Class of 2019 Awards Zohar Goshen the Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching

The two-time honoree says nothing is more rewarding than seeing a student’s “Aha!” moment.

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With his congenial classroom style and a gift for simplification, Professor Zohar Goshen has won the annual Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Goshen, the Jerome L. Greene Professor of Transactional Law and director of the Law School’s Center for Israeli Legal Studies, was recognized by students for his ability not only to make corporate law accessible, but for his willingness to mentor students by seeking to engage them and draw out their ideas in supportive and productive ways. The prize is awarded annually by Columbia Law’s graduating class.

“I’m very honored,” Goshen says. “I love taking a complex topic and explaining it in a simple way. Nothing is more rewarding than seeing the ‘Aha!’ moment in the students’ eyes.”

As the Reese Prize winner, Goshen will address the Class of 2019 at the Law School graduation ceremony on May 20.

 

Encouraged to Think Critically

Goshen wins praise from students for asking them to develop and defend their own ideas. “This is THE class for critical thinking,” one student wrote about Goshen’s class on corporate governance. Another said he was “not afraid to respectfully challenge the students.” Goshen “really honored students’ viewpoint,” said a student in an advanced corporate law class. Many students describe his classes as among the best they have taken at the Law School.

Goshen’s favorite course to teach, he says, is Corporations, the foundational class for business law and one he says many students view as a “must-learn, boring” topic. “Their aversion is my challenge. I love being in a class where students encounter the logic of business and finance for the first time with excitement,” he says.

Beyond teaching the material, Goshen says he wants to impart to his students the ability to analyze, to reason, and to articulate their ideas. “I feel that this is something they can take with them for their future work and life,” he says.

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Turning to Academia

Goshen joined the Law School in 2001 and became a tenured professor in 2004. From 2008 to 2011, he took a leave of absence to serve as chairman of the Israel Securities Authority (the Israeli equivalent of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission).

Born in Israel, Goshen earned his LL.B. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and his LL.M. and S.J.D. from Yale Law School. After clerking for the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court, he had a brief career as a litigator at a law firm. “It was too confrontational,” he says. “Every day you wake up and fight. My personality is more harmonious.”

Goshen is only the third repeat winner of the teaching prize, established in 1993 in honor of Willis L.M. Reese, who taught at Columbia Law from 1948 to 1981. The Class of 2006 also bestowed the Reese Prize on Goshen.

That was more than a decade ago, but “I hope I’m like an old wine and not like an old car,” he says.

“After many years in teaching, now I want to connect with each and every student,’’ he says. “As if he or she is the only student in the room.”

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Published on March 29, 2019

Spotlight May 6, 2020

Archival black and white photo of Willis L.M. Reese sitting at a desk in front of a bookshelf.
Early Career

Star Student

Graduated first in the Yale Law School Class of 1938.

Early Career

Law clerk

Clerked for Judge Thomas W. Swan of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. 

Early Career

Intelligence Officer

Served as a captain with the U.S. Army’s Office of Strategic Services during World War II.

Columbia and Beyond

Professor

Joined the Columbia Law faculty in 1946, became a professor in 1948, and named the Charles Evans Hughes Professor of Law in 1957. He was known for his  “booming voice, his directness, the incredible agility of his mind, the esoteric nature of his hypotheticals . . . combined with a total lack of pomposity and a manifest and unqualified dedication to the law made his classes an experience that his thousands of students will always remember,” in the words of his colleague Hans Smit ’58.

Columbia and Beyond

Innovator

Played an integral role (along with Columbia Law Admissions Director Frank H. Bowles) in devising the first standardized law school admissions test. Administered in 1948, it ultimately became what we know as the LSAT.

Columbia and Beyond

Institutional Leader

Directed the Parker School of Foreign and Comparative Law from 1955 to 1980.

Local Leader

Public Official

Elected mayor of Hewlett Bay Park, New York. 

Local Leader

Champion of Underserved Communities

Served as director of the New York Legal Aid Society from 1951 to 1971 and chairman of the Community Action for Legal Services in Harlem and the Bronx from 1967 to 1970.

Global Leader

Delegate

Represented the United States nine times between 1956 and 1985 at the Hague Conference for Private International Law.

Global Leader

Scholar

Pursued his academic interests in international law and conflict of law, as chief reporter for the American Law Institute’s Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Law, which a distinguished British legal scholar, who’d taught at Harvard Law School, called “the most impressive, comprehensive and valuable work on the conflict of laws that has ever been produced in any country, in any language, at any time.”

Legacy

Legal Legend

Honored upon his retirement in the Columbia Law Review (Vol. 81, No. 5) with a “Resolution of the Faculty,” which described him as “a great character, with great character” and included essays by his colleagues. Michael I. Sovern, then-president of Columbia University, wrote of Reese’s teaching style, “Every part of him participated in the dialogue—endless arms and legs, a body that looked like an exclamation point except when it curled over the lectern to form a question mark, a voice that modulated between the shrill and the raucous. He was uproariously funny, endlessly interesting, a master teacher. Socrates would have acknowledged him a peer, but not at first sight.”