UA Offers New Online M.A. and Certificate in Human Rights Practice

Core faculty in the Human Rights Practice Program include William Simmons, Leonard Hammer, Elizabeth Oglesby, Seanna Howard, Mette Brogden, Phyllis Taoua, and Jeannine Relly.

  • Simmons, professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, is coordinator of the website Global Human Rights Direct and president of the board of directors of The Lost Boys Center for Leadership and Development.
  • Hammer, the David and Andrea Stein Visiting Professor of Modern Israel Studies in the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, specializes in international law and human rights in the Middle East.
  • Oglesby, an associate professor of geography and Latin American studies, specializes in human rights in Central America, especially Guatemala.
  • Howard, a professor of practice in the James E. Rogers College of Law, is an expert in indigenous law and human rights.
  • Brogden has a doctorate in anthropology and a master’s degree in documentary filmmaking and has worked in refugee resettlement programs throughout the U.S. for almost two decades.
  • Taoua, a professor of French and Italian, has published widely on Francophone Africa, including on protest, decolonization, and African cinema.
  • Relly, an associate professor in the School of Journalism, is an expert on global media, freedom of expression, and access to public information.


Starting this January, students from around the world will be able to obtain a master’s degree or graduate certificate from the University of Arizona in Human Rights Practice, housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

The online, professionally oriented program is designed to provide students with the foundational knowledge, critical perspectives, and practical skills to advance human rights around the globe.

Currently, there are only a handful of masters-level degrees in human rights in the U.S., none of which are offered online. York University in the United Kingdom recently introduced the first online graduate certificate in human rights, but does not yet have an online MA degree.

“As far as we can tell, this will be one of the first online MA degree in human rights anywhere,” said Bill Simmons, director of the Human Rights Practice Program and professor in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies.

The Human Rights Practice Program will provide graduate-level education for human rights workers, government personnel, and professionals seeking to further their education in the area of human rights. It will also appeal to recent undergraduate students from the U.S. and abroad with strong interests in studying social justice and human rights.

The program is designed both for individuals currently employed and for full-time students. Students complete 30 credits for a master’s degree, 12 credits for a certificate. The MA can be earned within one calendar year, although most students will take 18 months, and the certificate can be completed within 4 to 9 months.

Simmons says that because the program will be completely online, it will attract international students who can complete the degree without travel costs or a visa.

One of the powerful aspects of this program is that it was created as an online program since its inception, drawing on the flexibility and power of technology to craft unique and effective curriculum.

“I am excited to see the Human Rights Practice program added to our growing catalogue of engaging and unique online educational programs,” said Vincent Del Casino Jr., UA vice president of academic initiatives and student success. “More and more often, students are having a hard time accessing high quality, world class education. This program, because it will be offered online, will not only expand access to an amazing UA program, it will also create a global network of human rights practitioners.”

Simmons said there are faculty across campus doing cutting-edge work in human rights. Harnessing that expertise will provide a foundation for the program. The curriculum is interdisciplinary, bringing together faculty from 15 different departments and six colleges –Social and Behavioral Sciences, Humanities, Education, Nursing, Honors and Law. Through its alliance with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), the UA is also building connections with the National Human Rights Commission of Mexico (CNDH).

Capitalizing on the program’s online structure, the organizers plan to regularly avail themselves of practitioners from around the globe who will not only contribute real-world insights from their human rights work, but also will take students on virtual field trips, showing them what they do day-in and day-out.

None of this is new for Simmons. He says for 10 years he has been videoconferencing with far-flung guest lecturers. He finds that even people in conflict zones can usually find a way to Skype into the class.

“The MA is unique because it is externally driven,” said Judaic Studies Professor Leonard Hammer, the director of outreach and program development for the Human Rights Practice Program. “Real-world actors offering real-world information leads to a more applicable and practical degree and allows for the development of networks.”

Students will work on actual human rights projects and can apply their current work projects toward their coursework. Students will graduate with a portfolio of applied work and marketable skills.

"This program gives a chance to professionals to enrich their knowledge without taking a break in their work and actually complementing their studies with their work. It makes this course truly practice oriented and therefore much cheaper than usual,” said Anton Burkov, a member of the program’s international advisory board. Burkov is a professor at the University of Yekaterinburg and director of the Urals International Human Rights School. “I also love the idea of multidisciplinary approach! The Urals International Human Rights School in Russia aims at helping human rights professionals in their capacity building. With the UA, we see new opportunities in assisting human rights activists.”

Students will learn how to manage a human rights organization; work with funding and international agencies; engage in fieldwork with marginalized groups; and critically examine current human rights issues. The program will provide students with an understanding of human rights law, and students will acquire the tools for promoting policy changes and bringing challenges before a range of judicial tribunals.

The course will also cover issues critical for success in human rights NGOs, such as management and public administration; grant writing; interview skills and techniques; finance skills; anti-corruption methods; professional responsibility and ethics; and cross-cultural sensitivity.

Simmons, whose Ph.D. is in political science, became involved with human rights because of his personal activism. He has helped bring cutting-edge cases to several international tribunals, often involving his undergraduate and graduate students.

“I’ve had the pleasure of working in a number of countries on some groundbreaking cases about human rights,” said Simmons.

Simmons said he is thrilled at the growth he has seen in the field.

“I have attended numerous sessions of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights,” Simmons said. “When I started 15 years ago, there was maybe 10 people in the audience. Now it is standing room only. Almost every country on the continent is represented.”

Because of that growth, Simmons said there is an untapped demand for graduate human rights education programs that are cost-effective, action-oriented, and provide students with a formal degree upon completion. He is excited to get the new UA Human Rights Practice Program off the ground.

”The student population is going to be amazing,” he said.

Published Date: 

10/23/2017 - 4:06pm