Business Schools

Laying Down the Law


In Allison Burdette's business law classes at Emory University, some good-natured fun makes cases more interesting

For a special series, BusinessWeek asked business undergrads to tell us about their favorite professors. Here is an installment:

Allison Burdette takes student involvement to a new level. In her core business law course at Emory University's Goizueta Business School, she uses her students' names to demonstrate various cases—and adds a humorous twist.

"She'll say, 'Well, Jeremy was shot,' or 'Jen had a dog and it attacked Sam.' Using students in class makes class a lot more interesting," says Jen Lyle, a former student of Burdette's.

Burdette isn't afraid of poking fun at her undergrads—only the ones who can take it—or being tough on them. Even though her students claim that her core business law course is taught like a first-year law class, she says they're exaggerating. "I love that, but first-year law classes are not nearly as funny and fun as I am," she says. "And the teachers are not nearly as nice."

A bubbly personality, enthusiasm for class material, and extremely difficult assignments—which students actually appreciate—helped make Burdette the undergraduate-voted favorite faculty member of Goizueta, according to BusinessWeek's 2006 undergraduate student survey.

TOUGH BUT FAIR.

Burdette teaches the core introduction to business law and a more advanced course focused on the environment and its effect on legal issues, which stemmed from her interest and university involvement with an environment-focused project. After graduating from the University of Tennessee and Harvard Law School, Burdette practiced environmental law for a short time at the firm Skadden, Arps. But teaching is her true passion.

Burdette integrates the environment into her classes. For her advanced course, students create projects that involve the campus or community. Some students have tried to increase recycling efforts at Emory. Another organized a swap at the end of the semester that allowed the Salvation Army to pick up discarded or unwanted student belongings.

"What I love about these students is that they take more risks than I do," Burdette says. "They'll just go get in people's faces. I'd rather be out there changing the word but I'm not necessarily, so I send them out."

Because she enjoys her job as a professor and wants the best for the undergraduates in her classes, Burdette challenges her students academically and grades toughly but fairly. She even had to start giving exams at night because so many students took four hours, instead of the typical one-and-a-half or two hours. "I just slam them," she says. "I'm always a little shocked. I think, 'Oh my God. I just gave a really long test, and they're going to hate me.' But they recognize that it's fair because it's accomplishing something, so they're cool with it."

GETTING STUDENTS TALKING.

Despite the difficult exams, Burdette doesn't have a problem keeping her students interested in class material. "You feel almost like you're having an ongoing dialogue instead of someone talking to you," says former student Stephanie Flax, who graduated in 2006. "I can be in a room for hours and not think about looking at my watch, which is unusual."

Burdette says her classroom style makes it easier to teach. "If I just stand up there and they say nothing, it is so hard to teach, which is like the first week of classes. I'm dying then," she says. "Once they start getting engaged, it becomes easier and more fun."

Teaching is so enjoyable for the professor that she actually starts missing her job by the end of the summer. But at the beginning of the fall, even though she's done it before, she still gets nervous. "Once it starts, I'm cool," she says. Burdette's students would certainly agree.

Gordon is a reporter for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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