Professor Kathryn Urbonya, Class of 1983, Retires from William & Mary

Prof. Kathryn Urbonya Retires from Faculty of The College of William & Mary Law School

by Jaime Welch-Donahue | August 13, 2010
original article from the William & Mary Law School website

Kathryn UrbonyaProfessor Kathryn Urbonya took a medical retirement from the Law School faculty in July, after 13 years of service. "Kathy taught in the grand tradition of William & Mary, deeply committed to her students in class and out, immaculately prepared and well versed in how to bring a course to life," said William & Mary President and former Law School Dean Taylor Reveley. "She got deep satisfaction from being a teacher as well as a scholar. Kathy was also a good citizen of the Law School, interested in its welfare, willing to pull her oar for the larger good (and to pull it cheerfully), and always concerned about the welfare of her colleagues. It was an absolute delight to be her dean."

Urbonya earned an M.A. (English) and a J.D. at the University of North Dakota, where she was inducted into the Order of Barristers and the Order of Coif, and afterward clerked for Justice Gerald W. VandeWalle of the North Dakota Supreme Court and Judge G. Ernest Tidwell of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. She taught at Georgia State University Law School for 12 years, and attained the rank of full professor, before joining the Law School faculty in fall 1997. Widely recognized for her scholarship on the Fourth Amendment, she is author of more than 30 articles and book chapters, and co-author of the monograph Section 1983 Litigation (Federal Judicial Center, 1st ed. 1998; 2d ed. 2008). Among her numerous service endeavors, she was Vice Chair and later Chair of the Association of American Law Schools Civil Rights Section (1995-1996), was a member of the William & Mary Faculty Senate (1997-1999), and also chaired the Law School's Academic Affairs Committee (2001-02) and Curriculum Committee (2004-05).

According to colleague Jayne Barnard, Cutler Professor of Law and Kelly Professor of Teaching Excellence, "Kathy brought a special skill to the faculty -- not only was she a scholar who wrote for scholars, but she was also a scholar who wrote for judges. Many federal judges depended on her insights about some of the trickiest aspects of the federal civil rights laws."

"Kathy will be sorely missed at the Law School," noted fellow faculty member Professor Nancy Combs, Cabell Research Professor of Law. "She is not only a well-respected scholar, specializing in Fourth Amendment search and seizure law and Section 1983 suits, she is also a warm, caring person whose positive attitude was both a gift and an inspiration to her colleagues. I well remember the generous welcome Kathy gave me when I arrived at William & Mary, and I know that she similarly touched so many others with her kindness."

Urbonya's commitment to teaching and her sincere interest in her students were hallmarks of her tenure at the Law School.

Shannon McClure Roberts '02, a Senior Associate at Reed Smith LLP, said that Urbonya's Section 1983 Litigation class "was one of the best classes I took as a law student. It was intellectually challenging and stimulating. ... Kathy made me remember why I went to law school in the first place. I recall our class discussions with special fondness. Even the readings were interesting!"

"My success in her classes helped convince me that being a public defender was the right path for me," recalled Meredith Lugo '02, a Staff Attorney with the New Hampshire Public Defender. "I remember her as an extremely engaging teacher, who clearly loved the material, and wanted students to love it as well. She challenged us to begin thinking like lawyers."

Beth Burgin '07, an Associate at Woods Rogers PLC, said that Urbonya's students felt like individuals, not faces in a crowd. "She was always quick to remember your interests, where you were from." Urbonya emphasized writing skills in her classes to help prepare students to practice law and enlivened her lectures with her playful sense of humor: "... you learned a lot, but you ended up laughing a lot too."

An "evident and infectious passion for what she taught" is how Lee Harrell '01 described his former professor's classroom demeanor. He puts to use what he learned from her "almost every day in the courtroom when looking at Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment problems" in cases he prosecutes as Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney of Wythe Country, Virginia.

Kindra Kirkeby '00, Assistant Counsel for NewMarket Services Corporation, was a student in one of the first classes Urbonya taught at Marshall-Wythe. "We were a handful to say the least. I think it was kind of like swimming with sharks as there were many eager new students with very strong opinions." Urbonya's "calm demeanor" and objectivity, Kirkeby said, encouraged frank exchanges of opinion. "I think our Con Law class and the inspired and heated discussions were certainly an important part of developing my passion for the law as a new student...."

Bob Fay '07, a Department of Justice Trial Attorney, took three classes with Urbonya "... because of her palpable enthusiasm for teaching the Constitution to her students. Of all the professors I had in law school, Professor Urbonya tried hardest to engage her students so they could feel as excited about the Constitution as she is. ... I cannot think of Professor Urbonya without thinking of the Eleventh Amendment. After all, how many people could become so animated teaching the Eleventh Amendment?"

Students' bonds with Urbonya were sometimes as much about music as they were about law. Several law alumni played in the horn section of the William & Mary Symphony Orchestra alongside Urbonya when they were students, including Tiffany Carwile '07, Bryan M. Shay '07, and Kurt Wolber '08.

"She was one of the best professors I ever had in undergrad or law school," Carwile said, who noted that Urbonya had a knack for drawing students into class discussions. Urbonya encouraged her to join the orchestra, which turned out to be a great experience for Carwile, who is now an Assistant Prosecuting Attorney in Ashland County, Ohio.

Wolber, an Associate at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP, was a music performance major in college and was delighted to learn when he joined the W&M orchestra that a faculty member played with the group. "Right then," he said," I knew William & Mary Law was the right fit for me." While he never had a class with her, Urbonya became a great friend, providing suggestions and encouragement about his legal studies and job search. "Professor Urbonya is truly one of the nicest people around. ... My law school experience simply would not have been the same without her."

Fellow French horn player Shay had accolades for Urbonya as an "engaging lecturer" on constitutional tort litigation, who "constantly challenged us to think critically about the law, ... and required us to gain an understanding about the practical applications of what we were learning ... by taking part in various projects." But, he also remembers her as a musician who would don face paint for a Halloween concert and as an engaging conversationalist who would draw him into discussions about law and politics during the down times at orchestra rehearsals. "Without question, the three years I spent at William & Mary were made more enjoyable and more fun by my experience sitting next to Professor Urbonya ...."

Kathleen Clair '07 practices law at Crowell & Moring LLP and said that Urbonya was an important mentor to many. "It's hard to think of what to say that would do justice to how extremely encouraging and supportive Professor Urbonya was. She actively encouraged her students to apply for judicial clerkships, and she really helped me make that goal a reality. ... I really can't say enough good things about my clerking experience - or about how her teaching prepared me with a lot of the legal and practical knowledge that helped me while clerking."

Asked about Professor Urbonya's retirement, Law School Dean Davison M. Douglas commented: "We will certainly miss Kathy's presence at the Law School. She brought such contagious enthusiasm to her teaching and scholarship. I know that she looks forward to seeing her former students and colleagues at alumni gatherings and other law school events. As for me, I'll get to see her everyday - at home, around the dinner table!"