2005-6-6

Louis Wolcher and Cynthia Fester honored for services to the university

Two law school community members were recognized as being among the best and brightest and chosen to receive University of Washington 2005 Recognition Awards. Congratulations to Cynthia Fester and Louis Wolcher from the faculty, staff and students of the University of Washington School of Law. During a well-attended recognition ceremony at W. H. Gates Hall on May 31, Wolcher and Fester were honored by their colleagues and students.

Louis Wolcher Charles I. Stone Professor of Law Louis Wolcher, recipient of the Distinguished Teaching Award, is perhaps best known for his philosophy passion. His interest in philosophy traces back to his childhood, and is constantly fueled by his quest for the deepest level at which things work. An avid student of Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Levinas, Wolcher has already won a $15,800 second prize in an international philosophical writing competition issued by Germany’s Goethe-Institut.

His other passion, however, is teaching. After an eight-year stint as a litigator at Pettit Martin in San Francisco, broken up by a teaching interlude at Rutgers Law School, Wolcher realized he was an academic and landed himself at the UW School of Law in 1986. He readily concedes that there are good days and bad days in teaching, noting that he almost feels a bit embarrassed for being selected: “Every now and then you feel like you’re on top of the game – those are the magical moments.”

But the true joy of teaching, according to Wolcher is the give and take, to go into students’ minds and see what they see. “People have so many interesting backgrounds; they have a lot to bring to the table. The task is letting that come out, but when it does, it’s quite startling.” This admiration for the student body is reciprocated by current and former law students like Christopher Heaps, a former college professor himself, who calls Wolcher a truly exceptional teacher, “who meticulously dissects the law.”

Cynthia FesterAsk Cynthia Fester what a typical day looks like for her and you will get a laugh in response. “There are no typical days,” she said. “I take care of whatever is hot on the fire, and that’s the fun part of this job.”

As secretary lead at the UW School of Law, a position created in May 2004, Fester not only provides administrative support for three faculty members, but also guides nine other faculty secretaries through the jungle of paperwork, Web site updates and student liaison work. “She is the ‘assistant’ I have never had before and never expect to have again. She is a researcher par excellence, a superb writer and a highly creative organizer,” said William Rodgers, the Stimson Bullitt Professor of Environmental Law, who calls her the most outstanding staff person of his almost four-decade teaching career. “She is my book project editor, film expert, course organizer and lawsuit colleague.”

An 11-year veteran of the UW, Fester honed her ingenuity and ability to juggle several tasks at once as assistant director for media relations in the campus athletics department, where she worked from 1988 to 1996. There, the Wyoming native and former student athlete who majored in English and journalism, lived out her first passion of promoting women’s competitive sports. She still has fond memories of those days, and likens her faculty with the young contestants: “They are hard-working, passionate people – similar to athletes – who engage in very interesting research that impacts everybody. Professor [Jacqueline] McMurtrie leads the Innocence Project Northwest Clinic, helping defend wrongly convicted people, and Professor Robert Anderson’s [director of the Native American Law Center] work is crucial, because of tribal communities’ importance in the Northwest.”

The work of secretaries has changed significantly since the advent of sophisticated computer programs and they now prepare PowerPoint presentations, maintain course and faculty Web pages and do online research. When Fester first joined the law school community in 2002, she quickly noticed that training had not kept up with rising expectations. So she went ahead and designed courses to help her colleagues get up to speed.

“Cynthia does so much one cannot put a dollar value on, and this is a way of saying thanks,” said Ruth Beardsley, a secretary senior who nominated Fester. “She has an in-depth awareness of current activities, and also pro-actively anticipates future needs, because she has a thorough understanding of our daily work.”

Please see the June 2 issue of University Week for complete coverage and more stories about the 2005 award winners: www.uwnews.org/Uwnews/sites/Awards2005/