Profile with Chimene Keitner

Chimène Keitner (Maritimes & New College 1996) is a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law. She holds a DPhil in International Relations from the University of Oxford, a JD from Yale, and a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard. Chimène lives in California with her husband and two children.

Rhodes Project: Where do you call home?

Chimène Keitner: Menlo Park, California.

 Rhodes Project: What was the last book you couldn’t put down?

Chimène Keitner: I’m reading my son the Harry Potter series and sometimes when I tell him it’s time for bed, I keep sneaking ahead on my own!

Rhodes Project: What surprised you most about your experience at Oxford?

Chimène Keitner: Without being judgmental, one thing I noticed was the tendency of American students to keep to themselves and not interact as much as I might have expected with the rest of the student population, which I thought was a shame.

Rhodes Project: What’s an ordinary day like?

Chimène Keitner: I’m not sure there’s a word other than “chaotic.” I am an academic now, which is a much more flexible profession—I definitely think it’s possible to be a successful parent and a practicing attorney, but there are many more externally imposed deadlines in the world of legal practice than there are in academia. If I need to take one of my kids to a doctor’s appointment, or want to spend time at one of their schools, that’s easier to arrange than it was previously. I’m fortunate to be in a family with two parents, and to have a very helpful babysitter!

Rhodes Project: What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you in the last year?

Chimène Keitner: We’re expecting our third child in September. It’s both exciting and anxiety-producing, because I can’t imagine being any busier.

Rhodes Project: How is the law adapting to new issues such as internet privacy and environmental pollutions? How can we make sure that these areas of law remain relevant and effective?

Chimène Keitner: One of the most exciting challenges of being a legal scholar as opposed to a practitioner is that I get to think about exactly this type of question. In the areas you mention, many of my colleagues are doing important and innovative work. But people tend to overestimate the degree of difference between contemporary situations and historical ones. For example, in my own work, I’ve looked at enduring themes and tensions, such as that between state sovereignty and individual rights, or between the ability to secure a legal remedy in one country compared to the diplomatic costs of providing redress. There are all sorts of questions in the headlines related to this field. Do we aid the Syrian rebels, and if so why and how? Can Edward Snowden get asylum in a South American country and be granted safe passage? What kinds of rules govern the use of drones in countries that either have or haven’t consented to their use? These are substantively new questions, but the ways in which we think about them draw on tools of legal analysis and reasoning that are not new.

Rhodes Project: What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Chimène Keitner: The part I like the least is assigning grades to students. But the most challenging part is producing scholarship that is both intellectually novel and relevant to decision-makers. I definitely appreciate the value of knowledge for knowledge’s sake, but I find it more gratifying when my work has some practical relevance. A central challenge for legal scholars is to find that combination of creativity, innovation, and imaginative thought that is not available to practitioners because of the demands of their client representation, but that also addresses social needs and problems and adds value to contemporary debates.

Rhodes Project: If you could start over, knowing what you know now, would you do anything differently?

Chimène Keitner: I would stress less! Understandably, students feel so much pressure and competition today, especially in a tight job market. But it’s really important not to let that pressure drive everything. I’m a big fan of Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, and I think it applies to “kids” of every age. If we’re too afraid to make mistakes, we can’t grow and learn. I’m still more risk-averse than I’d like to be (and having young kids certainly activates the “worry gene”), but being married to an entrepreneur for the past 10 years has forced me to go with the flow a bit more, in a good way.  

Rhodes Project: What role do you think mentorship can play in a young woman’s life?

Chimène Keitner: It’s critical. It’s great to hear about other women’s experiences, whether it’s talking to them one-on-one or reading books and biographies. But the really important thing is ultimately to feel confident forging your own path. I think the most important thing that my generation can do is to be available, but also not to pretend that we have all the answers, or that the choices that you in the younger generation are facing are the same ones that we faced. Because the most important thing for each individual is to find what motivates and interests you, and that’s something that nobody else can tell you.

Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy in life?

Chimène Keitner: My kiddos! Both joy and, of course, frustration at times. Raising kids is definitely a challenge, and it’s not something that everyone wants to or has the opportunity to do, but for me it’s been a hugely rewarding part of my life.

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