Donna Morris graduated from Yale University School of Law in 1979 with her J.D. Her focus is on alternative forms of dispute resolution, restorative justice, and conflict management. We sat down with Donna Morris and learned what she is doing inside and outside of the classroom.
Working with the students and the friendly and supportive atmosphere among my colleagues and support staff are what I most enjoy about teaching here at UNH.
There are real challenges to teach in a way that engages the students in the process of learning and fosters their ability to think critically about the information that is available at their finger tips on the Internet. The Internet is a wonderful resource, but only if students learn to separate the garbage from substance; although anyone can put anything on the Web that does not mean it is correct or makes any sense. Another challenge in education also relates to students’ immersion in media that decreases opportunities for concentrated thought. This seems to be a particular problem if students are pursuing legal studies because of the need to critically analyze information and apply it to factual situations. This is a process that requires sustained and critical thinking, which cannot take place if one is constantly being interrupted. Recent research findings show that so-called multi-tasking does not work when one is trying to engage in higher level activities and that over time constant distractions actually decrease one’s ability to engage in reasoning, even when those distractions are removed.
The need to be knowledgeable about what the instructor is teaching is of course important. But it is equally important to present that knowledge in an engaging manner and to be accessible to students. An instructor needs to be willing to challenge students who need extra challenge and to provide extra help to others who might be having difficulty. Finally, an instructor needs to be excited about what he or she is teaching to pass that excitement on to the students.
It is an extremely broad question, especially applied to law. Law has been called the great generalist education, since law applies to so many other areas of inquiry. Any legal studies faculty member would have a different answer as it applies to the faculty member’s area of expertise and interest. For me, personally, the question would apply currently to research on the application of restorative justice as a different model of responding to crime. Restorative justice looks at who has been harmed by a crime, what are the harms, what is needed to repair the harms, and who is responsible for repairing the harms. Another new area of research involves developing law regarding the tension between protecting security and preserving civil liberties, which is the topic explored in the counter-terrorism and the law course I teach. Actually, I think it has been set up as a false dichotomy and that the question should be how we can best preserve both liberty and security.
I serve on a number of committees in the University and the outside community, including: Faculty Adviser to the Legal Society, Coach of the Mock Trial Team, Director, UNH Center for Dispute Resolution, Member of the UNH Faculty Affairs Committee, Vice-Chair, ADR Section of the Connecticut Bar Association, Mediator and Conflict Management Trainer, Member of the Board of Directors for Community Mediation, Inc. in New Haven, Editor of Dialogue, the newsletter of the Restorative and Community Justice Section of the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and a Member of the CT Bar Association Paralegal Committee.
Based on feedback from student internship site supervisors, the legal studies program advisory board, and outside evaluators, we have an excellent reputation.
I expect my students to come to class prepared and to be engaged in the analysis and discussion of material, including how the concepts we are studying apply in different situations.
Yes, I have graduate students and two undergraduate students assisting me in my research. An undergraduate student also recently completed an independent study researching restorative justice practices in Connecticut.
My recommendation is to become involved - in their education, in service, and in one or two interests/activities. College can be some of the best years of their lives if students commit to the kind of intellectual exploration that expands their thinking and enables them to find what they are most passionate about. Service benefits students as much as, if not more than, the benefits provided to others. Getting involved in Campus Life (but not overdoing it) also enriches their lives and just makes everything more fun.
I try to stimulate a lot of interaction in the classroom in addition to summarizing key information and providing examples. When I lecture, I frequently pose questions to the class to generate dialogue. Using problem scenarios, topical issues, and discussion questions based on the particular topics we are studying, students often work in small groups to analyze the issues and generate answers. The answers generated by the small groups are then shared with the entire class. We also have class discussions on key points and to analyze how the law applies in particular situations. I also encourage students to explore other opportunities outside the classroom.
I use Blackboard, PowerPoint, a document camera, the Internet to access documentary materials, websites and online videos, and video players for films and short videos.
I see how I teach as being an integrated process. Students initially need to obtain a basic understanding of the concepts in order to apply those concepts in certain situations. By applying the concepts, students develop greater understanding. It becomes cyclical because the learning/application process builds upon itself.
My field of interest involves conflict management, particularly mediation in civil matters and restorative justice processes both in the USA and in other countries. I am also interested in Rule of Law issues; that is, the principle that societies should be governed by agreed upon laws which are fair, promote liberty and human rights, and are applied to both citizens and government, so that no one is above the law.
That would be a rather lengthy answer, so I will mention some highlights and try to summarize. Workshops or seminars I have attended include a multi-day training as an experiential educator, several workshops for advanced mediation and facilitation training, and numerous workshops and presentations at conferences on legal education and on legal, conflict management, and restorative justice issues. I attend two to three professional conferences per year including making presentations at those conferences. I have also presented workshops at Connecticut Bar Association meetings. Summer research grants enabled me to travel to Papua New Guinea (north of Australia) to study their Village Courts in 2008 and in 2010.
We have an outstanding interdisciplinary course of study which provides not only a broad knowledge base but, more importantly, develops critical thinking and oral and written communication skills. The legal studies program prepares students either to work in law related areas upon graduation or to go on to law school or other graduate school program. Our faculty is outstanding and exemplifies the combination of theory and practice that we present in the classroom; they all have outstanding academic backgrounds, as well as extensive legal experience, and are here because they enjoy teaching students.
I would like to take some of the language courses, particularly those combined with study abroad trips, so that I could learn additional languages and also learn as much as possible about different cultures.
I am currently evaluating juvenile offender/victim mediation programs in a number of juvenile courts in CT. We are looking at attitudes of victims, offenders, and parents and at re-offending rates for juveniles who participate in mediation as compared to juveniles who use traditional court processes. I am also studying restorative justice practices in other countries.
Depending on students’ interests and career goals, they can choose to concentrate in public affairs, dispute resolution, or paralegal studies. One particularly exciting option for legal studies majors is the International Track, which allows students to study law for a semester at partnered universities in England, Scotland, Ireland, or Australia. Not only does this provide a wonderful opportunity for students to experience a different culture, but it also significantly enhances students’ graduate school and/or career opportunities.