2013 United Methodist Church University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award

Beth Thornburg
The Division of Higher Education and the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church recognize that universities owe their strength and vitality to the inextricable link of teaching and research. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church established the University Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award for the purpose of recognizing outstanding faculty members for their dedication and contributions to the learning arts and to the institution.

Beth Thornburg is the recipient of the United Methodist Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award for 2013. She is an often-cited scholar and an award-winning teacher. She was a summa cum laude graduate of the College of William and Mary where she was Phi Beta Kappa and received her J.D. from the Dedman School of Law where she was Order of the Coif, a member of Barristers, and on the staff of the Journal of Air Law and Commerce. Thornburg joined the law faculty in 1989 after serving as Director of Legal Research and Writing for a number of years. At SMU she has served as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and currently serves as Director of the Center for Teaching Excellence.

Thornburg is an accomplished professor in the SMU Dedman School of Law who cares deeply about her students’ learning and about their competence and character as future practicing lawyers. She is a past winner of the law school’s Dr. Don M. Smart Teaching Award and consistently receives excellent teaching evaluations. Long an advocate of active teaching techniques, she uses technology to encourage greater student engagement and also creates innovative simulation assignments. Last year she introduced the “flipped classroom” to the law school environment, using short videos outside of class to allow more in-class time for problem-based learning.

In her role as Director of SMU’s Center for Teaching Excellence she has worked to support and encourage quality teaching across the university. She has launched a series of workshops for new faculty members, introduced interdisciplinary “faculty learning communities,” created programs and resources for department chairs, started a CTE blog on higher education topics, and put together a Teaching Resources website with an enormous array of information. At the law school, she organized a pilot project of school-specific teaching training in which members of the faculty share knowledge and teaching practices at monthly brown-bag lunches. Finally, she led a task force that surveyed the landscape of online education to help the university make informed choices about the best ways to take advantage of new opportunities without sacrificing SMU’s identity as a residential university that emphasizes the importance of face-to-face interactions.

As a scholar, she is well-known in her field, both nationally and internationally, and she is one of the most cited scholars on the law school faculty. Her articles are often reprinted in legal anthologies and teaching materials – both for their practical implications and for their big-picture policy considerations. She promotes the reputation of SMU by presenting her research at other law schools both in the United States and abroad. Her book, Lawtalk: The Unknown Stories Behind Familiar Legal Expressions, published by Yale University Press, has garnered excellent reviews for its combination of readability and scholarly research.

Our hearty congratulations to Elizabeth Thornburg, Professor of Law, outstanding teacher, scholar, and university citizen, and this year’s recipient of the United Methodist Church Scholar/Teacher of the Year Award.