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Citing Curtis Reitz: Professor Marks 45 Years of Teaching
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Reitz considers the faculty members of his day “still my heroes.” Noyes Leech C’43, L’48 is among them, and the esteem is mutual. Leech, now professor emeritus, says his admiration for his former student and colleague “glitters.” Reitz graduated in 1956 as the sole summa cum laude in his class. He was offered a position on the Penn Law faculty immediately.

He postponed accepting. The Supreme Court had come calling.

Dean Jefferson B. Fordham had recommended Reitz for a clerkship with Chief Justice Earl Warren. Only a couple of years after Brown v. Board of
Dean Jefferson B. Fordham
(second from right)
Education of Topeka, the Court was working on the so-called “Communist cases” such as Watkins v. United States; Roth v. United States, the first in long series of pornography cases for the Court; capital crime cases such as Mallory v. United States; and federal internal security cases, such as Yates v. United States.

“It was an unbelievably fun year,” Reitz recalled in his oral history. “Hard work, very hard work, but marvelous. Largely because of Earl Warren. He was just a fascinating man to work with.” Reitz, who at age 11 lost his father, considered Warren a “father figure” that would talk openly about his early life and his political career. Reitz worked with giants of the Court: Black, Douglas, Frankfurter, and Brennan, who became a friend to Reitz.

Returning to Penn Law as a member of the faculty, Reitz became legendary for his Paper Chase-like approach to teaching. “I’m not nearly as Socratic as I used to be,” reports Reitz, once rumored to eschew the declarative sentence. “I used to tell students who would get frustrated that they didn’t need to know the answers. What they needed to know were the questions. Just write down the questions. If you kept track of the important or the interesting questions, that in itself would be a learning experience.”

The reputation of Curtis Reitz for serious, Socratic style preceded him into Judith Renzulli’s L’80 first-year Contracts class. Pursuing law as a second career, Renzulli watched in “the long silences” as Reitz would polish his glasses and walk across the dais, waiting for a response from a student. Outside class, he seemed more relaxed, she recalls. “I knew I had to make him laugh,” she says. She got him to crack a smile in response to a notion she proposed that would pair contracts and torts. “I can’t imagine anyone would think that,” he said. “Well, I just did,” she replied gamely.

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