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Bringing Conflict to the Classroom

SMG’s Jeffrey Beatty on teaching the fundamentals of law

Click the audio player below to hear Jeffrey Beatty talk about his teaching style.

In 18 years at Boston University — preceded by decades of private legal practice — Jeffrey Beatty has learned to think of his students not as judges, but as the jury.

“Courtroom work is always contentious, antagonistic, and relatively aggressive, so you use a style that would be very inappropriate in a classroom,” says Beatty, a School of Management associate professor of strategy and policy. “But when you’re talking to a jury, you have to be sure you’re communicating effectively. You’ve got to pay attention to your audience, to see that they are still with you and that they are understanding you. The signals may not be verbal; they may be visual clues. And that’s very, very important in the classroom.”

This style, developed through years of practice and a natural inclination for drama, earned Beatty this year’s Metcalf Cup and Prize for Excellence in Teaching, Boston University’s highest teaching honor. Established in 1973 by a gift from the late Arthur G. B. Metcalf (SED’35, Hon.’74), a former faculty member and chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees, and presented at Commencement, the Cup is a ceremonious public expression of gratitude to the teachers students regard as the defining figures of their academic careers. The Metcalf Cup and Prize comes with a prize of $10,000.

A committee of five previous winners and two undergraduates selects the winners, weighing factors such as statements of pedagogy from the nominees and observing their teaching by sitting in on their classes. The letters of recommendation from current and former students also are key, drawing readers into the classroom to experience the professors’ energy and enthusiasm.

Students say that Beatty works hard to engage them, staging scripted in-class discussions to demonstrate legal principles at work or simply staying after class to help them with their own problems or concerns. “Professor Beatty’s commitment to his students can be seen both inside and outside the classroom,” writes Michael Younis (SMG’09). “Whether he is standing on the muddy banks of the Charles cheering on … a member of the crew team or holding office hours all night to answer the seemingly endless stream of questions about the next day’s exam, Professor Beatty continues to show his love of teaching and learning.”

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu