By Lori AthertonApril 21, 2020
Michigan Law Professor Ellen Katz—who has been described by one student as "smart, engaging, and supremely kind"—has been named the 2020 recipient of the L. Hart Wright Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Katz said she is honored to receive the award. "The students here at Michigan are truly amazing," she said. "They are smart and insightful, committed, and empathetic. They challenge me every day to think critically about the issues we cover and to examine and appreciate new perspectives on and implications of foundational ideas."
Katz, the Ralph W. Aigler Professor of Law, writes and teaches about election law, civil rights and remedies, and equal protection. She joined the Law School in 1999. Her scholarship addresses questions of minority representation, political equality, and the role of institutions in crafting and implementing anti-discrimination laws. In addition, she created the Voting Rights Initiative at the Law School to provide data about the past and present status of minority participation in the political process. The findings have served to inform courts, Congress, and public debate.
Students who have taken Katz's classes, including 3Ls Dhruti Patel and Casey Farrington, said she has a gift for making weighty legal topics understandable.
"I took Voting Rights with Professor Katz, and not only did she inspire my interest in pursuing voting work in the future, but she was so honest and practical in her teaching that she made a very complicated doctrine accessible," Patel said. "A professor who makes an ordinary law student think they can realistically pursue a career in a niche constitutional subject deserves all the praise in the world."
"I had Professor Katz for Employment Discrimination," added Farrington. "Not only did we learn the doctrine, she ensured we had a strong sense of the individual stakes of the doctrine for the people affected by workplace harassment and discrimination."
Hailed as a passionate teacher who cares about the well-being of her students, Katz has risen to the challenge of virtual teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to 2L Bella Book. "Professor Katz has been an amazing professor to learn from this semester. Since the transition to remote teaching, she has become an especially important asset to the Michigan community. She checks in on her students, has expanded her office hours, and incorporates our experience into our discussion of the law. She is the kind of professor I came to Michigan to learn from."
Katz's willingness to help students goes beyond the classroom, as 2L Julie Moroney discovered prior to having Katz as a professor. It was an experience that left a lasting impression. "I reached out to Professor Katz because I got stuck on a brief I was writing for an employment discrimination case during an externship," Moroney said. "She was so accessible and willing to meet with me, even though I had never spoken to her or had her for class. And now that I am in her class, I appreciate her even more. She is a legal superstar, and her self-deprecating humor and authenticity make her easy to love."
The L. Hart Wright Award is named after the beloved Michigan Law professor who was renowned in the field of tax law. The student-nominated award is presented annually to a faculty member by the Law School Student Senate. Katz will receive her award in fall 2020.
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