She is one of the great mentors of Tulane Law, a professor hailed by students year after year, in course after course, for having an impact on their law school career, and by extension, their life.
For being that “once-in-a-lifetime” educator, Prof. Amy Gajda, Tulane Law’s resident privacy and media law expert, was awarded the President’s Award for Excellence in Professional and Graduate Teaching for 2020. The award is Tulane University’s highest honor for graduate teaching. She is donating the money the award brings to a diversity scholarship at Tulane Law.
Nominated by an anonymous graduating law student, letters supporting Gajda were tear-worthy.
One student wrote: “She is a role model for all those who meet her. She is selfless. She is the reason why I love the law, because seeing the law through her eyes and through her teaching makes it fun, colorful, and meaningful. She makes me feel like I can make a difference. And I want to, because of her.”
Gajda grew up just outside Detroit and was a first-generation college student. She credits her high school English teacher, Richard Popov, with inspiring her to attend the University of Michigan and to think of her future as limitless. It’s in his name that she donated the $5,000 that comes with the award to the Waldrup-Crosby Endowed Scholarship at Tulane Law School, one that benefits diverse first-generation law students.
After graduating from college, Gajda worked as a journalist for several years before attending law school. Before joining the Tulane faculty, she practiced law in Washington, D.C., and then shifted to academia, holding a joint appointment in the law school and the journalism school at the University of Illinois.
She arrived at Tulane in 2010 as an Associate Professor, and became a full Professor five years later. At the time, her colleagues on the committee making the decision to grant her full professorship recognized her as “one of the most effective teachers at the law school.” In 2016, she was named the Class of 1937 Professor of Law, a title that honors both her scholarly work and her teaching.
Gajda has taught a number of courses at Tulane that cross the spectrum between media and the law, and graduate and undergraduate levels: Torts, Media Law, and Information Privacy at the law school; and Media Law and Introduction to Law and Legal Process at the undergraduate level.
“The law school is fortunate to have many gifted teachers, yet Professor Gajda stands out as one whose commitment to connecting with her students extends far beyond the classroom,” wrote law Vice Dean for Academic Affairs Onnig Dombalagian in supporting Gajda’s nomination for the President’s Award. “Her empathy and selfless dedication of time and energy is particularly remarkable in light of her commitment to high-profile scholarship and academic service.”
In addition to publishing numerous law review articles and book chapters, Gajda is in the process of working on her third book about the increasing clashes between privacy in the U.S. and press freedoms. “The Secret History of the Right to Privacy,” is under contract with Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Her earlier books were published by Harvard University Press. She has also co-authored two casebooks.
In 2018, Gajda was responsible for bringing to Tulane a major privacy conference titled, “Privacy, News, and the Future of Freedom of the Press.” It brought leading national journalists, publishers, legal scholars, judges, and privacy and free press advocates to the law school for a vital, cross-disciplinary discussion of the threats to press freedoms and what might be done to safeguard those freedoms.
But it is her dynamic classroom demeanor, and contagious excitement about the law that attracts students to her classes. In answering the questions from the award’s selection committee, Gajda wrote about her educational philosophy:
“You’ve asked me to tell you about how I work to change the lives of students. I do my best to do this because I feel that I was helped along by teachers who saw real potential in me and whose vision for me was bigger than the one I had for myself. I try, in effect, to pay it forward, doing my best to help students see in themselves the talents that they have and the future that they have, even when others don’t have those same visions or even when they don’t yet see it in themselves.”
Morgan Jackson (L’16) is a former student of Gajda’s who considers her a lifelong mentor. Jackson currently works as the law school’s Student Life & Diversity Initiatives Coordinator.
“Every successful person had someone in their corner who believed in their potential, gave them an opportunity, or just listened. No one makes it alone. At Tulane Law School, that person for me manifested as my Torts Professor, Amy Gajda. Knowing she was rooting for me gave me the confidence to root for myself. I returned to Tulane Law School to be that person for another student who may need it.”
Gajda joins many other law professors, including Profs. Sally Richardson, Janet "Jancy" Hoeffel, Martin Davies, Keith Werhan and Gabe Feldman to have received the award.