Fall 2019 Alum Interview: Dr. Milton D. Ottensoser

Milton D. Ottensoser, Ph.D., J.D. manages his own law practice in Miami Beach, Florida where he practices trust and estate law and real estate law. He completed his Ph.D. at the GC in 2018. In May 2019, he presented his dissertation research, “Oil Pollution on the High Seas” at the GC dissertation showcase, a forum for graduates to present the impact and importance of their work in just three minutes each.

Leo Tamamizu: What led you to complete both a J.D. and a Ph.D.?
Dr. Milton D. Ottensoser: I enrolled at the Graduate Center as a Ph.D. student in 1966, and completed all of my requirements except for the dissertation in less than three years. I was already working on my dissertation in 1969 when I was offered a full time college teaching position at Long Island University in Brooklyn. I taught at LIU for 14 years. 
Since my dissertation dealt with certain legal issues, I realized that I could not complete the necessary research without knowledge of legal concepts. That’s what led me to pursue a J.D., which enabled me to practice law for many years–in fact, I had my own office only about six blocks from the Graduate Center!
Three years ago, I decided to finish my dissertation. Even though it had been over forty years since I started the project, I spent eight months updating the draft and submitted it to Executive Officer Alyson Cole, who helped me put together a committee. Sixteen months later, I successfully defended my dissertation and was awarded my Ph.D. in September 2018.
LT: What did you research for your dissertation?
MDO: My dissertation focused on the role of non-state actors (shipping interests, insurance and oil companies) and their interactions with states to establish the terms of liability incorporated into a landmark 1969 treaty dealing with oil spills on the high seas. I used some theoretical concepts to explain how the non-state actors were able to influence state actors into accepting terms and limits of liability which were relatively favorable to these non-state actors. 
LT:  What were some of the barriers you faced in researching and writing your dissertation?
MDO: The heavy research was completed in the 1970s — I interviewed decision-makers at the Brussels Conference, and I had the requisite factual information. But it’s much easier doing research today than it was forty years ago. Today, just about every journal can be accessed online, and companies like Amazon will deliver almost any book to your door. In the 1960s and 1970s, there was no such thing, and one had to spend days in a library hoping to find the needed books and journals, and then making copies of the needed information page by page. Sometimes, we had to travel extensively to find the right library which had the book or journal we were looking for.
LT: What class at the GC would you say was the most transformative for you? 
MDO: I studied under many remarkable professors, but the two that stand out are Professor John Stoessinger, who taught international organization, and Professor Arthur Schlesinger Jr., who taught a course on American foreign policy. Both combined broad theoretical knowledge along with practical experience in their fields. Professor Stoessinger had broad experience at the United Nations, and Professor Schlesinger had been an important adviser to Presidents John F.  Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.