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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Washington University Law Prof Declines 'Experiential Professor of the Year' Award, Calling it 'Offensive and Marginalizing'

QuinnAbove the Law reports that Mae C. Quinn, Professor of Law and Director of the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic at Washington University Law School, has declined an award for “Experiential Professor of the Year,” calling it both "offensive and marginalizing":

Thank you very much for thinking of me and for your hard work in generating such a tremendous list of honorees. But I find being named “Experiential Professor of the Year” both offensive and marginalizing. In fact, I shared these views about this award with a number of students last year after another “clinical” colleague was given the award for the first time. In my mind it would be fine to have two teacher of the year awards, allowing the students to describe why each faculty member demonstrates excellence – in all of its many forms. But this kind of express ghetto-ization and limitation through labeling was exactly what I was told did NOT exist at Washington University when I was recruited to teach both in our clinics and outside of our clinics. So receiving such an award makes me very sad.

I am sure that those who conceived of the award meant well – that is, wanting to make sure professors who do not generally teach “traditional” classes, which are usually larger than “experiential” class sections, are not forgotten. But I do teach such classes – and I do so using a podium, as well as experiential exercises, simulations, films, community engagement and the like. More than this, to truly address this oversight what is necessary is new thinking around what it means to be an excellent teacher and professor in the 21st century. Reinforcing divisions between experiential and non-experiential, clinic and non-clinic, skills and non-skills is out of step with modern norms and developments in law schools and legal institutions across the country. It normalizes other unnecessary divides and hierarchies in legal education. And it does not serve our students well. In my mind, every class should teach students to both think – and do – as lawyers. I fear this award absolutely sends the wrong message about this school and its views on the future of legal education.

At Tennessee I was named Teacher of the Year. Period.

In light of my feelings about this award and its implications, I respectfully decline the designation.

Legal Education | Permalink


Some people can find literally anything to be offensive and marginalizing.

Posted by: JM | May 8, 2014 6:01:04 AM

Holy disconnect Batman!! We wonder why there is a general sense of disdain directed toward higher ed faculty, and especially these days toward law school faculty. Not only is this letter pretentious and whiny, but it is a letter!! I love that she gets angry about receiving an award and her anger is projected in a letter to other faculty. Hahaha, did she think she was writing a letter from a Birmingham jail? She should have saved the ink and just complained about it around the watercooler like everyone else does.

Posted by: Daniel | May 8, 2014 6:12:37 AM

Props to Professor Quinn from one who practices law and helps clients solve actual problems.

Posted by: Tenn Volunteer | May 8, 2014 6:33:38 AM

If an award is rejected in the forest, and no one is around, does it still make a sound?

Posted by: Chris Allen | May 8, 2014 7:38:52 AM

Congratulations to Prof. Quinn for having the courage to let her colleagues, her students, and the legal education world know what this type of marginalization feels like and how incorrect the "experiential" (and "lesser') tag is. What she teaches is exactly what students need and yearn for. Hers should be the top award and not separated at all from any other of her colleagues' recognitions. I admire her guts!

Posted by: Miriam E Felsenburg | May 8, 2014 8:26:42 AM

If this is marginalization, then we as a society have dang near reached a utopia status. This rejection of the award is ludicrous and a slap in the face to the organization that wanted to recognize her accomplishments. If this award was for best female teacher, I could understand the lamenting. This action took no "guts" on her part.

Posted by: Daniel | May 8, 2014 11:33:25 AM

So to be a non-experential professor would be one who teaches based on fantasy? So, in other words, a typical progressive professor . . .

Posted by: The Diplomad | May 8, 2014 1:54:02 PM

If I can't be the one, the only, "Teacher of the Year" at this University, you can stuff it! Don't you know how great I am!!!!

Posted by: Jay | May 8, 2014 2:20:12 PM

Marginalization? Or due recognition? I wonder what that Cornell Law clinical prof over at legalinsurrection - William Jacobson - would say about this?

Posted by: Orson | May 8, 2014 5:08:03 PM

She couldn't think of any adjectives other than "offensive" and "marginalizing" as the reasons for her rejection of this award? She couldn't support her education theories in an acceptance statement? Our universities really ARE in the grip of the Far Left.

Posted by: KT | May 8, 2014 5:21:06 PM

Professor Quinn seems correct in holding that praise is manipulative, just as blame is.

Posted by: JDW | May 8, 2014 10:56:20 PM