Kent Barnett, an assistant professor in the School of Law, says the ideal student is not only professional and prepared but also curious, kind and “always ready to laugh.”
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in art history from Centre College and my J.D. from the University of Kentucky. I am an assistant professor at the School of Law.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I came to UGA in 2012 after teaching at the University of Kentucky College of Law, practicing law for several years in a large international law firm and a small plaintiff-focused law firm, and serving as a judicial clerk for a federal appellate judge. My family and I really wanted to be in a college town. Fortunately for us, Athens is one of the best college towns in the country.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I teach contracts, consumer law and administrative law. I don’t have a favorite, but I like each for a different reason. Contracts is great because I teach first-year students. I have the privilege of introducing them to the legal profession, and I get to know them during their entire time at the law school. Consumer law is fun because students gain a much better understanding of the regulatory apparatuses that influence things that they encounter routinely—for instance, advertising, car sales, mortgages, door-to-door sales, payday lending, credit reports, telemarketing and email spam. And administrative law is deeply interesting because, at its core, it’s all about power—how government must act and who in government can act.
What interests you about your field?
Legal scholarship permits a rewarding mix of ivory-tower theory and practicality. And it largely revolves around how to limit and exploit, as necessary, human behavior and motivation. For instance, I study separation of powers in the federal administrative state. The protections for each of the branches serve to limit and incentivize politicians’ or private parties’ greed for power. But courts can’t approach them in a vacuum. They must—when the Constitution permits—also consider how the administrative state functions and how innovation can be useful.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I was delighted to have two of my articles selected for competitive calls for papers. The first, “Resolving the ALJ Quandary” in the Vanderbilt Law Review, was selected in a blind submission process for the Yale-Stanford-Harvard Junior Faculty Forum as one of the two best administrative-law papers that year. That paper concerned how Congress could avoid interrelated constitutional questions concerning certain in-house, federal agency judges. And my second, “CodifyingChevmore” in the N.Y.U. Law Review, was selected as a winner of the Southeastern Association of Law Schools’ Call-for-Papers Competition. That paper considered how Congress could better tell courts how to review agency actions.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
Research is a critical component of teaching well. The amount of reading and thinking that go into publishing lead me to have a deeper understanding of my selected topics and reveal new connections in the material that I teach. My interactive lectures can become more interesting and purposeful.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
Of course, you want your students to learn the material that you cover. But, in reality, they will forget many of the details after a year or so. It is more important that they have learned deep reading-comprehension and analytical skills, appreciated the necessity of substantial preparation for their professional tasks, and developed the ability to communicate concisely and clearly. These more generalized skills will be necessary in whatever work they do.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is the same as what I think most students want in an ideal teacher: curious, kind, professional, prepared, and always ready to laugh.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
My office. Many of the law school offices received a much-needed renovation last summer, and they are now very inviting and well-designed for getting work done and meeting with students. Because my office is in a busy area of the law school, I frequently have students and colleagues stop by. And, because the law school is on North Campus, I’m not far from all of the great pubs and restaurants downtown.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
Walk and run all around Athens. This is such a great town for being out and about. My family and I are constantly walking around Normaltown, downtown and Five Points.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
My favorite book is Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” because it is the best mix of poetry and narrative that I’ve read. It’s one of the few books that leads me to read passages slowly several times just to hear the music of the language. I’ve always admired Hurston’s supremely strong sense of self (even if I didn’t agree with all of her political stances) and how it comes through in all of her work.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
What I like best about Georgia Law is that our faculty and administration have done a wonderful job of creating a community of scholars who enjoy being in the classroom and watching students develop into professionals. I feel very lucky to call the law school home and to have such engaged colleagues and students.
Orogianlly published Oct. 4, 2015