Two School of Law mainstays – a student-favorite professor and the school’s lead communicator – are among 21 UB professionals to be honored with the 2021 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence.
The Chancellor’s Awards, given throughout the State University of New York system, recognize “consistently superior professional achievement.” It’s one of the few system-wide honors conferred by SUNY administration and specifically holds recipients up as role models for their colleagues.
Professor Christine P. Bartholomew, a four-time winner of the student-voted Teaching Award, received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. It honors faculty who “consistently demonstrate superb teaching.”
Bartholomew has taught at the law school for 15 years, giving individualized attention and mentoring to students as they navigate such foundational courses as Civil Procedure, Evidence and Antitrust. An accomplished scholar, she serves on multiple law school committees and currently is acting director of the Buffalo Law Review.
The Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Professional Service was given to Lisa M. Mueller ’93, who became the School of Law’s vice dean for communications in 2017 and has been part of the school’s communications team for more than 20 years.
Since her elevation to vice dean, Mueller has transitioned the law school’s communications outreach to a new emphasis on digital platforms. Most recently she developed a comprehensive communications strategy for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s visit to Buffalo in 2019; chaired the school’s Facilities Committee as it developed protocols to mitigate the pandemic threat; and helped coordinate the law school’s response to evolving social justice issues.
The Chancellor’s Award recognizes, among other qualities, a teacher’s concern for and commitment to individual students. How do you convey to students that they should seek out that kind of mentorship? Once students pass through the office door, mentorship is easy. It’s just getting them to take that first step. Making connections with faculty is as critical to success as preparing for class. Luckily, those connections originate fairly organically. My courses are demanding, intentionally so. Attending office hours is often essential to success, particularly in the 1L year. Once the first group of students braves office hours, word of mouth spreads that perhaps I’m not quite as terrifying as I seem in lecture. And from there, it quickly becomes common (in non-COVID times) to see a large cluster of students travel the steps of O’Brian to my seventh-floor office on a regular basis.
You’ve said, “I want students to love the legal profession as much as I do.” Is there a way to share that passion in the classroom, or do they just have to discover it for themselves in practice? Practice certainly offers opportunities to deepen someone’s love of the judicial system and find new ways to advance justice, but a true passion for the law starts in the classroom. That fascination starts with knowing how to critically read and analyze statutes and opinions. Only then can you really delve into the law’s messy, murky corners.
You teach students across the whole spectrum of their law school careers. What challenges does that present? I actually am deeply grateful to teach an array of courses that span a student’s law school years. Because of the courses I teach, it’s not uncommon for me to see the same student in two or even three courses. One of the most rewarding aspects of being a professor is seeing the stunning growth a student makes from the 1L year to the 3L year.
The work of law school committees happens behind the scenes but can have great effect. Where has that work been most satisfying for you? My preferred committee obligations are those that allow me to connect with students on academic issues. It’s so important to hear their perspective, their concerns, their experiences in law school. Their feedback led to the enactment of the new 1L end-of-year mini-bar, an opportunity for students to receive early feedback on their cumulative knowledge acquisition. It’s an idea that came from a student focus group, and I’m thrilled to have seen it finally come to fruition.
Most alumni take their UB Law degree and go into legal practice. What draws you instead to this work in communications on behalf of the School of Law? I practiced for a number of years after I graduated from law school, and I truly enjoyed it, particularly litigation. I decided to take what I thought would be a brief break from practice when I was expecting my first child. I took a part-time position in the Alumni and Communications Office at the law school and remained active in the legal community, which led to a new career trajectory. I had worked in public relations prior to law school, so the opportunity to direct my PR experience to law and legal education was an ideal blend of my interests. And I have always loved the academic environment. Ultimately, I found the trifecta of careers, one that allows me the privilege of sharing the great work of my alma mater and its graduates while at the same time helping others achieve their dream of obtaining a law degree. It doesn’t get much better than that.
COVID changed everyone’s professional life. Have there been opportunities as well as challenges that have arisen for you in this time of pandemic and UB’s response to it? In any time of crisis or challenge, timely and thorough communication is critical. That’s very difficult when you are dealing with a lot of uncertainty. The university’s communications team provided guidance, and I knew I always had their support. That’s one of the benefits of being a part of a large and comprehensive university.
The past year has also given us the opportunity to experiment with new ways of communicating and hosting events. We’ve all experienced Zoom fatigue, but we have learned that we can reach out to broader audiences and be more inclusive by offering alternative formats. We’ve seen increased engagement and higher attendance at many events as a result. While we can never replace the appeal of a live event, we’ll keep exploring opportunities for virtual engagement.
You’ve been vice dean for communications since 2017. What have been your most satisfying accomplishments or experiences in this major new role? I am deeply grateful to Professor James Gardner, who, as interim dean in 2017, gave me this opportunity. I was fortunate to be appointed shortly before Dean Aviva Abramovsky was named our 19th permanent dean and the first woman to hold the position. It’s been an honor to play a role in introducing her to the community and supporting her vision for our law school.
I’m also very proud of the work my team has done to develop a strategic communications plan for the law school and the processes we have put in place to help guide and support communication efforts by all members of our law school community. As an institution, it’s important that we clearly and cohesively communicate our goals and accomplishments to the broader community so that everyone can be as proud as we are to be the State of New York’s law school.
And, of course, playing my part in bringing the Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsburg to campus is a career highlight, especially in light of her passing just one year later. It was an extraordinary experience to host a true icon who embodied what our profession and our law school are all about – serving justice.
How do you see the School of Law’s place in the legal community of Western New York and beyond, and how does your work affect that presence? The law school is an integral part of the Western New York legal community. UB School of Law has educated the majority of attorneys in the area. Many of our alumni stay connected after they graduate by teaching at the law school, mentoring our students, supervising student attorneys, supporting scholarships and summer fellowships, and so much more. And our students and faculty are doing incredible work in partnership with the legal community through our clinics, our fellowships, and our Pro Bono Scholars program.
It’s my job to promote that synergy, raise awareness of the law school’s benefits to our community, and bring attention to the many ways our alumni and friends work with us and give back. By highlighting that work, I can help those partnerships continue to flourish, not just locally but with the many alumni and friends we collaborate with across the country and around the globe. Ultimately, that advances our reputation as a premier law school focused on serving its community and having an impact.