Professor Erwin Chemerinsky named University Scholar of the Year

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September 8, 2006

Erwin Chemerinsky, Alston & Bird professor of law and political science, has been selected by a faculty committee as Duke's 2006 University Scholar/Teacher of the Year. Renowned as a scholar of constitutional law and the federal courts, appellate advocate, author, and praised as a passionate and accessible teacher both by law students and undergraduates at Duke, Chemerinsky will be presented with the award at the University's Founder Day celebration on September 28. The award is sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.

Chemerinsky joined the Duke faculty in July 2004, after spending the 2002 fall semester at the Law School as a visiting professor. From 1983 to 2004 he was on the faculty of the University of Southern California, most recently as the Sydney M. Irmas professor of public interest law, legal ethics, and political science; he was named USC's "Outstanding Teacher" in 1984 and 1991, as he was in 1983 at DePaul University College of Law, where he started his teaching career.

At Duke Law School, Chemerinsky teaches courses in constitutional law, federal courts, and federal practice of civil rights and civil liberties. He also teaches constitutional law to undergraduates in the Department of Political Science. His scholarly expertise is supplemented by an extraordinary depth of practical experience; throughout his academic career, Chemerinsky has been active as a public interest lawyer and appellate advocate, taking several cases to the United States Supreme Court.

A prolific writer, Chemerinsky has authored four highly praised books, Federal Jurisdiction, now in its fourth edition; Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies, Constitutional Law, a casebook; and Interpreting the Constitution, as well as over 100 law review articles. He also contributes frequently to newspapers and magazines, writing regular columns on the Supreme Court for California Lawyer, Los Angeles Daily Journal, and Trial Magazine, and is sought out as a commentator on legal issues for national and local media.

"I contribute in part because it is a way of educating a broader audience, getting my opinion across, and also because I love to write," Chemerinsky said.

Also known for his civic involvement, Chemerinsky chaired the commission that rewrote the Los Angeles city charter in the 1990s, headed an independent investigation into police corruption in that city's Rampart precinct, and in 2004, led a panel to reform L.A.'s contracting practice at its airport, harbor, and Department of Water and Power.

"I've learned so much from the things I've done," Chemerinsky said of his civic work. "My teaching and scholarship have all been enriched as a result."

Rachel Wald, a senior majoring in political science, said Chemerinsky's Constitutional Law class has been her favorite at Duke. "He makes it tangible, interesting, and challenging, yet still accessible to undergrads," said Wald, marveling at his ability to facilitate discussion in a class of 150 students. Law students are also lavish with their praise for Chemerinsky in and out of the classroom.

"Professor Chemerinsky has a knack for making some of the most difficult material seem easy," said Michelle Riskind '06, noting his continual availability to students. Working as his research assistant for two years helped her hone her practical legal skills "as well as watch firsthand a passionate advocate and teacher do what he does best."

"It is rare that you meet a professor and individual with as good a heart as Professor Chemerinsky," said Chris Richardson, a third-year law student who worked with Chemerinsky on an appellate case. "From the classroom to the courtroom, he respects and treats everybody with grace and humility. He stands as an example to me, and everybody at Duke, of what an attorney should be in their practice and how we should treat others in general."

The University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award was established in 1981 by the Division of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church to recognize outstanding faculty members for their dedication and contributions to the learning arts and to their institutions. Selection criteria include a demonstration of exceptional teaching, recognized concern for students and colleagues, a record of significant contributions to the scholarly life of the University, and commitment to high standards of professional and personal life.