Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Prof Karen Knop

It is with immense sadness that the Faculty of Law announces the passing of our dear colleague, Karen Knop, on September 26, 2022. Karen held the Faculty’s Cecil A. Wright Chair.

Karen was born in 1960, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She was the daughter of the late Osvald Knop and Helga Knop (Nørregaard) and had deep connections with her Danish family. She earned a BSc and an LLB from Dalhousie University (in 1982 and 1986, respectively), an LLM from Columbia University (1990), and an SJD from the University of Toronto (1997), with the late James Crawford serving as supervisor.

Karen joined the Faculty of Law as a special lecturer in 1990 and a full-time faculty member in 1993. She quickly established herself as a beloved teacher and colleague, as well as a leading voice in international law scholarship. Early in her career, she won an undergraduate teaching award and, over the years, her mentoring of graduate students helped launch many careers. Her monograph Diversity and Self-Determination in International Law was published by Cambridge University Press in 2002 and was recognized by the American Society of International Law with its prestigious Certificate of Merit in 2003. From her early success to her 2020 Hague Lectures – the ultimate honour for an international lawyer – Karen’s was a remarkable academic career.

She was recognized internationally as a leading, cutting-edge scholar of public international law. She was a brilliant, eloquent writer, an original thinker, and a generous colleague and teacher, always ready to share her insight and provide support and mentorship. She was a consummate generalist, a sophisticated theorist, and an explorer – intrepid and insightful in pushing international law scholarship in new directions by pursuing novel angles, issues and linkages.

In 1988-89, Karen spent a year as a Canada/USSR Academic Exchange Junior Scholar at Moscow State University. Long before scholars began to explore “Russian perspectives” on international law, she understood that Western academics ought both to be knowledgeable of Russian intellectual postures and willing to engage with colleagues in Russia. She was in the vanguard of feminist approaches to international law, and unique in her commitment to bringing public and private international law scholarship into conversation. Most recently, she pioneered critical engagement with foreign relations law and reshaped its contours by mining her deep knowledge of the intricacies of both public and private international law to produce insights into core questions of international law, including its relationship to domestic constitutional law. Karen’s impact across the field was incalculable. As one colleague recently said, Karen’s brilliant work laid the foundations for so much work that other thinkers picked up on and developed.

Karen’s insightfulness, her intellectual rigour and her generosity, also made her a sought-after contributor, speaker and visitor. In 2022, she was named one of the inaugural Max Planck Law Fellows, the highest honour that the Max Planck Law network can confer on scholars working outside Germany’s Max Planck Society. In 2020-21, Karen was the Aatos Erkko Visiting Professor in Studies on Contemporary Society at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies. As a further testimony to Karen’s standing in the field, she had been selected to give the prestigious Lauterpacht Lecture at Cambridge University.

Karen was an institutional citizen and institution builder. At the Faculty of Law, she served as the Editor of the University of Toronto Law Journal (2007-2012), and Associate Dean Research (2016-2018). More than that however, she was always a wise advisor to the Faculty on innumerable issues and a generous supporter of her colleagues. Internationally, she served on the boards of numerous prestigious journals, including the American Journal of International Law (AJIL), and AJIL Unbound (2014-2017), the online complement to the field’s flagship journal. Karen was instrumental in shaping AJIL Unbound into the intellectually vibrant, high impact venture it is today.

Above all, Karen was a friend to so many of us, and beloved by her students, to whom she was a dedicated mentor. As the outpouring of messages online and to us at the Faculty attests, Karen’s loss is felt by colleagues and friends across the country and around the globe. She was full of ideas and a fount of knowledge on everything from art exhibitions, to Scandinavian (and other) design, to indoor plants, to the best new restaurants. She was a brilliant conversationalist who never settled for the ordinary and was renowned for her wide-ranging interests, lively wit, and remarkable ability to produce spontaneously memorable turns of phrase. More than one colleague has remarked in the last few days that “Karen was the best of us.” The Faculty of Law and the international legal academy will not be the same without her.

Our thoughts are with Ralph Glass, Karen’s husband, her family, and all her many colleagues and friends. She will be terribly missed.

The Faculty is planning to recognize Karen's contributions as well as her outstanding scholarship. Further information will be shared at a later date.