From the summer 2017 issue of The Spirit of Washington University
Scott Baker was installed as the inaugural William F. and Jessica L. Kirsch Professor on February 20. From left: School of Law Dean Nancy Staudt, Professor Baker, Provost Holden Thorp, and Chancellor Mark Wrighton
Mary Elizabeth “Lee” Brenneisen loved learning. She earned a doctorate in English from Stanford University and took classes throughout her life at institutions around the globe, including Oxford University. When Mrs. Brenneisen died in 2015, her commitment to education continued through her planned gift for professorships to recognize distinguished teachers and scholars at Washington University School of Law.
Mrs. Brenneisen established the William F. and Jessica L. Kirsch Professorships in memory of her parents. Her father, law school alumnus William Kirsch, graduated first in his class in 1909, receiving the prestigious Order of the Coif. He practiced real estate law for nearly 60 years with the Arkansas firm Goodman Moore PLLC in Paragould, Arkansas, where he created and represented drainage districts that still operate in northeastern Arkansas.
“By establishing the Kirsch Professorships in her parents’ names, Mary Elizabeth Brenneisen left a wonderful and lasting tribute to their memory, as well as her own,” says Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton. “Given her father’s academic record, it seems fitting that his name should be associated with the highest caliber of legal scholarship.”
In April, Scott Baker was installed as the first William F. and Jessica L. Kirsch Professor. A prolific and widely respected scholar, Professor Baker’s research interests lie at the intersection of law, economics, and game theory. His expertise spans a wide range of topics, from judicial performance to the structure of law firms and problems in patent law.
“The Kirsch Professorship is a wonderful recognition of my work,” Professor Baker says. “It demonstrates that Washington University and the law school value the role that interdisciplinary scholarship plays in understanding important issues like judicial decision-making and the concept of legal hierarchy.”
Professor Baker earned a law degree from the University of Chicago and a doctorate in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Before joining the Washington University faculty in 2009, he was a professor of law and economics at the University of North Carolina, where he served as associate dean for faculty affairs and received the McCall Award for Law School Teacher of the Year.
“Scott Baker is among the very best in his field,” says Nancy Staudt, dean of the School of Law and the Howard and Caroline Cayne Professor of Law. “I am so thankful that Lee Brenneisen made it possible to recognize an outstanding member of our faculty in this way.”
In addition to his legal practice, William Kirsch served as a board member, officer, and president of the National Bank of Commerce in Paragould. He was renowned as an eloquent orator and often was the featured speaker for civic celebrations.
The Kirsches had two children, Mrs. Brenneisen and William Kirsch Jr., who practiced briefly with his father’s firm before moving to Memphis, Tennessee. He became a partner in one of the city’s most prominent law firms and continued to practice law until his death in 1989.
Mrs. Brenneisen was born in Paragould in 1920. She attended Ward-Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee, and received an undergraduate degree from the University of Kansas. Her relationship with Washington University began when she established a trust in memory of her parents more than 20 years ago.