May 27, 2008
Scholar/Teacher Award among Freer’s honors
BY Leslie king
It has been “a great year” for oft-honored professor Richard D. Freer, who added more awards to his stack during Commencement.
The Robert Howell Hall Professor of Law was chosen to receive the University Scholar/Teacher Award by Emory faculty on behalf of the United Methodist Church Board of Higher Education and Ministry, only the second law faculty member to receive this honor.
Freer gave the Commencement speech at the law school’s diploma ceremony, chosen as Most Outstanding Professor for the seventh time by the law students.
Freer has been selected as Professor of the Year twice by the Black Law Students Association; and received the Emory Williams Award for Distinguished Teaching.
“What strikes me about this group of graduates is they are my children’s age,” he says. So Freer constructed his remarks like that of parent, exhorting the departing students “not to let the profession scare you or consume you.”
Freer, who joined Emory in 1983, has been described as a charismatic teacher with high standards and an extraordinary knowledge of civil procedure.
For the “charismatic” part, Freer says, “I think the classroom should be tense but fun. I think we do better work when we’re nervous.”
On the other side of the edge is a caring teacher. Freer says students sometimes come to his office and beg him not to call on them in class, saying they would be too nervous and wouldn’t say the right thing.
“I tell them to choose a day within say, the next week, and a case and I’ll call on them that day about that case,” he says. That way, they are prepared and no one need ever know about the advance planning. “It helps build confidence.”
The key to Freer’s success in front of the classroom came from his dad, a high school tennis coach. Having moved across the country to a new city, a new house with a new baby and as a first-time teacher, his dad told him: “You are the quarterback.” That meant, Freer says, “I had to run that class; the students have to know who is boss.”
“[Teachers] have always fought distractions,” says the self-described kinetic classroom roamer. “I believe the professor has to dominate the room. If I’m not the most important and exciting thing in the classroom — if I’m not the best game in town — I’m gonna quit.”