This Tuesday Tip was written in collaboration with Legal Studies professors Mahalley Allen and Maitreya Badami.
Before Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union litigating cases advancing gender equality, before she was a federal appellate court judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and before she became the second woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court, she was a professor, first at Rutgers Law School and then at Columbia Law School.
During her early career as a law professor, Ginsburg’s students asked her to teach a seminar on women and the law. Preparing to teach that class and finding there was little in the law about women’s place in the world set Ginsburg on a path to becoming a legal and feminist icon who changed the law in this country, not only for women, but for everyone.
In Our Revolutionary Spirit, a short film celebrating Rutgers’ 250th anniversary, Ginsburg reflected that her students “sparked my interest and aided in charting the course I then pursued. Less than three years after starting the seminar, I was arguing gender discrimination cases before the Supreme Court.” In turn, Ginsburg inspired her students, working tirelessly with them as the first Rutgers Law School faculty advisor for the Women’s Rights Law Reporter, now the country’s oldest law journal focusing on women’s rights. While a professor at Columbia Law School, she invited her students to help prepare legal cases she was litigating on behalf of the ACLU. Since her passing on September 18th, many of her former students have released moving tributes about her influence on their lives.
Professor Ginsburg’s career, and the relationship she had with her students, is a powerful reminder of the importance of both inspiring students through experiential learning and letting students inspire us in return. Some of the very practices she applied in her classes are what we now define as high-impact educational practices. Our profession is one that feeds off this formidable exchange of ideas, experiences, and connections. While her career as a professor might not be what she will mostly be remembered by, we want to pay tribute to her today through the meaningful opportunities she created for her students and the endless impact of her teachings.