Honoring Outstanding Teaching and Service

From left are UM President Julio Frenk, outstanding teaching honoree Patricia Abril, Senate President Tomas Salerno, outstanding service honoree Stuart A. Miller, and Provost Jeffrey Duerk.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.

From left are UM President Julio Frenk, outstanding teaching honoree Patricia Abril, Senate President Tomas Salerno, outstanding service honoree Stuart A. Miller, and Provost Jeffrey Duerk.

Honoring Outstanding Teaching and Service

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
Business Professor Patricia Abril, and Trustee Stuart Miller receive Faculty Senate's highest honors

Brilliance comes in many forms. Just ask Patricia Abril, a University of Miami professor of business law who has seen her students go on to attend top law schools like Harvard, compete in National Model United Nations competitions, and conduct cutting-edge research.

But one thing she has learned is that brilliance doesn’t always come packaged in traditional intelligence. “My brilliant brother lives very successfully with an intellectual disability,” Abril said of her younger sibling, who has Down syndrome. “He has taught me that people learn and communicate in different ways that society should never discount.”

It was that powerful lesson that Abril shared with a UM audience on Monday as she accepted the Faculty Senate’s Outstanding Teaching Award, telling her colleagues that “we must understand that people learn differently, and as teachers, engage with our students in ways that acknowledge their pathways to knowledge.”

She was one of two honorees at the Senate’s annual awards ceremony, held in the Newman Alumni Center. Stuart A. Miller, director and CEO of Lennar Corporation, the immediate past chair of UM’s Board of Trustees, and the standard-bearer of his family’s exceptional generosity and commitment to UM, received the James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award, which recognizes service above and beyond the call of duty by a member of the University community.

A second-generation Cuban-American whose late father, Ralph Sanchez, came to Miami during the Operation Pedro Pan exodus of unaccompanied children and founded the Miami Grand Prix and Homestead-Miami Speedway, Abril had always believed that “no one has ever taught me how to teach,” but now realizes she was wrong.

“I’ve experienced good teachers throughout my life, and their lessons—some intentional, some accidental—are still teaching me how to teach,” said Abril, noting that she has learned three essential elements to successful teaching from her past mentors: that teaching is an expression of love; that it takes humility and an openness to listen to students and explore what they need; and that teachers must have fun in their profession.

During the ceremony, Abril honored her mother, Lourdes, a UM alumna and retired math teacher, calling her “a model of courage.”

“She sat with me for hours when I was a teenager and taught me calculus,” Abril recalled, as her mother, sitting in the audience, looked on. “Nothing transmits love more than teaching calculus to your recalcitrant and overly sensitive teenage daughter. I may have forgotten some of the math, but I remember how her devotion to my success made me feel.”

And what a success she has been. Since 2004, Abril has taught all aspects of business law, negotiation, and business ethics to undergraduates, MBAs, Executive MBAs, and to students in the Business School’s Executive Education Programs. Anticipating the evolving needs of business students and professionals, she developed and taught a suite of business law courses, placing an emphasis on research, critical thinking, and communication skills.

A Harvard Law graduate, Abril served on the Uniform Law Commission’s Drafting Committee for Social Media Privacy, writing the first uniform privacy law addressing schools’ and employers’ access to students’ and employees’ social media. And she is co-author of Business Law and the Legal Environment, one of the leading textbooks in her discipline.

With the recent news of Facebook’s controversial handling of user data, Abril’s area of expertise, privacy law, has suddenly been thrust into the limelight. “This marks a time when society has finally caught on that data is valuable and that aggregated data is priceless,” said Abril, who practiced corporate and entertainment law before coming to UM. “In my classes, we’ve been talking about the Facebook model and the model of allowing private corporations access to so many personal things. In isolation, maybe one of those pieces of data isn’t as valuable to us, but when put together, it is basically the foundation of a billion-dollar private enterprise that has no oversight at all. What’s happening with Facebook is going to usher in an era of more personal control over people’s data.”

The Miller’s family generosity to UM—including $100 million gift to the medical school and landmark donations that made possible The Lennar Foundation Medical Center and a center for contemporary Judaic studies on the Coral Gables campus—isn’t the reason Stuart Miller received the McLamore Award, which is named for the co-founder of Burger King and former chair of the UM Board of Trustees.

“He is being recognized for the tremendous time, energy and selfless dedication he has given and continues to give toward creating a better University for all of us,” Linda L. Neider, first vice chair of the Senate, professor and chair of the Department of Management, and director of the Master of Science in Management at Miami Business, said in presenting Miller with the award.

In 2014, Miller became chair of the board, helping to launch the search for a new University president. Throughout his time as chair and board member, he proactively reached out to faculty, students, and staff to build bridges of mutual respect and a foundation for collaboration. He spent countless hours interacting with Faculty Senate members to learn more about the issues faced by their schools and constituents and has helped establish additional relationships between faculty and other members of the board.                                   

Said Miller, “Reaching out to the Faculty Senate was an element of joy in my opportunity to be a part of the leadership of this University. All of our engagements should really be about building bridges, about reaching our hand out to those across our University, across our community, and frankly across our country.”