MSU Law Professor David Blankfein-Tabachnick recognized as Teacher-Scholar


Michigan State University College of Law is proud to recognize Associate Professor David Blankfein-Tabachnick as its first recipient of a Michigan State University Teacher-Scholar Award.

“He has quickly become one of our most highly regarded and beloved teachers,” said Interim Dean Melanie B. Jacobs, who was among Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick’s nominators. “I cannot think of a more worthy recipient of the All-University Teacher-Scholar Award.”

MSU selects each year’s elite class of six Teacher-Scholar awardees from tenure-system assistant or associate profe­ssors who represent a wide range of constituent colleges and disciplines of study. The award recognizes MSU’s finest early-career teachers who “have earned the respect of students and colleagues for their devotion to and skill in teaching.” Nominations are put forward by deans, directors, or departmental chairs, and applications must be supported not only by faculty colleagues, but by students or alumni upon whom the nominated professor has made a lasting impression.

While the award criteria emphasize pedagogical innovation and excellence, the selectors also recognize that “the most effective teachers will have their instruction intricately linked to and informed by their research and creative activities” – which is certainly the case for Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick, whose scholarly interests create a wholly unique classroom experience for his students.

Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick’s exceptional scholarship focuses in the areas of private law and taxation, though his contributions to legal academia extend to the areas of bankruptcy, contracts, intellectual property, property, taxation, and torts. His work developing a distributive justice approach to private law theory has already garnered national recognition from some of the most distinguished scholars in the field. In addition to publishing articles in
highly selective law reviews and peer-edited journals, he is a frequent presenter at high-profile academic conferences and workshops.

“David’s scholarly work focuses on issues surrounding structural economic inequality, in which the identification of interconnections between seemingly distinct subfields is critical,” said Dean Jacobs. “Highlighting these connections in the classroom galvanizes students’ learning and plays a significant role in his success as a teacher.”

Professor James Ming Chen describes his colleague as “a jurisprudential visionary, [who] commands vast intellectual terrain” and his classes as “masterful performances,” where he “deftly guides his students through numerous intellectual and emotional traps.”

Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick’s ability to command the classroom is particularly noteworthy in high-enrollment lecture courses, where he brings his signature enthusiasm to notoriously challenging subject matter, including Property, Basic Income Tax, Tax Policy Seminar, and Trusts and Estates.

Despite the demanding nature of these courses, MSU Law graduates often regard his classes as highlights of the law school experience.

Professor DBT (as students affectionately refer to him) brings rigorous organization to complex course materials and liberally peppers his lectures with pop-culture references that both entertain and engage his pupils. Rather than tethering himself to the lectern, he moves around the space continually, drawing students into a conversational exchange of ideas. While the Socratic method often intimidates 1Ls, students experience his classroom environment as exceptionally positive.

“Due to the collegial, open, and judgement-free environment Professor DBT creates, there are always a plethora of students willing to share their thoughts on the subject at hand,” said alumnus Paul W. Guenther, ’19. “Rarely, if ever, will you hear silence from the students during DBT’s lectures.”

“Students voluntarily compete for an opportunity to speak and engage with Professor DBT,” concurred Sophie Qinghui Wang, ’18. “He has a magical ability to predict what a student is going to say but he has a skill to lead you in stating very clearly and in more depth than you had originally thought.”

“If we were struggling in our responses, he encouraged us to keep going and treated us like colleagues, which instilled a confidence in his students. It was true Socratic teaching, with a productive and engaging dialogue between him and students,” said Emily Sosolik, ’20. “Even though the class was almost two hours long, his energetic lectures never had a dull moment.”

Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick’s commitment to his students’ learning extends far beyond the classroom: he hosts intensive review sessions for midterms and final exams, remains after class for extended periods of time to take questions from students, and sends out regular encouraging emails to his classes. He provides mentorship for post-graduation career opportunities, writing high-impact letters of recommendation and helping new graduates and students to perfect their application materials.

In his role as faculty advisor to the Michigan State Law Review, Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick has helped the Law Review to rise 50 places in the national ranking of flagship law school journals. He works closely with student editors, and his mentorship aids them in their professional development; many of his mentees go on to secure top law firm positions and highly prestigious federal clerkships.

Additionally, Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick has advised more than 40 students one-on-one in the fulfillment of their Upper Level Writing Requirements (ULWR). His faculty colleagues note that this represents an exceptional willingness to help students, as advising ULWRs is neither compensated nor compulsory, making it challenging for students to find faculty advisors.

Professor Anne Lawton, Professor Blankfein-Tabachnick’s next door office neighbor in the Law College building, has observed both his impressive scholarly productivity and the steady stream of students who find their way to his office.

“When we had in-person classes, students constantly stopped by to talk to him – about course materials, jobs, or simply life,” said Professor Lawton. “Excellent teachers, like David, know that teaching does not end at the classroom doors.”