Prof. Chris Whitman, '74, Named 2014 L. Hart Wright Teaching Award Recipient
By Lori Atherton
June 3, 2014
One of the perks of serving as chair of the Law School Student Senate's (LSSS) Election Committee is that you are allowed some say in how the recipient of the L. Hart Wright Teaching Award is notified. For rising 3L Tim Ford, it made perfect sense that Prof. Christina Whitman—the 2014 winner—should learn of the honor during her Supreme Court Litigation seminar.
"I knew the rest of the class would enjoy congratulating Prof. Whitman in person, and the best part is that she looked so genuinely surprised," Ford said. "Everyone knew she deserved the award [which honors teaching excellence], but she's so humble. She teaches well, just because she wants to."
"Prof. Whitman truly cares about her students on a personal level and her love for teaching really shines through," added Erika Kaneko, a rising 3L who also took Supreme Court Litigation. "She made class discussions so fun and interesting that students would often continue talking about cases and issues after class was over. She encouraged us to debate even the most sensitive topics, and pushed us to think outside our own perspectives."
A 1974 alumna whose classes also include Torts and Jurisdiction and Choice of Law, Prof. Whitman began teaching at the Law School in 1976. She was one of the first women on the faculty and, as a 20-something, was often younger than her students, many of whom were Vietnam War veterans or older women looking to jumpstart a new career. While her students have gotten younger over the course of her teaching career, Prof. Whitman's enthusiasm for helping them understand the law, its ambiguity, and its human consequences has remained constant.
"I try to provide clarity about the law and push students to realize there is ambiguity in any legal position we look at firmly," Prof. Whitman said. "I want students to feel comfortable with that ambiguity and to realize that there are strong arguments on both sides of a case."
Michigan Law's students are "terrific," she noted, which makes teaching all the more enjoyable for her. "I continue to learn about the law and the world from my students, which has made me a better teacher over the years. The longer I teach, the more I realize how varied our students are in their experiences and talents, and that enriches my teaching."
The L. Hart Wright Award—named after the beloved Michigan Law professor who was renowned in the field of tax law—is presented annually by the LSSS, with the recipient chosen by students. Prof. Whitman will officially receive the award at the LSSS's faculty wine and cheese reception next fall.
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