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MU Law Professor Awarded 2016 Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence

April 6th, 2016

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217,

By Amanda Narverud

COLUMBIA, Mo. – University of Missouri interim Chancellor Hank Foley and Commerce Bank Chairman Jim Schatz today awarded one of the 2016 William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence to Mary Beck, clinical professor of law and director of the Family Violence Clinic at the University of Missouri School of Law.

Foley, Schatz and a group of professors, administrators and staff surprised Beck by honoring her with the Fellowship, which includes a $10,000 check. Kemper Fellowships are awarded to five outstanding teachers at the University of Missouri each year.

This year is the 26th anniversary of the first William T. Kemper Fellowships for Teaching Excellence, which were established in 1991 with a $500,000 gift. Kemper, a 1926 MU graduate, was a well-known civic leader in Kansas City until his death in 1989. His 52-year career in banking included top positions at banks in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Commerce Bank manages the trust fund.


Mary Beck
Professor of Clinical Law, University of Missouri School of Law
Director, Family Violence Program
MU Faculty Member since 1993

Mary Beck’s teaching philosophy includes four goals for students: solving authentic client problems, advancing social justice, collaborating with other disciplines and assuming leadership roles. Beck teaches in both the classroom as a clinical professor of law and in the field as director of the Family Violence Program. Gary Myers, dean of the University of Missouri School of Law, says that Beck’s teaching has an exceptional impact on her students’ lives. He says her work changes the lives of women, children, and families in Missouri and across the United States.

The Family Violence Clinic, which was founded by Beck in 1993, serves victims throughout Missouri who would otherwise lack legal representation. Beck’s students represent indigent victims of domestic violence, dying parents seeking a stable future for their children and families with disabled children.

“Professor Beck’s students are motivated and inspired to meet the standards of excellence, professionalism, citizenship and humanity that Professor Beck sets for herself,” Myers said. “She has helped change the legal fabric for all Missourians, and her teaching partnership with her students allows them, too, to contribute to this social and societal change.”

Adrienne Spiller, former Family Violence Clinic student of Beck, says that Beck holds each student to a very high standard.

“She sets the standard high by leading through example, which drives the students to want to meet her expectations,” Spiller said. “While her expectations of her students are high, she never puts her desire for excellence above the well-being of her students. It’s rare to meet someone so knowledgeable and successful, who is even more humble and concerned with educating others on how to positively impact the world after law school.”

“Professor Beck challenges, trusts, teaches, and loves her students while preparing them for the real world,” said Justin Smith, law firm associate at Shook, Hardy and Bacon law firm in Kansas City and a former student of Beck. “She took an avid interest in our lives – not just about our school activities, but about our backgrounds, our families, our dreams. She desired above all for us to succeed, in law and in life.”

According to Beck’s students, it is her commitment not only to the clinic’s students but to the clinic’s clients that makes her stand apart as a professor at MU School of Law. They say she has had an immeasurable impact on students’ and clients’ lives.

“Professor Beck taught me the importance of actually committing myself, not only to the case, but also to the client,” said Michelle Koehly, former student of Beck. “I am a firm believer that ethics cannot be ‘taught’ in the traditional sense. Ethics must be taught through example, and there is not a better example of the ethical practice of law than Professor Mary Beck. She embodies the very essence of the legal profession with the highest level of integrity and character.”

In addition to the clinic, Beck teaches courses on family violence and public policy, adoption, assisted reproductive technologies and guardianship. Beck also is an accomplished scholar, publishing numerous articles concerning domestic violence in legal and medical journals, including the Missouri Bar Journal. She has received the Women’s Law Association’s Award for Outstanding Commitment to Women, among many other awards.

Beck earned a bachelor of science in nursing and a master of science in cardiovascular nursing from the St. Louis University School of Nursing in St. Louis. She taught for nine years at the University of Missouri School of Nursing before entering law school at MU and earning her juris doctor degree. Beck taught interdisciplinary health law courses for both nursing and law students, and supervised pediatric nursing clinical rotations.