“She truly has a beautiful mind. UCLA is so lucky to have her.”
That’s a UCLA Law student’s take on Professor Aslı Ü. Bâli, who received this year’s Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest honor for distinction in the classroom at the UCLA School of Law. Established in 1979 by legal publisher William Rutter, the Rutter Award is awarded annually to legal educators at five top California law schools. Paul Rutter ’78, the son of William Rutter, presented the prize to Professor Bâli; UCLA Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin presided over the live, on-campus ceremony attended by many of Professor Bâli’s students, colleagues, friends, and family on April 12.
Dean Mnookin reminded the audience of Professor Bâli’s extensive scholarly credentials and “outstanding leadership” in the fields of international law, human rights, and comparative constitutional law. But she also noted that the Rutter Award is about Professor Bâli’s prowess and presence in the classroom: “Aslı is a stellar model for so many of us, including the hundreds – maybe even thousands – of students whom she has taught and inspired since she joined the faculty. That someone with such uncommon warmth, wit, and brilliance has touched the lives and helped launch the careers of so many of our students and alumni over the years makes me tremendously grateful.”
In accepting the honor, Professor Bâli thanked Paul Rutter and the Rutter family “for their generosity in creating this award and their farsightedness in recognizing the need to honor excellence in teaching.” She also acknowledged the importance of her friends and family as well as the teachers and institutions that helped form her approach to human rights and the law, including the UCLA Law faculty: “I never cease to be amazed by my wonderful colleagues here—it has been a tremendous privilege to learn this craft alongside them.”
Teaching and mentoring are central to the law school’s mission to train the next generation of legal leaders, and student comments about Professor Bâli underscore her effectiveness in the classroom. “Her enthusiasm is unmatched by any other professor I have studied under at UCLA,” said one. Another wrote, “Professor Bâli is the smartest, most bad-ass person I’ve ever met… I wish she taught more classes so that I could continue to learn from her.”
Another student noted how her activities outside the classroom – Professor Bâli works with Human Rights Watch and is chair of the Task Force on Civil and Human Rights for the Middle East Studies Association – made her even more effective as a teacher: “She speaks and teaches from experience and is willing to bring a critical eye to the human rights system.”
Professor Bâli joined the law school faculty in 2009, and teaches Public International Law, International Human Rights, a seminar on the Laws of War, a Perspectives seminar on Third World Approaches to International Law, and a Law through Scholarship seminar on Methods and Theories of International and Comparative Laws. She was the founding faculty director of UCLA Law’s Promise Institute for Human Rights and has served as the director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies.
In her closing comments, Professor Bâli acknowledged “a profound debt of gratitude to my current and former students” for inspiring her: “My students remind me anew each year that learning is a dynamic and collaborative experience and that in joining them in that enterprise there is always more I can learn about the norms, policies, institutions and decisions that we study together.”
Last year’s Rutter Award recipient was Hiroshi Motomura, Distinguished Professor at UCLA Law, and in 2020, the award went to Professor Timothy Malloy.