Willajeanne F. McLean grew up in a family of educators who taught her the joys of learning and the importance of giving back. Teaching is a form of service for the UConn Law professor, who will be honored by the African American Female Professor Award Association on October 14.
McLean was the School of Law’s first Black dean, serving as interim dean in the 2012-13 academic year. She has long advocated for the interests and advancement of students and scholars of color, as a mentor and in her roles in many organizations inside and outside the law school.
“I’m acutely aware that if you don’t see it, you can’t be it,” McLean says. “Being an educator of color gives me a platform. Just in my walking around campus, students see another possibility, whether I teach them or not. That’s really important to me.”
The association grants three faculty inspiration awards each year, recognizing sustained commitment to higher education, advancement of African American students, research, and community engagement, among other criteria.
“Professor McLean exemplifies the best qualities of a teacher, scholar and role model. Her impact at UConn Law over the years, particularly among students and faculty who are underrepresented in law schools, has been vast and transformational,” Dean Eboni S. Nelson says. “She is a trailblazer, and we are incredibly fortunate to benefit from her knowledge, guidance, and steadfast dedication to the law school.”
McLean, an internationally recognized expert in intellectual property and European law, joined the UConn Law faculty in 1991. She has published articles and reviews on a wide range of issues including human rights, trademark law, race, and intellectual property, in addition to her co-authored casebook “Transnational Intellectual Property Law: Cases and Materials from the United States, Europe, Japan, and China.”
Throughout her 31 years with UConn Law, McLean has brought academic rigor, innovative thinking and personal concern for her students into the classroom, Associate Dean Richard Wilson says. “Professor McLean is an outstanding teacher who is known for making complex materials accessible by adding context and offering tips for applying theoretical information to the practice of law,” he says.
Wonchi Ju, a ’17 graduate who is now an associate at Withers Bergman LLP, credits McLean with teaching her how to seek feedback and improve. McLean spent about two hours going over a final exam with Ju, pointing out how she could do better beyond the specific class.
“I ended up doing a lot better after that review. It really taught me how to get feedback, and that’s something I use all the time practicing law,” Ju says. “You always need someone to take a chance on you.”
McLean’s students constantly surprise her with the creative ways they challenge both her and themselves.
“To paraphrase the catchphrase in the movie ‘Forrest Gump,’ I never know what’s going to happen when I walk into a classroom,” she says. “That’s exhilarating and fun. I hope to make it fun for them in addition to something so important as learning the law.”
In 2019, the Connecticut Bar Association honored McLean with the Tapping Reeve Legal Educator Award and in 2013 the University of Connecticut Law School Alumni Association recognized her with its Distinguished Service Award. She is a Connecticut Bar Foundation James W. Cooper Fellow.
McLean has served on nearly every committee of the law school and others in the university, including the UConn Provost’s Commission on Institutional Diversity. She also directed the Philip G. Hubbard Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars program, a pipeline summer program for groups underrepresented in law schools, at the University of Iowa College of Law from 2007 to 2010 and helped develop a similar program at the University of Wisconsin. McLean served a decade on the Board of Directors of RE·Center, a Hartford organization that advances equity and racial justice.
The award will be presented at Bay Path University in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, on October 14, and will be celebrated at the organization’s First Inaugural College and University Presidents Ball in Springfield, Mass., on October 22.