Teacher makes a first-class contribution

Professor Ian Malkin has celebrated 25 years at Melbourne Law School with an extraordinary gift.

Ian Malkin
Professor Ian Malkin
Professor Ian Malkin hoped that his plane would never arrive when he travelled from Canada 25 years ago to take up his first university position at Melbourne Law School.

"I remember reading in the Lonely Planet guide on the plane coming over about Australia having the most number of deadly serpents – and  I'm absolutely petrified of snakes – and I'm thinking 'This is completely mad! Can we turn the plane around?' It was that feeling of complete absolute fear when starting something new, because I hadn't ever taught before."

Twenty-five years later, Professor Malkin is one of the Law School's longest serving teachers, and is legendary for his ability to inspire and engage students. To mark those 25 years, Professor Malkin has donated a significant sum to establish a scholarship fund, as a way of giving back to the school and to the student body in particular.

"I wanted to do something that would serve as a meaningful way of supporting at least one student every year," says Professor Malkin.

"It could make a difference to someone being able to undertake an internship. It's important, for access and equity reasons, to make sure internship opportunities are realistic, viable ones."

The Ian Malkin Internship Scholarships will support an LLB or JD student to take up an internship in the not-for-profit or government sector, with the first scholarship to be awarded next year.

Professor Malkin came to Melbourne Law School in 1986. As a new teacher in a new country, he found those first years challenging.

"The first year of teaching was full on – it's always full on, and fun and exciting - but those first few years, you're just catching your breath all the time."

Since those earliest classes, Professor Malkin has been passionate about teaching and creating environments that bring out the best in students.

"A quality educational experience is one in which students are given opportunity to flourish, to feel enthusiastic and stimulated about what they are studying and be challenged intellectually. It's important to make sure classes are comfortable places to be, and that people have opportunities to challenge and to speak,  without  feeling  pressured… In every class you create a little community where you're building understanding  together."

The many law students taught by the professor over the years will attest that Malkin's belief in the value of a positive environment has tangible expression within the walls of his office. Memorabilia, cartoons, a shell-art coffee table, postcards, vintage collectibles, shag-pile carpet and a toy lobster fill this surprising space. If there is a serious aim to this homage to kitsch, it seems to be to encourage students, colleagues and visitors to feel at home in the Law School.

Professor Malkin has been recognised for his efforts with one of Melbourne University's inaugural teaching awards and a national citation. He is currently teaching the subjects Legal Method and Reasoning and Torts in the Melbourne Juris Doctor program.

When asked for the highlight of his 25 years, Professor Malkin without hesitation nominates the fantastic collegiality of the Law School's staff and student body, and the friendships developed with colleagues, students and alumni. But with teaching never far from his thoughts, he also reflect on the changes he has seen since that first year.

"Although there has been a great deal of interest in teaching at the Law School for quite a long time, in the past several years it's become more valued than I think it had been. I think that's a very positive shift. The attention and value given to improving good teaching practices has been a highlight for me."

Image: Professor Ian Malkin

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 6, October 2011.