The Thoma Staff recently caught up with Professor Edward Kallen, an instructor of Business Law at St. Thomas Aquinas College. Read below to find out more!
Thoma Staff: What brought you to academia?
Professor Kallen: I paid my way through law school at night by teaching in an inner city public school during the day. I found the whole “process” of teaching, the preparation and execution of information, to be exciting, enjoyable and rewarding. I stopped teaching when I was admitted to the Bar, but the gratification and enjoyment of teaching never left me.
About a dozen years ago I enrolled in several education classes at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education and that lead to my earning a license to teach in New York State’s public schools. I’ve never used the license but I wanted to “keep my options open” in case I tired of the law. That hasn’t happened, and the enjoyment of teaching never left me. In 2012, I submitted my resume to several local colleges and offered my services. STAC called me. I’ve not regretted my decision one bit. I teach one class a semester that satisfies my desire to teach and leaves me sufficient time to practice law.
Thoma: What is the best part about teaching at STAC?
Prof. K: The best part of teaching is being among young people and, literally, seeing their faces “light up” when they “get” an important concept or principle of law–often because they see how it could have a very practical impact on their lives.
Thoma: What did you do before teaching at STAC? How has it helped you in your current career in higher education?
Prof. K: Before teaching at STAC I practiced law–something I continue to do. Teaching has not had a direct impact on my career but it has required me to be extra careful with my time management.
Thoma: As a Law Professor, do you have a favorite topic/case that you like your students to read and learn about?
Prof. K: My favorite case is the 1994 ‘McDonald’s coffee spill’ case. (Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants) It is by far the most widely known tort case in the United States. I’m sure all of the Thoma’s readers are familiar with it to some degree. The case hit the news wires and was almost immediately reported and derided by newspaper editors and television and radio talk-show hosts throughout the United States as a case in which an elderly (implicitly clumsy) lady spilled a cup of hot McDonald’s coffee on herself while riding (or even while driving) in a car. She sued McDonald’s and received a whopping $2.9 million from a sympathetic jury.
The Liebeck case immediately became the universally cited Illustration of the excessive number of frivolous lawsuits, litigious plaintiffs and out-of-control juries in the United States–none of which is true. The case was used as a major weapon to fuel “tort reform” in the United States. Public opinion polls indicated a large majority of Americans were outraged at the verdict. Many of the stories and editorials gave the headline with few, if any, details. When we study torts and I discuss the facts with my class and tell them that the plaintiff in the case incurred $10,000 in medical expenses or that she had suffered third-degree burns or that McDonald’s had, literally, thousands of complaints about their excessively hot coffee and purposefully ignored those complaints, etc., the students immediately realize that they should not believe everything they read and hear on the news; that there’s ALWAYS more to a story–any story–and that it’s a jury of one’s peers that makes the decision AFTER hearing and weighing the evidence and determining which witnesses are credible. It is rarely about a litigious plaintiff or an out-of-control jury.
Thoma: What is your favorite book? Are you reading anything currently?
Prof. K: It is hard to select a favorite book. Often it’s the book I’m reading at the time. Two books I’ve recently read this year that were particularly enjoyable are Dead Wake by Erik Larson, which is about the sinking of the Lusitania during World War I, and John Adams by David McCullough, about our second president. I’m currently reading (at my wife’s insistence) Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian Weiss, M.D. It’s about reincarnation and “Past Life Therapy”. I’m not thrilled with it just yet, but I’m only about 30% into it. My wife found it interesting and “mind expanding” and thought I should read it. I’m by nature a skeptic, so we’ll have to wait for the final verdict.
Thoma: Just for fun: If someone made a movie adaptation of your life, which actor would you pick to play you?
Prof. K: I never thought about it before. It’s a difficult question to answer since your question forces me to be introspective–something I rarely am–and the entertainment industry is full of a wide variety of actors. Without giving it too much thought, I’d probably select Kevin Spacey. To me, he’s an acting chameleon capable of playing almost any role to perfection. He always seems authentic to me and I would want my life played honestly by a believable actor.
Thoma: What is your favorite quote?
Prof. K: “You can tell your intention by the result achieved.” This means that everything is possible if you work hard enough to achieve your goal. If you don’t achieve your goal, you didn’t really have the intention in the first place. It was a mere wish.