Letter from the Scientific Director

Noé Cornago

IISL SD farewell letter

After two intense years serving as Scientific Director (SD) at the Oñati Institute for the Sociology of Law (IISL) for the 2018-2020 term, the time has come for me to write my farewell letter. The experience acquired during that time has served to confirm my previous impressions about the outstanding quality of the services that the IISL provides to socio-legal scholarship all over the world. But it also gave me new insights, and elements of judgement, about the strengths and weaknesses of this unique institution created in 1989, which soon gained a distinctive and lasting global reputation. As the rare and beautiful flower that the IISL is, it is also a particularly vulnerable institution in an increasingly cool-blooded context of austerity measures, fierce academic competition, digital technologies and restructuring of higher education all over the world. 

These past two years have passed fast, however. Too fast, perhaps, I would say. From the very first day, the work pace was hectic and extremely demanding. Fortunately, however, and thanks to the generous and efficient commitment of our outstanding staff, the IISL succeeded to deliver across the 2018-2019 academic year, with its usual world-class standard of quality, each and every of its planned regular programmes and activities. Our Master in Socio-Legal Studies’ official accreditation was renewed after the corresponding auditing for five additional years, and a formal partnership with the University of Milan Master’s Degree in Law and Sustainable Development was signed and launched. Our Workshops Season was excellent as always has been. Our visiting Scholars Programme was slightly revised, and thanks to the good reception of our new eligibility criteria, the average stage duration per visitor increased from less than a week to more than three. Despite our severe budgetary limitations, the IISL Library significantly increased its catalogue thanks to increasing donations and newly-gained access to University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) electronic catalogue. As for our publications, after some improvements, our flagship journal Oñati Socio-Legal Series (OSLS) was first admitted to the Web of Science Core Collection-ESCI and then to Scopus-Elsevier.

Furthermore, and forced by our tight financial situation, we also hosted, in a collective effort endorsed by the whole IISL team, a number of exceptional events such as, amongst others, the RCSL-IISL Conference and, thanks to the generous collaboration of the Basque Government Department of Work and Justice, a  Congress in celebration of the centenary the International Labour Organization. All together, these activities brought to the Oñati IISL more than a thousand scholars and practitioners from all over the world, and the first non-deficitary annual execution in more than a decade.

More complicated and less rutilant were our efforts to implement some modest but peremptory measures, through which the IISL Administrative Director, Ms Maite Elorza, and myself as Scientific Director, in the exercise of our respective and ultimate responsibilities, aimed to reduce the IISL’s deficit, increasing and diversifying our sources of revenue and reducing IISL’s operational costs, without jeopardizing the academic excellence of our activities, the maintenance of our critical infrastructures and supplies, and last but not least, the job-stability of our committed staff.

The academic year 2019-2020, which is about to expire, has been, however, due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, a different story. The combination of unprecedented and ever-changing conditions distorted our planning, practices and communicative routines, posing a real challenge to our organization, which fortunately, the IISL crew has been so far willing to navigate through, despite its critical impact in some of our activities. Particular recognition deserves also our cohort of brilliant students and the visiting faculty of our Masters’ Degree. But beyond the postponing of most of our workshops from 2020 to 2021 in a new combination of presential and virtual modalities, or the forceful adoption of dual teaching in our Master’s Degree, we shall bear in mind that short- and midterm commitments made it extremely difficult to look forward beyond next semester, to anticipate organizational futures, to identify the critical decisions to be made without delay.

Now it is the time to hand over my responsibilities to a new Scientific Director. Professor Martin Ramstedt, from Max Planck Institute at Halle, will come, inaugurating also our new triangular partnership with the Ikerbasque Foundation and the UPV/EHU, with a new professional background, new ideas, projects, skills and energy. We all in the IISL wish him all the best whilst performing this important and delicate responsibility. I would like to let my final words to express my deepest gratitude to all IISL staff-members, namely Susana Arrese, Ainhoa Baños, Malen Gordoa, Leire Kortabarria, Manttoni Kortabarria, Rakel Lizarralde, Ainhoa Markuleta, Marije Mesonero, IISL AD Maite Elorza, and the whole IISL Board for their friendly, constant, and invaluable support.


Noé Cornago
IISL Scientific Director 2018-2020
July 2020