Innovative Criminal Law Scholar Rachel Harmon Honored with All-University Teaching Award

Rachel Harmon, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, was named the recipient of one of this year’s all-university teaching awards, marking the seventh time in the past 10 years that a School faculty member was honored for her passion and skill in the classroom.

When Harmon began teaching her class about police law in 2011, she told her students not to think of it as a hands-on course, but rather as a critical perspective on the laws and policies that regulate the activity and police conduct. But as she and her students immersed themselves in the cases, history and commentary that later became her seminal casebook of the same name in 2021, the students had other ideas.

“Students immediately started pushing back and saying, ‘No, we’re going to use it in the real world! ‘” Harmon said. “So I’m not just trying to teach them doctrine, I’m trying to give them tools to help them change the world.”

These students entered a world where the social cost of policing is both a salient and pressing issue. Some of its graduates, like Andrew Manns ’17, answered the call for change by becoming prosecutors and civil rights lawyers. Others have joined law schools and are now teaching police law themselves. Many others apply their criminal justice learning to pro bono or legislative work.

Harmon, a former federal prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and director of the school’s Criminal Justice Center, is law professor Harrison Robertson. She joined UVA Law School in 2006.

She is a Fellow of the American Law Institute and is an Associate Reporter for ALI’s Principles of Police Law Project. She regularly advises associative and governmental actors on law enforcement and legal issues.

In addition to teaching police law, Harmon teaches a battery of more conventional criminal justice courses, including criminal law, criminal procedure, and courses examining the Supreme Court’s approach to criminal jurisprudence.

Harmon’s courses are in high demand in law school, and students enter classes with a wide range of political perspectives and life experiences.

As Dean Risa Goluboff noted in her appointment letter, “These are difficult and controversial topics. The cases are pulled from the headlines and involve deeply disturbing facts about violence, racism and discrimination.

Harmon handles these challenges with singular skill, Goluboff said, and called Harmon’s ability to create space for a free and respectful exchange of ideas on such contentious issues “miraculous”.

Sophomore Juhi Desai described it this way: “Prof. Harmon teaches in a way that says, “Here is all the information and experience I have. What information and experiences do you have? Is there a way to use our combined knowledge to make the world fairer? »

Good lawyers can often read faces, and Harmon uses this skill to create a sense of inclusion in his class. More than one student said Harmon sometimes called people based on their face rather than a raised hand. “She knew I knew the answer and told me she wanted me to feel like I could take up space in her class,” wrote Catherine Guerrier ’21, a first-generation student who is now a clerk for a federal district court in Connecticut. “What he did was reinforce to me that I belonged in the seat I was in.”

Harmon’s emotional intelligence is partly rooted in his own humble upbringing. Prior to earning degrees from MIT (Bachelor of Engineering), the London School of Economics (two graduate degrees in political philosophy), and his law degree from Yale, Harmon “grew up as a kid in subsidized school lunch, not prepared to the standards of elite educational institutions,” she wrote in a statement to the awards committee. She uses a liberal office-hours policy to cultivate a sense of camaraderie and belonging for all students.

These office hours are, in quotes, “legendary,” with law students, undergrads, and even alumni sitting on the floor and spilling out into the hallway to listen, ask about cases, and choose their brain for career, academic and even life advice. , Manns and others said.

Despite the political and structural obstacles to police reform, Harmon is resolutely optimistic, and his passion for the job is palpable and contagious. “Professor Harmon has cultivated such a loyal following of students, each of whom has been deeply touched by his teaching and mentorship, that these students are now jumping at the chance to pay a fraction of what we owe him,” wrote Manns.

The Princeton Review’s survey of law students has consistently named UVA law professors as, collectively, the best in the nation for five consecutive years.

Past UVA Law School recipients of the Teaching Award are Michael Gilbert (2019-20), George S. Geis (2018-19), Leslie Kendrick ’06 (2016-17), Toby Heytens ’00 (2015- 16), Gregory Mitchell (2013-14), Michael Collins (2012-13), Goluboff (2010-11), Jim Ryan ’92 (2009-10), Caleb Nelson (2007-08), Rip Verkerke (2006-07 ), John C. Harrison (2004-05), Barry Cushman (2002-03, Law and History), Kenneth S. Abraham (1999-2000), Anne M. Coughlin (1998-99), Paul G. Mahoney (1997 -98), Michael J. Klarman (1996-97) and Pamela S. Karlan (1995-96).