Magazine Feature / People

Motivated by his students, Corrada finds his place

Law Professor Roberto Corrada says he’s gone from “happy, to happier, to even happier still” in his career. But he had to give up a couple of dreams before discovering his passion.

When he was 7 years old, Corrada wanted to be an astronaut, but poor eyesight got in the way. His later vision of acting was derailed by Catholic catechism. His goal of becoming a champion debater was eventually realized, as was his desire to become a lawyer at a large East Coast firm. And his other dream, being a teacher and a researcher, is playing out now.

Despite the many different roles he’s played, Corrada says he never left one career or goal for another because he was unhappy. He says he’s always pursued new paths because, “I was curious. I felt I had more to learn, maybe more to offer.”

Corrada is a nationally recognized law professor and scholar. He has garnered attention as a teacher, in part, for the unique way he teaches labor law — a method he developed after feeling that his students “just weren’t getting it.”

“I realized that the vast majority of students in my class on labor relations law never worked in a unionized environment,” he wrote in the Journal of Legal Education in 1996.

“Having never attempted to deal with management in a concerted way, students have no appreciation for the extent of an employer’s coercive power over employees.”

Corrada decided to give his students a first-person taste of that experience by turning his classroom into a working labor-management environment.

“My labor law classroom is our workplace,” Corrada says. “In a work environment, workers show up and try to please the boss so that they can get paid. Students are often even more deferential to the teacher because they are working to get paid, too. They want a good grade.”

In Corrada’s class, students are offered the opportunity to unionize and then negotiate terms and conditions of the class, such as the class curve, the types of exams they receive and the way they must participate.

This simulation has received much attention. Corrada has spoken and written extensively on the lessons he’s learned in the nine years that he’s been teaching in this format.

And some professors at other universities have started using his methodology as a model for their own classes. Corrada jokes that other professors have had classes strike. He hasn’t, though he hopes it happens one day.

“It would be easier to get students to strike if Roberto were rotten or if he could at least act rotten,” says former student Marlys Hartley Roehm, JD ’06.

“But students have a good relationship with management in his class.”

Roehm says Corrada is entirely motivated by his students.

“He truly has a sincere and genuine desire to help students learn,” she says. “He’s not afraid to try something different if it doesn’t seem students are getting it.

“In Affirmative Action Law, which is about leveling the playing field, some students don’t think the field is uneven, and some have personally experienced an unevenness. Roberto talked about the emotions behind affirmative action law, using himself as example.

“Here’s a guy who is completely open about his heritage, the impact on his career, what it means to be Puerto Rican,” Roehm says. “It takes a remarkable person to approach every class as though it’s fresh and new and to do whatever it takes to help students understand the materials.”


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