Monday, April 23, 2007

teaching impact

friend and colleague joel samaha received a big teaching award today. at the minnversity, a big award can be operationalized as involving (a) university-wide competition, and (b) a significant bump in recurring salary. joel is a history Ph.D. and attorney, who once taught u.s. and world history in chicago public schools.

for the past four decades, however, joel's quasi-socratic method has inspired hundreds of minnesota undergrads each semester. in lectures that often exceed 300 students, he learns all their names and often much more than their names. in assembling joel's dossier, i marveled at the letters from former students -- big-city police chiefs, judges, and community leaders. joel somehow gets them all to think well and clearly about the tenuous balance between individual liberty and public safety, and about relations between citizens and the state more generally. decades later, many of his students can quickly call to mind specific lectures or course materials that fundamentally changed their view of the world and their place within it.

i can't imagine that anyone has had a greater impact on the administration of justice in this state than joel, but his impact extends far beyond minnesota -- his publisher tells me that joel's criminal law, criminal procedure, and criminal justice texts are used in 468 colleges and universities in 48 states. wherever he goes, joel is stopped and thanked on a pretty-much-daily basis by former students. i can't imagine how that feels, though i was once pulled over by a police officer who had taken my delinquency class at wisconsin. after sizing up the rusty car i was driving, he took pity and let me off with a warning. do you think joel has ever gotten a ticket?

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