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Prof. Hoeffel wins Tulane President’s Award for teaching excellence

May 19, 2017 6:44 AM

Professor Jancy Hoeffel endears herself to students inside and outside the classroom: from the way she encourages discussion about tough topics like constitutional protections against police abuses to her generosity with writing advice even for students who haven’t yet taken her classes.

Current and former students praise her: she’s cool and relatable, confident and smart, witty and kind, with encyclopedic knowledge of the Fourth Amendment. For a great cause, she’ll even dress in gold lamé and blue bouffant hair adorned with glittery celestial decorations — as she did in April to raise funds supporting students’ public interest summer jobs.

Hoeffel, the Catherine D. Pierson Professor of Law, now has another accolade: she’s received Tulane University’s highest teaching honor, the President’s Award for Excellence in Professional and Graduate Teaching.

“If it were up to me, she would win every award,” Rebecca Hutchinson (JD/MSW ’17) wrote in recommending Hoeffel for the award.

The university-wide honor goes to a faculty member with a compelling record of excellence in teaching, learning and research and an ongoing commitment to educational excellence. The winner receives a medallion designed by late Professor Emeritus Franklin Adams and a $5,000 award.

Hutchinson said Hoeffel supports student learning not just by knowing her field but by being open to new information and ideas herself.

“She keeps students invested, not by putting them on the spot, but by engaging in a conversation with them,” Hutchinson said. “She’s always interested in a student’s thoughts and feelings and uses them as opportunities for clarification or deeper learning.”

Capt. Robert Waldrup (L ’16), a member of the U.S. Air Force JAG Corps, called Hoeffel “a giant in the classroom” who “genuinely loves her students.”

“I owe my success in law school, my passion for criminal law and my readiness for the practice of law to her unparalleled ability as an educator,” he said.

Her rapport with students proved especially important in 2015, when her class was the first one for many students after they lost two classmates in a murder-suicide.

“Difficult as it was to teach or attend class first thing the following morning, Professor Hoeffel prefaced her lecture with a teary ‘I love you all’,” Waldrup said. “I’m sure she needed us as much as we needed her that day, but for 80 minutes, she bore that burden of loss for us all.”

Hoeffel, a graduate of Princeton University and Stanford Law School, spent six years as a public defender and joined the Tulane Law School faculty in 1999. She specializes in criminal law and procedure, the death penalty and evidence.

She got a taste of criminal law before attending law school while working as a felony investigator in Washington, D.C. “I decided this was what I wanted to do, to represent the underrepresented and put the government and all its resources to the test,” she said.

Later, she decided to teach to follow in the footsteps of a beloved law school mentor.

Her classes on criminal law and procedure resonate with students because they involve current, if often volatile, issues: race and class, police-citizen encounters, mass incarceration, capital punishment, the Supreme Court’s erosion of constitutional rights. Her scholarship focuses on similar areas: prosecutors withholding evidence, problems facing indigent defendants, the effectiveness of Miranda warnings and the down sides of electing prosecutors and sheriffs.  

Hoeffel won the law school’s most prestigious teaching honor, the Felix Frankfurter Award for Distinguished Teaching, in 2005. And during a term as vice dean from 2009-2012, she created Tulane Law’s Intersession, boot camp, a week of intensive skills training taught by alumni and other top-level practitioners that many students call one of their best law school experiences.

Her influence is felt throughout the law school.

“I like to mentor students,” Hoeffel said. “It’s a huge part of teaching.”

She tries to help students identify their motivation for going into law. She offers advice about where to seek internships, externships, post-graduation jobs and fellowships. And she works her networks for students.

She hopes, ultimately, to “inspire students to find a career that moves them and follow it regardless of pressures that might come from the outside,” she said.

“A lot of students come to law school with an idealistic vision of what they want to do, and I don’t want them to lose that vision.”

And she’s effective: “As a young female entering the tough world of criminal law, [I find] she is an inspiration that shows me that you can thrive doing the work that you love, while remaining true to your own style and values,” wrote Yen Mai (L ’17), who is set to work with the Miami Dade County Public Defender Office after graduation.