Moritz College of Law The Ohio State University
This Month @ Moritz

Professor Emeritus Al Clovis Selected as Outstanding Professor by the Class of 2007

Carla Moore
Professor Clovis had the honor of hooding the graduates from the Class of 2007

On an August day in 2005, in a Contracts class taught by Professor Al Clovis, a student was asked the definition of "assumpsit." The student did not know the answer. Professor Clovis asked if the student had a Black's Law Dictionary. The student held up a pocket-sized copy, to which the professor replied, "So you have a small dictionary . . . does that mean that you want to be a small lawyer? To be a big lawyer, you'll need this!" At which point he raised aloft his copy of the unabridged version, impressively huge at well over one thousand pages. The other students present in the lecture hall would have laughed, had they not been overcome with fear of being the next to answer Professor Clovis' questions.

When asked about setting an early tone in the classroom, Professor Clovis replies, "It's not a conscious tactic. I start my courses in a businesslike way and continue in that way. Students get used to it, and I hope most of them soon realize that there's no need to be intimidated."

Based on the acclaim and adoration received over his teaching career, the methods are very effective. "Looking back on law school, he will be the professor that epitomizes the whole experience for me," says Genevieve Reiner '07. "He was by far the most memorable professor I had, and I learned a great deal from him about grace under pressure and not taking yourself too seriously. By the end of our year of Contracts we were more confident, and able to laugh at ourselves and our mistakes--which I think in the end, was Professor Clovis' goal. True, he taught us contract law, but I think he also did a wonderful job of shaping us into law students and future lawyers."

Many others hold him in similarly high regard. Selected as outstanding professor by the graduating classes of 1974, 1982, and 1994, Professor Clovis is also the recipient of the university's Distinguished Teaching Award.

Colleen Cook '82 recalls when Professor Clovis received the award from her class, "In accepting the award, he said that the award was 'as surprising as it is undeserved.' He said that the only person who would believe everything that was said about him in the introduction was his mother."

Professor Clovis was also lauded by the Class of 1994. Bill Fischbein '94 says, "He had a way of setting up questions that was quite humorous. For example, he would say 'Let's suppose you actually graduate from law school and you are smart enough to pass the bar exam, what are you going to tell your client?' If the student's answer was wrong, his next question to the class would be 'Can someone tell So-and-So why he/she just committed malpractice?'"

Peers who know him best are quick to praise him. "Professor Clovis is a remarkable teacher for many reasons," says Isadore and Ida Topper Professor of Law David Goldberger. "First and foremost, he has complete mastery of the subject. And, when he teaches, he focuses on being sure that his students are learning. In other words, he is attuned to the progress his students are making with the material in the course on a day-by-day basis, and in a way that is remarkably sensitive. If a student is having a hard time in a course, Professor Clovis will do whatever he can to help him. Finally, he has a wonderful and endearing sense of humor."

Professor Clovis received his B.A. from Yale University, M.A. from the University of Michigan, and LL.B. from Harvard University, where he served on the Harvard Law Review. Following three years of legal practice, he joined The Ohio State University faculty in the fall of 1965, and now holds the title of professor emeritus.

He takes a moment to assess the last four decades of being a law professor at Ohio State. "Since I began teaching during the fall of 1965, the college, the country, and the world have changed in various ways. In 1965, Lyndon Johnson was president; Jim Rhodes was governor; the Vietnam War was raging -- and escalating; young men -- law students certainly included -- were concerned about the draft. The college had 550 or so students -- well over ninety per cent of them male and white. There were, as I recall, 19 full-time faculty members and 22 or so staff members. We had Saturday classes and were on the quarter system -- meaning three sets of exams a year. There were few 'extracurricular' activities for students," he remembers. "Despite all the differences, there has been a great deal of continuity in legal education. If the students of the mid-1960's were to return to today's classrooms, most of them would feel quite at home."

Over the years, it has been the interaction with students that has been the most rewarding for him. Witnessing the impact his instruction has on students is where Professor Clovis receives the most satisfaction. "I've particularly enjoyed teaching and seeing students and former students grow and develop," he says.

To offer your congratulations, please write to Professor Clovis at clovis.1@osu.edu.