2018 Top 50 Undergraduate Professors: T. Leigh Anenson, University of Maryland (Smith)

T. Leigh Anenson

Professor of Business Law

University of Maryland, Smith School of Business

Connecting curriculum and academic research to real-world business practices are key elements to a worthwhile classroom experience. In the case of T. Leigh Anenson, a business law professor at the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business and an internationally recognized scholar working in equity law, the real world applications are vast and diverse.

Her pioneering research explores equitable defenses that operate as safety valves in the legal system designed to correct injustice. Her equity research has also examined how the fiduciary relationship between trustees and beneficiaries could safeguard against the risk that workers in the public sector may lose their retirement savings.  

Not only has Anenson’s research been widely cited in academic articles and leading law textbooks, but court opinions and as a theoretical foundation for historic defenses in modern litigation.

She’s received numerous teaching and research awards, including the two most prestigious international awards of the Academy of Legal Studies in Business. She also earned its Early Career Achievement Award.

Her expertise is highly utilized at the Smith School of Business where she is co-founder and Associate Director of the Center for the Study of Business Ethics, Regulation, and Crime, Core Coordinator for the business law curriculum, and faculty advisor to the Business Law Society. Anenson is also an affiliate faculty member of the university’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice. Impressively, she was honored with the Smith School Distinguished Teaching Awards for the 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, 2014-2015, and 2016-2017 academic years.

Age: 51

Education: BS, cum laude, Business Administration, California State University, Long Beach; JD, magna cum laude, University of Akron School of Law; LLM, with distinction, International and Comparative Law, Georgetown University Law Center; PhD (Studies in the Law of Equity), Monash University, Australia 

At current institution since: 2007

List of courses you currently teach: Business Law I (undergraduate); Business Law for Managers (MBA)

What professional achievement are you most proud of? Probably the Early Career Achievement Award. At that time, it was awarded by my academy every other year to the professor who has most excelled in research, teaching, and service.

“I knew I wanted to be a business school professor when…” I was enjoying volunteering with students in classes and other activities (as an adjunct) more than practicing law or international business consulting.

“One word that describes my first time teaching…”  Exciting!

What are you currently researching and what is the most significant discovery you’ve made from it?  I just finished a book on the law of equity. Judging Equity: The Fusion of Unclean Hands in U.S. Law. Equity is judge-made law that operates as a second-order safety valve to combat unfair opportunism and otherwise help the law achieve its purposes.  Despite arising in a variety of commercial settings comprising unfair competition, contracts, corporate governance, and financial fraud, there has been very little attention or study of the subject that is so impactful and important.

What is your most memorable moment as a professor? When I began teaching, I still had cases in which the business litigation was ongoing.  One of those cases had been appealed to the state supreme court. I had to cancel class to argue the case.  After the oral argument, I turned around to exit the courtroom and saw several of my undergraduate students in the public seating area.  I was so surprised. The courthouse was two plus hours away from school in the state capitol and the argument occurred at nine in the morning (not exactly prime time for college students).

Since you first started teaching, how has business education changed? The class sizes are much larger.

“If I weren’t a business school professor, I would be…” Possibly I’d be in a think tank, or maybe I’d be a speech-writer, or even a stylist.

“Here’s what I wish someone would’ve told me about being a professor”: Nothing. I like surprises.

Name of the professor you most admire and why: Professor Wilson Huhn. He de-mystified a difficult and complex subject and made it accessible.

What do you enjoy most about teaching undergraduate business students? Their attitude and sense of humor. They are open-minded about learning and eager to meet challenges.

What’s the biggest challenge?  In a core class especially, larger class sizes mean a reduction in experiential learning activities as well as feeling less connected to the students.

What is the most impressive thing one of your undergraduate students has done? During the semester, one of my students found and read one of my equity articles about the law and ethics of executive pay contracts. (I discuss my research, where appropriate, during class.)  He approached me about helping with my current research agenda. He found the role of equity in checking selfish commercial behavior appealing along with its general function in maintaining the integrity of business law.

I was extremely busy and already had a graduate assistant.  Equity is also a challenging subject. I feared it would be too much for an undergraduate student who was not legally trained or that he would otherwise need direction.  Fortunately, neither fear was founded.

At that time, I was working on deriving an equitable theory of public pension governance. So I asked him to survey the fifty state pension codes for fiduciary duties, if any.  There was surprisingly little data on the subject. I then had him compare the fiduciary law of public pensions with that of private pensions under federal legislation. I additionally had him compile a table of his findings.  His analysis and work product exceeded my wildest expectations. The paper became the lead article in a top business law journal.

What is the least favorite thing one has done? A student tried to cheat during a make-up exam.

Since you’ve been teaching, how have students changed over the years? They have become more empathetic.

What does a student need to do to get an A in your class? They need to do well on exams and be thoroughly prepared and engaged in the experiential learning exercises.

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

If your teaching style/classroom experience had a theme song, what would it be? I have no idea. Maybe Jump by Van Halen. Ha.  I mean it figuratively, as in jump into the great unknown.

Using just one word, describe your favorite type of student Curious

Using just one word, describe your least favorite type of student Unengaged

“If my students can think well and exercise sound judgment, then I’ve done my job as their professor.”

Fun fact about yourself: I was a college athlete.

What are your hobbies? Reading, hiking, working out

How did you spend your summer? Editing my book and enjoying the woodland animals in my yard

Favorite place to vacation: Exploring a new city or relaxing by a mountain lake with friends

Favorite book:  On average, I read one book a week (mostly the history of people, things, and events). It’s hard to pick a favorite.

Favorite movie and/or television show: I like movies about overcoming adversity or themes involving redemption, especially if they are based on true events.  Those that involve animals or sports are my favorite, such as We Are Marshall, The Blind Side, or Secretariat. I rarely watch TV other than Say Yes to the Dress or Project Runway.

Favorite type of music and/or favorite artist: I like all kinds of music. My favorite artists tend to be singer-songwriters (i.e. Jackson Brown, Taylor Swift)

Bucket list item #1: Marriage (but maybe I should start with dating)

What’s the biggest challenge facing business education at the moment?  Like other colleges, business schools are encountering decreased government (and other) funding while also confronting an increased critique of their value.  Businesses demand graduates who are not only ethical, but who also have leadership abilities and critical thinking skills. These soft skills and competences are hard to teach and measure, but they shouldn’t be ignored.

“If I had my way, the business school of the future would have much more of this…” Law classes.  The ever-increasing amount of regulation of business makes it imperative that our students have knowledge of the law.  (In a recent poll, the overwhelming majority of line managers and chief financial officers advise that knowing the law is an essential aspect of their job. CEO’s spend twenty-five percent of their time on legal issues.)  There are also opportunities for students in the rising field of compliance. Equally important with legal knowledge and career prospects, however, is developing the analytical skills necessary to understand the law that are easily transferrable to strategic decision-making in business (or in life).

“And much less of this…” Bureaucracy that interferes with teaching

Looking ahead 10 years from now, describe what “success” would be like for you

Success would mean being healthy, happy, and still loving (and grateful for) my job.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.