University of Glasgow's Professor Jim Murdoch Receives Fifth Annual European Award for Excellence in Teaching

April 28, 2016

University of Glasgow Professor of Public Law Jim Murdoch was chosen as the recipient of the fifth annual European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities. The award, initiated by the Central European University’s Provost and Pro-Rector Liviu Matei and overseen by the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), aims to promote excellence in teaching across the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Murdoch will be given the Award and its accompanying €5,000 Diener Prize at CEU's Opening Ceremony for the 2016-17 academic year in September.

Over the past 24 years, Murdoch has developed his European Human Rights Project (EHRP), which is unique in Europe. The project is a group-based and peer-assessed course which replicates the experience of bringing a case to the European Court of Human Rights (or of defending a case as the respondent government). It involves two teams of five students who are responsible for researching, preparing and presenting written and oral submissions. Students first present to a Chamber of three Supreme Court Justices in London and then the Grand Chamber in Strasbourg, which consists of judges and senior registry staff. The complex problem they tackle is based upon actual pending cases and domestic scenarios. Research drives the group effort, but as each issue contains a significant public policy dimension, students must also weave arguments into their legal submissions that are based upon democratic values as much as legal principles.

“Mooting is an established part of law teaching in many institutions but this is not a competitive moot. This course is unique in Europe,” Murdoch said. “No team wins. Students submit an application, argue points of admissibility, and prepare and present pleadings on the merits. A further key element is the process of self-assessment. Consistently, students report that this process – unusual in that students are entrusted with producing an evidence-based set of recommendations concerning their grades – is as valuable to their learning and often far more challenging than the problem-based learning itself. Without fail, they report significant advantages in securing employment, and further, that the benefits of the learning and assessment styles remain with them well into their careers.”

EHRP is only one of a handful of innovative programs Murdoch has instituted at the University of Glasgow. Keen to promote opportunities for his students to gain experience in other legal systems, he has established study abroad and exchange opportunities for them to conduct comparative research, allowing them to not only familiarize themselves with other legal cultures but also with other languages and legal terminology in those languages.

Murdoch believes it is vital that students correlate the ability to connect legal developments to societal needs through an appreciation of other social sciences.

“It is, perhaps, easier for law teachers to achieve. However, paradoxically, law teaching is inherently conservative. I will continue to challenge this,” Murdoch said in his application for the Award. “I am totally convinced that by motivating students through course design, students themselves can excel and achieve outcomes which they did not feel themselves capable of reaching. I have attempted to bridge the gap between academic approaches and legal practice. I consider that skills-based approaches to learning and teaching can significantly enhance ‘deep’ learning and, at the same time, enhance graduate employability.”

His students confirm that his supportive style and practical approaches have been extremely valuable to their own growth and future careers, and his exemplary teaching was recognized at the University of Glasgow with a student teaching award.

“Each time I felt I reached my limit and couldn’t achieve more, Jim was behind us, giving us the opportunity and skillset to exceed our expectations and reach the next level,” said a recent student in support of Murdoch's application for the Award. “It was incredibly rewarding to see my whole team surpass ourselves over the course of the year. It is with this resilience, determination and Jim’s support, that I work towards achieving my career goals. There have been opportunities that, without the EHRP experience, I would not have had the skillset nor the confidence to apply for.”

Murdoch earned his Bachelor of Laws at the University of Glasgow and his Master of Laws at University of California, Berkeley. His work on EHRP earned him one of the University of Glasgow’s first Teaching Excellence Awards. He was also honored for the course with the Partnership Award from the Institute of Directors (London) and the Council of Europe's Pro Merito Medal.

The Diener Prize is made possible by a generous gift from Steven and Linda Diener in memory of Ilona Diener. In addition to this external award, CEU recently instituted a CEU Distinguished Teaching Award as well as a program of Teaching Development Grants to support individual CEU faculty members in the development of teaching projects. For further information on the award and past winners, visit: http://ctl.ceu.edu/teaching-award.

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