Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Our First Teaching Profile . . . Featuring Professor H. Jefferson Powell

Welcome to a new regular feature.  The problem with teaching Con Law is that there is so much to learn about how to teach the subject.   As we pondered this reality, we decided to create a feature titled "Profiles in Con Law Teaching."  The point of the "Profiles" series is to highlight a prominent Con Law scholar who is also an excellent teacher.  Our goal is to mine the expertise of these individuals so that we might all benefit from their knowledge. 

Powell I am pleased to announce that Professor H. Jefferson Powell is the subject of our first profile.  Professor Powell teaches at the Duke University School of Law.  In addition to being a prolific scholar (if you haven't yet read his essay on the Curtis-Wright case in the Presidential Power Stories collection, you are missing a truly enlightening piece), Professor Powell has won several teaching awards.  Recently, he graciously agreed to provide his thoughts on the teaching of Constitutional Law.

Professor Powell began teaching Con Law in 1984.  He most enjoys "working out with the students the way in which constitutional law arguments are structured, in terms of what counts as an argument and how the conflicting arguments are dealt with in the opinion or opinions we read."  When asked what a typical day in his classroom is like, Professor Powell stated, "Whenever possible I try to discuss only one major case, with other new cases coming in as means of further elaborating/distinguishing/implicitly criticizing the main case.  I usually ask a student to "set up" the case by reminding us what the issues were, and go on from there with a discussion that, when things go well, involves many contributors."

A common problem confronting Con Law professors is how to make issues such as the commerce clause interesting.  On this point, Professor Powell advises, "Since my course focuses on the structure and forms of argument, more than the substance, I encourage students to see the common issues that cut across doctrinal areas.  Grasping commerce clause disagreements is directly relevant to understanding how to make and evaluate arguments in, say, equal protection or substantive due process." 

Finally, Professor Powell was asked what advice he would give to both new and seasoned con law profs.  To the new law prefessors, he says, " Don't be afraid to change your mind.  Have fun."   For those who have been teaching the subject for some time, he states, "Perhaps it can be helpful to take a break.  I didn't teach con law for several years and came back to it greatly refreshed."

We hope you enjoyed this profile.  Please look for new profiles each week.  Enjoy!



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