Why I Teach: Elinor Schroeder

Employment law touches everyone, and for Elinor Schroeder, it’s a topic that has propelled her through a distinguished career of teaching, mentoring, and research at KU Law.

“Employment law is a field that has just burst on the scene in the last 20 years or so and grown dynamically, so it’s been exciting to be a part of that,” she said.

As one of KU Law’s longest-tenured professors, it seems unimaginable that teaching was once on the backburner for Schroeder. Although she was interested in becoming a professor, as she made her way through law school at Michigan, she recognized the importance of practice experience in the classroom. She accepted a position at Spencer, Fane, Britt & Browne in Kansas City, where she discovered her niche in employment law and happily practiced for three years – until a visit from Dean Martin Dickinson changed everything.

“He came to see me, and he asked me if I was interested in teaching as an adjunct,” she said. “I taught for two years, one course a year in the spring. It became increasingly more difficult to balance the pressures of practice with the time that teaching demanded, and I was about to tell the dean that I wouldn’t continue as an adjunct. And then at the end of the second year, the school had a vacancy on the faculty and they asked me to interview for it – I did, and they gave me an offer.”

It was a bit of a perfect storm. Schroeder had already established a field of interest, obtained the sought-after practice experience, and gained the opportunity to try her hand at teaching before committing to a full-time position. She enjoyed practice, but as she immersed herself in the academic world, the perks of a professorship drew her into a distinguished career.

“I like teaching because it gives you a chance to think in more depth about issues than you normally get to do in practice, where you’re driven by cases,” she said. “Also, I like the students here. We have great students. They’re enthusiastic, and they’re fun to teach, so I enjoy the classroom experience.”

Schroeder’s enjoyment of research and her students has led to major recognition over the course of her professorship. Less than 10 years after she started teaching at KU Law, the KU Commission on the Status of Women named her the outstanding woman teacher at KU and inducted her into the KU Women’s Hall of Fame. She also received the law school’s Immel Award for Teaching Excellence, and in 1999, KU Law named her the Paul E. Wilson Professor of Law in recognition of her outstanding scholarship. Part of her success stems from an ability to make the field of employment law relevant and timely for all of her students.

“Students will come up to me after class and say ‘You mean employees can or can’t do that?’ or, ‘My spouse or brother or sister is working at such and such a place, and the employer is doing this or that, and what should I do?’” she said. “Everyone has employment issues, wage and hour issues, leave of absence issues, or discrimination issues that have happened to them or to someone they know.”

Throughout her career, Schroeder has emphasized support and professionalism to her students – the world of law is relatively small, and graduates are likely to run into their former classmates as colleagues once they leave law school. Her students remember that advice, and many of them also remember Schroeder’s impact long after they leave the classroom.

“I took a labor law course, particularly an employment discrimination course from Elinor Schroeder, and for me it was like, “Ooh, this is it!” said Camille Hébert, the Carter C. Kissell Professor of Law at Ohio State University and a longstanding expert in the field of employment law. “Elinor is one of the most influential professors I had.”

For more information on Elinor Schroeder, visit her faculty profile page.