Professor Tracey Maclin brings as much enthusiasm to the classroom as he once did to the football field - just ask the people at Boston University who gave the former college player the Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1995. Yet he never imagined himself a professor during his student days at Columbia.
Private practice was the destination when he finished clerking for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals with Judge Boyce Martin. But an event during the clerkship wound up changing his career path permanently.
"Judge Martin had to give a speech at the University of Kentucky, and I offered to drive him so my co-clerk could stay home with his family. He gave the speech, and then we went to a cocktail hour and schmoozed with the professors for an hour. What I didn't know was that they called the judge and asked about me after we left."
Not long afterward, Prof. Maclin received an invitation to teach at the University of Kentucky Law School. He declined, saying the closest thing he'd ever done to teaching was coaching children. Despite the dean's assurances that he would do well, as well as an offer to let him teach constitutional law and criminal procedure, he turned the school down, desiring a return to the East Coast.
A year later, living in Manhattan and working at a law firm, he was in the midst of preparing a brief at four in the morning and reconsidered the teaching offer. Calling the next day, he asked if Kentucky was still interested. It was. Two years later, Boston University Law School recruited him.
His love of the classroom process is equally matched by his love of the freedom of an academic life and publishing. His articles, which focus primarily on the Fourth Amendment, have appeared both in academic journals such as the Cornell Law Review and the Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, and in general media publications such as the Los Angeles Times and Newsday.
"I set my own hours. I get to read and write and talk about what I'm interested in," he says. "The teaching award comes from being passionate in the classroom. I take it seriously, and I expect my students to as well. But when I started I had no idea what to do. There's no Jane Fonda video for law professors."
Rather, the role models he had at Columbia would provide the instruction he needed.
"My training came from Professors Harvey Goldschmid '65 and Stephen Lefkowitz. I thought about the people I respected the most and tried to emulate them."
Prof. Maclin is frequently called upon as a lecturer and has served as counsel of record for the ACLU in a number of Supreme Court cases. Rather than lure him away from teaching, he believes these extracurriculars only enhance it.
"That work gives me insight and involvement you just can't get from reading. Devising strategy, working with other lawyers, figuring out the best way to get five votes - often these are arguments that professors don't have to worry about," he states.
Yet, it all comes back to the classroom, sometimes in surprising ways.
"I was working on a case involving search and seizure in public schools. One of my students was older and fairly conservative, and she had her daughter with her that day," he recalls. "I asked her if she felt the law was fair and was surprised when she said no. So I asked her daughter, ‘Why couldn't I search your bag?' She looked up at me and said, ‘Because you don't have reasonable suspicion.' Which of course, the class loved. So I asked her how she knew about that and she said, ‘From listening to you for 45 minutes!'"