Bettman, Lenhart, and Williams Receive 2011 Goldman Prize for Excellence in Teaching
Most professors strive to both challenge and engage students daily. Even more, professors hope to be dedicated and respectful while commanding some respect of their own. This year’s Goldman Prize awardees demonstrate that professors can embody all of these traits and more. Each year, College of Law students have the opportunity to honor those professors who distinguish themselves in the classroom and who demonstrate excellence in teaching. This year the Goldman Prize Committee recognizes Professors Marianna Brown Bettman, Elizabeth Lenhart, and Verna Williams.
As a praised graduate of the College of Law, Professor Bettman ‘77 gained acclaim as a successful private attorney. She then became the first woman elected to the Ohio First District Court of Appeals. As a revered judge, Professor Bettman developed an expertise in the separation of powers, state constitutional law, and the Ohio judicial system. In 1999, Professor Bettman dedicated her vast experience and prowess in the law to serving the University and the students of the College of Law.
Since she began teaching at the law school, law students have praised Professor Bettman for her ability to challenge students in constructive ways. Well-prepared and thorough, she expects the same from each student. Utilizing her vast collection of experiences and connections, Professor Bettman provides students a practical perspective on the material covered in her courses.
Professor Bettman suffers no shortage of both experience and connections in the community. Students cannot help but respect a professor whose accomplishments are so well documented. However, Professor Bettman’s expertise and unique insight into the legal system garners the most respect from students. Students also appreciate her respect for each person in her classes. While Professor Bettman will not hesitate to inform students if they are unprepared, her respect for every individual remains constant.
Ultimately, “dedicated” best describes Professor Bettman. She tirelessly uses her own network to assist students with finding legal positions during and after law school. She consistently opens her door to any student with questions about a class, the law, or even a career. Professor Bettman works to ensure each of her students are not just prepared for a final, but for a future in the legal community.
In the first year of law school there are always difficulties experienced by students in the transition from undergraduate studies to the different world that is law school. Two of the more challenging adjustments are learning how to write professionally in the legal setting and developing advocacy skills that translate to effective lawyering. In this arena, Professor Elizabeth Lenhart excels at helping first-year students make this specific transition.
Professor Lenhart brings to the classroom her considerable experience in litigating cases and lends this knowledge to her students with an openness that is a valued commodity in the field of teaching. Her warm and inviting personality creates a comfortable environment for her students to learn in, especially helpful for students who are not strong public speakers or are self-conscious of their writing.
Many first-year students return to Professor Lenhart for advice about important questions such as how to find a place in the legal community or whether or not law school was the right choice. During her two years teaching here at the College of Law, she has had a tremendous impact on those students who had the pleasure of being in her class, and even on some who did not.
Her practical experience working for a firm allows her to give students the perspective of not just what the scholars say about this or that, but what her experiences were when appearing before a judge to argue a motion. She has taught students where the line is between persuasive and objective, as well as being convincing and being presumptuous. Her ability to tell students what they are doing wrong while giving the necessary support to correct those mistakes guarantees that students leave her class with a solid foundation in writing and advocacy on which to develop the skills necessary of a legal professional.
Both inside and out of the classroom, Professor Williams continues to demonstrate her commitment to helping students develop personally, professionally, and academically. Whether a student has a question after class, needs extra one-on-one assistance or simply wants to talk about life, Professor Williams’ door remains open. Ask any student what stands out most in her class, almost always the response is the classroom discussions and her willingness to help students learn. One could easily say that she goes out of her way to assist students, but in reality her interest in students’ success is just the product of her personality – genuine, caring, and passionate.
A master of her field, never shy, and always interested in students’ opinions, Professor Williams asks students to confront highly sensitive issues—such as race, gender, or class—and to consider the interplay between them and the law. On a daily basis, these issues are rarely mentioned in public without some apprehension; however, in all of Professor Williams’ courses, she brings them to the forefront of class discussions without pause, leading her classes through difficult questions and challenges students to test not only their own beliefs, but also the beliefs of others, including her own.
Possibly her greatest skill as an educator is her ability to help students see beyond a legal opinion’s text and understand the personal story behind a case. Professor Williams challenges students to analyze laws not simply from a theoretical perspective, but also from the perspective of the people affected by them. She is truly gifted at teaching students to place themselves in the shoes of others. And regardless of whether an empathetic jurist is a good idea or not, training students to relate to a client or understand an opponent’s perspective is an indispensible skill that will serve her students for years to come.
About the Goldman Prize for Teaching Excellence
The Goldman Prize has been awarded for over 30 years to recognize excellence in teaching. This award is unique because students nominate and choose the recipients—their professors. To make this decision, the committee also considers the professors’ research and public service as they contribute to superior performance in the classroom.