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On the Couch
19 September, 2007  
James Hathaway

Professor James Hathaway is the newly appointed dean of law at Melbourne University. Our ruthless questions reveal that he’s an obsessive neatnick who fancies himself as a banana


imageCanadian-born Jim Hathaway will take over the reins at Melbourne Law School next January, and will also hold and sit on the Hearn chair in law.

At the moment he’s the James E. and Sarah A. Degan Professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

A dual citizen of Canada and the US, Hathaway was educated at McGill, Osgoode Hall, and Columbia universities. He began teaching law at age 24 and helped establish the world’s first law school to teach the common law in French, in eastern Canada.

Originally a “poverty lawyer”, he directed community legal clinics in New Brunswick and Ontario. His first book, The Law of Refugee Status (Butterworths), helped recast the understanding of refugee status by arguing for a shift to a human rights-based approach in defining risks of persecution, and relying on anti-discrimination law to identify the required causation test. This approach is now adopted by leading courts throughout the common law world and was largely embraced by the UN and EU.

Hathaway is now regarded as the leading authority on international refugee law. He is senior visiting research associate at Oxford University’s refugee studies program, president of Spain’s Cuenca Colloquium on International Refugee Law, and has been a visiting professor in law schools around the world, including the universities of Cairo, California, Macerata, Tokyo and Melbourne.

Describe yourself in three words.
Perfectionist; imaginative; determined.

What are you currently reading?
I have two books of fiction on the go now – Augusten Burroughs’s “Dry” and Carolyn Parkhurst’s “The Dogs of Babel”.

What’s your favourite film?
I can’t choose between Almodovar’s “Live Flesh” and Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage”. They are both nearly perfect in my view.

Who or what do you fantasise about?
An endless massage by very strong hands while listening to Buddha Bar discs.

What stimulants do you recommend?
Negronis, crisp sea breezes, and very strong espresso – preferably in that order.

What is your greatest fear?
Needles, catheters, surgery – anything sharp and intrusive.

What words or phrases do you overuse?
In short”; “my own view”; “whatever”.

Whom would you most like to meet?
Assuming a living person, Nelson Mandela; if I could time travel, Michelangelo.

Whom do you envy and why?
People who are genuinely happy with very simple lives; it would be wonderful not to want more than what one has.

What is your most disturbing personal obsession?
I’m an obsessive neatnik – everything (and I mean everything) has to be neat and ordered, all the time.

What’s your most glamorous feature?
My well-stamped passport.

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
A banana (you figure it out).

What human quality do you most distrust?
Over-exuberance.

What would you change about Australia?
The social significance of sports team loyalty is … well, a bit over the top. Sorry – but it’s the only flaw I can detect.

What would you change about the United States?
Its false conviviality.

Whom or what do you consider overrated?
Who – J.R.R. Tolkien. What – sushi.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
Turn off the alarm before it rings.

How would you like to die?
With no awareness.

What would your epitaph say?
He worked to improve the lives of refugees.”

When you shut your eyes and think of the word “law”, what comes to mind?
The Melbourne Law School, of course – centre of the legal universe.