Where Law meets The Remains of the Day
Professor Mark Weisberg of the Queen’s Faculty of Law says he’s “honoured” to win the $5,000 Chancellor A. Charles Baillie Award for contributions to the quality of student learning.
But what he finds most gratifying is reading the file of letters from supporters of his nomination. “The students said they felt permission to bring their whole selves into their work, and that they had grown not only in terms of their legal education, but also personally,” he says. “That meant a lot.”
For Weisberg – who is on sabbatical this year, and then plans to retire – the Baillie Award crowns an exemplary 41-year career at the law school, which he joined after graduating from Harvard Law School with his Juris Doctor in 1969.
Weisberg’s teaching has evolved from the traditional Socratic method toward creative approaches in courses on legal ethics, images of doctors and lawyers, and legal imagination.
“I’m not a teller; I don’t talk a lot in some of my courses,” he explains. A book written by Donald A. Finkel – a friend from his undergraduate days at Yale University – was one of the key influences on his teaching style. “It’s called Teaching with Your Mouth Shut. I love that phrase. It’s had an enormous effect on me; it’s sort of what I try to do.”
An inspired teacher, Weisberg is also known for lively conversations about teaching that he has with colleagues. He has written a lot about teaching.
In class, Weisberg makes it a point to listen attentively and then ask strategic questions that encourage discussion. “Someone said; ‘Students don’t listen well to the answers to questions they haven’t learned to ask.’ That really stuck with me. I want people to bring more of who they are to what they’re doing and to ask, ‘What are your questions, and how will you explore them?’”
Weisberg teaches legal ethics using literature. “The Remains of the Day, for example, shows the dangers of keeping all parts of your life in separate compartments,” he explains. “There are lots of parallels between Stevens, the butler in the story, and transactional lawyers.”
An inspired teacher, Weisberg is also known for lively conversations about teaching that he has with colleagues. He has written a lot about teaching. He has organized workshops, and he has led the Cross-Faculty Teaching Forum to keep up with new developments. He was an advocate for creation of the Queen’s Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL), where he’s been a Faculty Associate working with colleagues since 1992, and he’s cross-appointed as a Professor of Education.
In addition to the Baillie Award honours, Weisberg was the first recipient of the Distinguished Service Award for Educational Leadership from Queen’s CTL last winter; won the Ontario Confederation of Faculty Associations’ Award in 1994; and was the 3M National Teaching Fellow in 1995.
What’s next for Weisberg? He plans to finish writing a book with co-author Jean Koh Peters, a professor at Yale Law School. The two will recount their experiences at retreats for university teachers, which they ran together across North America.
“Forty-one years of teaching is a long time,” he replies when asked if he’s considered what he’ll do with his new freedom and his $5,000 award. “My house needs some fixing,” he says after a pause. “And I’m planning a trip to China.”
A complete listing of campus teaching awards at Queen’s can be found on the CTL web site at www.queensu.ca/ctl/awards/internal.php.