But now that they have seen how it has gone … it’s a whole different ballgame."
Indeed, Robinson’s grand experiment turned into a national story, drawing coast to coast media coverage. But what pleases Robinson most is the positive reaction from the Maldivian government. "The Muslims were pretty skeptical too," asking, "Why aren’t the Maldivians working on this themselves. I don’t hear that stuff anymore."
The assignment arose in response to a scandal. The Maldives, run by an autocratic regime that has been known to stifle dissent,