Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Donnelly receives DU’s most prestigious academic honor

Jack Donnelly

Jack Donnelly has been named DU's John Evans Professor.

Jack Donnelly, human rights professor in DU’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies, describes his work as “not impractical.” He also calls himself “very theoretical,” says that his work “makes a lot of sense,” and that he’s “having an immense amount of fun.”

Not impractical, theoretical, sensible, fun. In a nutshell, those qualities seem to make Donnelly tick.

He uses those same adjectives to describe his studies of Homeric Greece, his recent tennis lessons, his new excitement over human rights in China circa 1200 B.C. and even the most “not impractical” endeavor of his life: tackling fatherhood at the age of 59.

“It’ll be interesting,” Donnelly says of fatherhood, a role he will embrace in early February 2011 when his wife, Katayoun Azizpour Donnelly, is due to give birth. “It will be fun. It will keep me young or it will kill me, and I think it will keep me young.”

Donnelly, who was awarded the John Evans Professorship at DU’s 2010 Convocation, is largely considered both a pioneer of and ongoing international expert in the study of human rights. It all began in the 1970s when he tackled the topic for his dissertation as a PhD student at the University of California-Berkeley.

And, as he says, “I never looked back.”

Since that time, according to Tom Farer, former dean of the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Donnelly’s work has been cited nearly a thousand times by other professionals in their writings — a number that is nearly twice that of anyone else in the Korbel School.

“His work, in other words, is not merely read but widely used,” Farer wrote in the nomination letter for the award, which is considered DU’s most prestigious faculty honor.

According to Farer, Donnelly has “published in all the leading journals in his field. More than a dozen articles have been reprinted. His work has been translated into nine languages and he has presented papers and lectured across the world, especially in Europe and Asia.”

He also has written three books.

Confronted with his own scholarly record, Donnelly says unaffectedly, “Yes, it’s been fun.”

As for current projects, Donnelly says he has one-third of a book about Homeric Greece “in a drawer somewhere” and he is currently working on two other book-length projects.

“One is, as my wife would put it, something that no other human being has any interest in,” Donnelly jokes. “It’s about the nature of structural theory in international relations. See? Nobody cares about that except the people who do this.

“The other project is on comparative conceptions of human dignity, which, it turns out, is really interesting!”

For that second project, Donnelly is studying ancient Greece and China of about the same time period to compare their approach to human dignity. He says the similarities are much more striking than the differences.

Surrounded by piles of books and papers in a smallish office he calls “neat compared to what it used to look like,” Donnelly says he is happy to be receiving the Evans Professorship and that DU has been a good place for him.

“They pay me enough to pay my bills; they leave me alone to do my work; the people who are supposed to run the place, run the place; and those of us who are supposed to do the work, do the work,” he says. “That sounds obvious, but anyone who has worked in a large organization knows that very few large organizations actually function that way. This place, over the last 20 years, has been a well-run place where people can do their work well. That is a very, very rare thing.”

Still, Donnelly says that he expects his productivity to drop after February 2011.

“Right now, my work is moving along at whatever pace it’s moving, but it’s going to slow down,” he says with a smile. “I’m having a kid in February.”


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