For Jonathan Burton-Macleod and Ashleigh Barnes, perspective is everything. Collectively, their scholarship has led them through diverse international opportunities including faculty positions in India and Australia, as well as study abroad programs in Russia, Tanzania and, perhaps most endearingly, Cape Town, South Africa, where the couple first met.
“In any area of law you benefit from comparative perspectives,” said Barnes, who earned a Ph.D. from the Australian National University earlier this year, “I think you can sit at a desk and read about it, but actually going and taking European human rights in Europe, for example, changes the focus completely. That absolutely infuses your scholarship and your teaching – it brings so many insights into the substance of what you’re teaching.”
A Florida native and graduate of the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, Barnes’ research draws upon interdisciplinary scholarship, particularly historical and sociological approaches to childhood, as well as international law’s approaches to children in order to propose new ways of examining children’s lives and interests within U.S. law.
Like Barnes, Burton-Macleod’s expertise and familiarity with comparative law is immediately apparent. His curiosity in the subject first stemmed from his time working at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Ga. While there, he developed an interest in social policy through witnessing how social and economic factors can affect disease. Law, not medicine, suddenly seemed the more appropriate route to explore these interests.
“In the implementation of law – context matters and political culture matters,” said Burton- Macleod, who served as Assistant Dean for Research and International Collaborations at the O.P. Jindal Global University in Delhi, India. “I highlight that to my class and I want to highlight that as a benefit to studying overseas. What we call legal positivism – the idea that text and internal interpretation is all that matters – is not something that I hope to be true. In my experience, context matters a great deal for how law is understood and implemented. Comparative law is an extended lesson in understanding that context matters a great deal for how law is interpreted and implemented.”
Currently, Burton-Macleod’s research focuses on identifying and explaining the influence of public discourse on formal law and policy-making processes within the areas of constitutional law and law and development.
“Legal pedagogy and the law school experience are increasingly reliant on a sense of globalization, a sense of internationalized networks, transnational networks, and exchange opportunities,” said Burton-Macleod.
“Not just in terms of market share or in gaining international students but in terms of strategically buying into a global outlook. That is something that I have seen and was attracted to in coming to Coastal Law and in conversations with others at the school. The idea that we have to be very aware of what we’re doing as a law school and the ways in which we can strategically optimize transnational opportunities for our students.
“Recently, in reintegrating into the American context as a teacher, I have really drawn on my mentorship contacts in the U.S. There have been a few key people who have really stuck with me, given me advice, and have been strong advocates for me. I enjoy thinking about being able to pass that on – whether with students at Coastal or students that we’ve previously had in India or Australia.”
As they begin their work at Coastal Law, Burton-Macleod and Barnes plan to contribute their knowledge and international experience to Coastal Law’s curriculum and programming. Barnes said what she finds most gratifying about teaching are the experiences she’s had with students who enter law school overwhelmed and faced with tremendous disadvantages yet utilize their available resources to overcome difficulties and succeed.
“This is part of the reason why we really appreciated Coastal – this notion of serving the underserved,” said Barnes. “We’ve found in our classes at Coastal, students are exceptionally motivated and come to class prepared and willing to participate. As a professor you can’t ask for more than that; that’s the ideal I think.”
For now, the world-traveling couple has settled in St. Augustine, Fla. where they are raising their young daughter, Thea.