From the volume of letters offered in support of her nomination, it is clear that Temple Law Professor Alice Abreu has been a Great Teacher for a very long time. On April 25th, Temple University made that official by honoring her with the Great Teacher Award, the highest honor bestowed by Temple upon its faculty.
Temple Law Dean Gregory Mandel took the opportunity to heap praise upon Professor Abreu, tempered with light-hearted teasing for her “boundless and infectious passion for tax law.” “Yes, you heard me correctly,” he confirmed to laughter from the faculty in attendance. “I realize that phrase has never before been uttered.” Mandel went on to describe the “universal admiration of all who know Professor Abreu,” not only for her “zeal for tax law,” but also for her “passion for teaching… and her excitement for drawing colleagues into the intersection of tax law and their practice areas.”
Dean Mandel’s remarks were echoed in scores of letters from faculty, students, and alumni. “I was a tax partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers when I decided to attend Temple’s Law School,” wrote an alumnus from the class of 2001. “Alice’s tax classes were by far the best tax sessions I had ever attended. She engaged her students, made them think and had a passion for the material that infected the whole class.”
One member of the class of 2013 appreciated Professor Abreu’s talent for meeting students where they are and her approach to helping them understand the complex subject: “In the classroom, Professor Abreu does not teach to the top students, nor does she teach to the lowest common denominator. Instead, she raises all students up to the highest possible level,” he wrote. “Most importantly, rather than just teaching how to answer specific tax questions, she teaches how to think about tax.”
Teaching how to think about tax is at the core of Abreu’s teaching philosophy. “I believe that learning the law does not involve memorizing a set of disembodied rules,” she wrote in a statement about her approach to teaching aptly titled Understanding the Why. “It is a process that explores why those are the rules we have, who benefits, who is harmed, and what forces might change the rules. That exploration is what I try to facilitate in my classes.”
Many of Abreu’s faculty colleagues cited that process in their praise for Low Income Taxpayer Policy and Practice (LITPP), an innovative course created by Abreu that has become the model for similar courses at other institutions. LITPP blends reading and reflection on tax policy with hands-on experience preparing returns for low income taxpayers through the IRS’ VITA program, exposing students to the ways in which tax law meets — or fails to meet — its policy objectives. One colleague described the concept as, “simply brilliant — skills training, service, policy education, and professional reflection in one neat package. It’s amazing.”
Like all great teachers, part of what Abreu does with uncommon grace is to embrace her students’ humanity and ignite their potential, often before they even see it in themselves. One current student wrote that this perceptiveness changed the course of her life. “Professor Abreu believed in my abilities before I did, recognizing my talent for tax even after not performing as well as I should on my first tax exam. She encouraged me to continue taking tax classes and push myself to be a better student,” she wrote. “Because of Professor Abreu, I now have confidence. I am confident that I can be an excellent lawyer and advocate particularly in the tax field but really in any field of law I wish.”
Great Teacher Award Established in 1988 by the Temple University Board of Trustees, the Great Teacher Award recognizes outstanding faculty members for their continuous excellence and contributions to teaching. Prior recipients on the law school faculty include Professor Nancy J. Knauer (2001-2002), Professor Laura Little (2003-2004), Professor Emeritus David Sonenshein (2006-2007), and Professor James Shellenberger (2013-2014).