2017 Top 40 Undergraduate Professors: Jamie Prenkert, Indiana University (Kelley)

Jamie Prenkert

Charles M. Hewitt Professor of Business Law and Associate Vice Provost for Faculty and Academic Affairs

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business 

From a practicing attorney to a business school department chair to his current dual role as both a professor of business law and an associate vice-provost, Professor Jamie Prenkert has had a unique journey to get to where he is today. Nevertheless, his impact on Indiana Kelley students and throughout academia is evident.

His research focuses on workplace civil rights laws and business and human rights. He is the author of numerous articles and book chapters dealing with federal employment discrimination statutes, as well as businesses’ responsibility to respect stakeholders’ human rights. It is this focus on ethics and social responsibility that seems to be the differentiating factor for students who are taught by Prenkert. Students reflect mostly on how he’s taught the importance of acting ethically in every stage of business and their careers and inspired them to think holistically about the impact of their actions.

In academia, Professor Prenkert would be considered a trifecta, making significant contributions as a teacher, scholar, and academic community member. His work has been cited by state and federal courts, as well as in briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, and his research has been selected for school- and discipline-wide awards. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of the American Business Law Journal and past recipient of the Kelley School’s Innovative Teaching Award, Trustees’ Teaching Award, and Sauvain Undergraduate Teaching Award. In addition to his co-authorship of a leading business law textbook, his most impactful innovation the classroom has been his design and teaching of short-term study abroad experiences with undergraduates in South Africa, India, and Ghana.

Age: 44

At current institution since: 2002

Education: J.D., Harvard Law School, 1998

List of courses currently teaching: Global Business Immersion: Business and Human Rights in Africa; Employment Problems and the Law; Work Life Law (in IU’s Liberal Arts and Management Program); Critical Thinking and Practical Wisdom; Decision Making and Leadership

Fun fact about yourself: When I was growing up, my mom owned a small business: a sewing and quilting store. So, I learned how to sew. I used to make some of my own clothes when I was younger.  I can still stitch a mean hem and repair my own missing buttons.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I was walking to my car after my day-long interview at Kelley.  I am a legal academic.  So, while I knew I wanted to move from law practice to an academic job, I didn’t initially have a business school position on my radar.  However, when I saw the job announcement for an assistant professor of business law at Kelley, did my homework and met the faculty, staff, administrators, and students, I was completely sold.  In particular, the opportunity to work with undergrads, along with graduate professional students (as opposed to what a law school faculty job would entail, for instance) was a huge draw. When I got home, I told my wife, “I definitely want to be at a business school, and I sure hope it’s at Kelley.”

“If I weren’t a business school professor…” I fear that I would be an unhappy litigator, but I hope that I would instead be working on something that feeds my intellectual curiosity and that gives me similar opportunities to invest in the futures of smart, ambitious people.  Perhaps working in a youth-focused nonprofit.  Or I’d write a blockbuster screenplay.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…” Exhila-timidating (Okay, I know that’s not a word, but really it was this potent mix of exhilaration and intimidation.  I loved every second of it and, at the same time, worried that I wasn’t going to meet the incredibly high standards of my business law colleagues at Kelley, who to a person were multiple award-winning teachers.)

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? They have an energy and enthusiasm that inspires me.  And when I get to tap into that while broadening their horizons through challenging new ideas or international travel and study, that’s hard to beat.

What is the biggest challenge that comes with teaching undergraduate business students? I am often challenged by balancing their desire to have immediately practical, skills-based instruction—which is, without a doubt, very important—with the need to ensure they’re getting from me, in my classes, the aspects of a liberal education upon which an undergraduate experience should be based.  I should note that, if you’d given me the opportunity to list the two or three things I enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students in the previous question, this “challenge” would have been on that list of things I enjoy most, too.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? My faculty colleague, Professor Scott Shackelford, was a student in the very first class I ever taught.  He is a world-class scholar of cybersecurity law and policy, an excellent teacher, and a fantastic colleague.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? I’ve had students who have the ability to excel but who have made the choice, for whatever reason, to disengage and underperform, despite my efforts to reach out and offer support. I hate to see potential squandered.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? Read. Come to class. Engage fully and take ownership for their own learning. Ask questions. Answer the questions they’re being asked.

“When it comes to grading, I think students would describe me as …” Tough

“But I would describe myself as …” Exacting and thorough.

What are your hobbies? Watching my sons in their sports and performing arts activities, playing tennis, listening to podcasts, kayaking, watching IU basketball and football.

How did you spend your summer? I kicked off my summer by taking a trip with my students to Johannesburg to study business and human rights in the South African context. Following that, I completed the revisions of a new edition of a textbook I co-author with several of my faculty colleagues. My campus administrative position is a year-round position. So, I continued working with faculty and administrators from all over the IU-Bloomington campus on issues of faculty development, advancement, orientation, and governance.  Finally, my wife, who had been a principal at a public elementary school, got a new job early in the summer in the central administration of the local public school system. That happened with short enough notice that we couldn’t quickly adjust our childcare arrangements.  Thus, I also spent a lot of time chauffeuring my teenaged son to all of his various activities and spending time with my preteen son, particularly poolside while he spent hours swimming (his favorite summer pastime).

That’s a long answer.  It may be that I’m compensating for the fact that the summer blew past me so fast I feel like I sort of missed it.

Favorite place to vacation: I love most to go places I’ve never been before. Recent favorites include Iceland and Ireland.  Every year we spend a portion of Thanksgiving week on Anna Maria Island in Florida. I’ll never complain about enjoying Thanksgiving dinner on the beach.

Favorite book: Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman; but I recently finished and tremendously appreciated Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay.  It’s intensely honest, filled with incisive cultural critique, and forced me to do some deep reflection.

Favorite movie and/or television show: Movie = Good Will Hunting; TV Show (currently airing) = One Mississippi on Amazon; TV Show (all-time) = Friday Night Lights and early seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (seriously)

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: I enjoy a wide variety of music . . . mostly in the background though. My favorite singer is my son, Calvin.

Bucket list item #1: Travel to 100+ countries and every continent

What professional achievement are you most proud of? I spent two years as the chair of my department in Kelley, and during that time, we hired a series of superstar faculty who are great teachers and fantastic scholars. They are now having a substantial positive impact on our discipline, students, school, and campus.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? In May of this year, during the short-term study abroad experience I led in South Africa, my students hijacked the debrief session one evening and each, in turn, told me what they appreciated about the class, the trip, and me. Then, they gave me a journal in which they had each written a note to me.  I am not a particularly emotional person, but it got me more than a little sentimental.  I can’t imagine a more gratifying experience for a teacher than to hear directly from one’s students their appreciation. I will carry that half hour with me for the rest of my life.

Professor you most admire and why: Kelley’s Associate Dean for Academics and Professor of Business Law, Arlen Langvardt.  He has been a mentor to me, but more than that, he is the consummate example of professional excellence across the board in teaching, research, and service. In particular, as I have devoted a larger portion of my time in recent years to administrative duties, in addition to teaching and research, I’m inspired by how Arlen has been able to maintain an active stream of research and publishing, as well as winning teaching awards, while serving in various administrative roles.

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it? My research focuses on the law of employment discrimination and retaliation. My coauthors and I have analyzed how the retaliation doctrine under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act fails to reflect what social and cognitive psychology research tell us about how whistle blowers behave.

Twitter handle: I’m currently on a social media sabbatical

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Cross-disciplinary collaboration; conscious and explicit focus on critical thinking throughout the curriculum

“And much less of this…” Siloed existence from the rest of the university.

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would like for you: I define success largely by my impact on other people and my legacy.  If over the next ten years I can support and inspire people (colleagues, students, my children) to come closer to realizing their happiest, most productive, and best selves, then I’d be more than happy with my efforts in the coming decade. Lauren Robel, the Provost at IU-Bloomington, once told me that her primary goal is to inspire hope in those around her.  That really speaks to me.

Students say… 

“While traveling to South Africa to learn about human rights and corporate social responsibility, Professor Prenkert taught me the importance of acting ethically in every stage of my future career. He enabled me to think holistically about the impact of my actions, and laid the ground for a class of future business leaders that deliberately approach situations with the best interests of society at heart.” 

“Professor Prenkert is a fantastic professor and mentor. Through both his formal lectures and informal advice, he influenced my view of the responsibility a business professional possesses to positively affect our broader society more than any other professor I’ve had thus far.” 

“Professor Prenkert is, without a doubt, the most inspirational teacher I have yet encountered. He truly cares about his subject matter, his research, and his students. He has made a great impact in my life without knowing it.”