Center for Excellence Honoree: Alexander Meiklejohn

Alexander MeiklejohnFor Alexander "Sandy" Meiklejohn, the time his students spend outside his contract law class is as important as the time they spend inside it.

"My goal is to get them to think independently as much as they can, and in a big class it's very hard to keep track of what's going on in every student's mind," Meiklejohn said.

So, to make up for the limitations of a large classroom, Meiklejohn meets with them independently throughout the year, guiding their analysis and review of assigned material.

This devotion to his students is one of the things about this popular law professor that earned him the Excellence in Teaching Award, which he'll receive at a special dinner this month.

Meiklejohn himself was raised to be an independent thinker. He attended high school at the University of Chicago Laboratory School, which has a teaching philosophy that came to be his own - to help students think rather than simply accumulate information.

After receiving his B.A. in political science at Amherst College, he went on to the University of Chicago Law School. But before he earned his J.D. in 1971, he took a break to serve with the Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), working with a neighborhood association in the Watts section of Los Angeles.

"I think they appreciate the time I spend with them outside of class," he said of his students. "They're not just following along with what I'm doing in class. They do the analysis and the thinking, and I go over with them what they have done."

And there's a lot to go over. The many complicated cases of contract law the students must pore over can seem abstract and artificial. Meiklejohn said it's his job to "bring as much order to the chaos as possible" by encouraging group study and outline development, so that students can be clear on the issues of the cases. Meiklejohn goes over these outlines with them to make sure they're not just repeating text, but truly reflect the student's own thinking and perceptions.

"I think he's an absolutely outstanding teacher, both in his ability to guide students and also his devotion to them," said Toni Robinson, the law professor who nominated Meiklejohn.

"He spends an enormous amount of time helping students learn how to learn," she said. "He's the perfect example of what we all aspire to if we care about teaching."

Law and education run in Meiklejohn's family. His two brothers are lawyers and his sister is a math teacher.

Aside from working with students outside of class, he enjoys hiking and good restaurants.

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