Celebrating Kate Bartlett: A remarkable scholar, colleague, and mentor, and transformative dean
To mark her retirement from teaching, colleagues and alumni laud Bartlett as a leader in her field, for her students, and in the Duke Law community.
On her way to teach her late-afternoon class in law and literature on April 22, Professor Katharine T. Bartlett was met with an excited crowd. As soon as she stepped into view, faculty, staff, and students lining the corridor outside her fourth-floor classroom began clapping and chanting “Kate, Kate, Kate.”
Bartlett responded with laughter, a few hugs and high-fives, and a joking acknowledgement that the occasion must indeed be special to have drawn one somewhat reclusive colleague from his office. And it was: She was teaching her last class at Duke Law after more than 35 years on the faculty.
By her own admission, Bartlett arrived in Durham in 1979 as a “trailing spouse” caring for two small children (with a third to follow) after husband Christopher Schroeder, now the Charles S. Murphy Professor of Law and Public Policy Studies, accepted a faculty post at the Law School. She enters retirement as a Duke Law legend: a preeminent scholar in family law, employment law, feminist theory, and gender law; an award-winning teacher; a transformational leader whose tenure as dean from 2000 to 2007 cemented Duke’s position as a top-tier law school; and a cherished member of the community.
“Kate had a remarkable ability to identify the best outcome for the Law School in a particular situation and work tirelessly to achieve it, yet all the while connecting on a very human level to the people working with her,” says Charles S. Rhyne Clinical Professor of Law Theresa Newman ’88, who calls herself privileged to have served as Bartlett’s associate dean. “She wanted everyone to succeed professionally — and personally — and she regularly worked quietly to help make that happen, never wanting any gratitude or even recognition for doing so.” And it’s an approach Bartlett applies to all her interactions and endeavors, Newman observes.
A foundational and innovative scholar
For Bartlett, who earned an MA in history at Harvard after graduating from Wheaton College, law was an afterthought. After graduate school, she taught history at the same high school in Guilford, Conn., she had attended while growing up on her family’s farm. She wanted to move on, but was unable to land a big city teaching post, so instead enrolled in law school at the University of California, Berkeley. It was a transformative experience, she told an alumni audience in 2007 during a public conversation celebrating her career.
“I absolutely loved law school,” she said. “It was exciting and exhilarating and opened up a whole new way of thinking for me.”
After graduating, Bartlett spent a year as a law clerk on the California Supreme Court and then joined the Legal Services office where she had done clinical work as a 3L. When she arrived in North Carolina, she hoped to resume her career as a public interest attorney, but again came up empty. Academia only entered the picture when Paul Carrington, then dean of Duke Law, invited her to teach pre-trial litigation. “I probably wasn’t a hundred percent qualified for the position, but I did take it,” Bartlett joked in 200. After a couple years of teaching part-time, she joined the governing faculty as an associate professor in 1983, moving on to teach subjects in line with her growing body of scholarship and gaining tenure in 1987. She was awarded the distinguished A. Kenneth Pye Professorship in 1995.
Kate had a remarkable ability to identify the best outcome for the Law School in a particular situation and work tirelessly to achieve it, yet all the while connecting on a very human level to the people working with her. She wanted everyone to succeed professionally — and personally — and she regularly worked quietly to help make that happen, never wanting any gratitude or even recognition for doing so.
...her intellectual incisiveness was matched only by a genuine desire to listen to our viewpoints.
I really hate to see her retire, because she’s the best: both the best friend one could have, and the best law school colleague and leader.