Lunch With Professor Mitchell: "It All Started With a Redhead"

Jansen VanderMeulen’19

Your Law Weekly staff sat down with Professor Greg Mitchell this week in an attempt to shed light on one of UVa Law’s most shadowy and Southern professors. Noting Format Editor Alison Malkowski’s striking red hair, Professor Mitchell told your columnists the story of how he ended up a professor here “all starts with a redhead.” Mitchell is a proud Arkansan and alumnus of the University of Arkansas. When he headed out to the University of California, Berkeley to study psychology and law, his long-term, redheaded girlfriend stayed behind in Arkansas for Medical School. Planning to clerk in Tennessee or Arkansas to be nearer to her, Mitchell bought an engagement ring. Alas, his hopes were foiled: Mitchell’s best friend ran into the redheaded girlfriend and another man—to whom she is now married—on a date at a restaurant. That brought an end to Mitchell’s relationship and began a life-long vendetta against those with red hair. Even today, students with red hair who take Professor Mitchell’s classes are likely to have their hair color noted, and perhaps face greater “forced engagement” than most of their peers.

Professor Greg Mitchell. Photo courtesy University of Virginia School of Law.

Professor Greg Mitchell. Photo courtesy University of Virginia School of Law.

After earning his Masters, J.D., and Ph.D. at Berkeley, Professor Mitchell clerked for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville (a city he loves but whose increased corporateness and decreased charm he laments) and worked there at a small litigation boutique before taking up teaching. He met his wife Val through a friend, and she started at Vanderbilt Law while he practiced in Nashville. Mitchell loved practice; he thinks practicing law is one of the most rewarding and fun professions, much better than the behavioral psychology he studied before. When asked why he preferred the law, Professor Mitchell waxed poetic about lawyers’ ability to help people and solve problems. “Even if it’s for Time Warner!” he said, noting his lack of sympathy for students who complain about their Big Law jobs.

Astute readers of the Law Weekly will know that Professor Mitchell is never included in the Faculty Quotes section of the paper. By his own instruction, students of his classes do not send faculty quotes to our staff, and generations of Law Weekly editors have known better than to poke the Mitchell Bear. Why won’t he let the newspaper quote him? Professor Setear once told Mitchell that his quotes in the Law Weekly “made him sound like an oversexed hillbilly.” That bothered Professor Mitchell: “The last person I want to get grief from is Professor Setear.”

Asked about his approach to teaching (he won the UVa All-University Teaching Award in 2016 and is famed as an excellent teacher), Professor Mitchell said the two worst things in a law school classroom are boredom and confusion. He likened a good law school class to a song that is both funny and well-crafted, a combination he asserts is rare but can be found in the music of Todd Snyder (an alternative country artist) but certainly not in the songs of Weird Al Yankovic. Mitchell thinks professors shouldn’t shy away from hot-button topics, but should strive to avoid letting their own biases be known. He worries professors’ letting their own beliefs be known can chill any student who doesn’t agree with those beliefs.

Professor Mitchell teaches Civil Procedure (“a pretty boring class”), Evidence, Persuasion (a J-term course), and, with the passing of Professor J. Gordon Hylton, Professional Responsibility. Mitchell couldn’t resist taking a stab at his nemesis, Professor Kim Ferzan: “I’ll be teaching privilege in my PR class to make up for Ferzan’s educational malpractice in not teaching privilege in Evidence.” Reiterating again that he “c[ould]n’t believe that Ferzan doesn’t teach privilege,” Professor Mitchell encouraged the Law Weekly staff to personally serve Professor Ferzan with a copy of this article in order to reignite their longstanding-but-lately-dormant feud. Mitchell really hopes people will take his Professional Responsibility course. “There’ll be a whole section just called ‘Sex with Clients: When It’s Okay,’” he reminded us.

While Professor Mitchell’s Arkansan heritage is credentialed beyond a doubt by his drawl and references to the early 1990s country-music scene, your columnists discovered to our surprise and dismay that Mitchell did not know the precise requirements of the famed Arkansas “Pig! Sooie!” call. When told that the Wikipedia page for the University of Arkansas’s famed athletic fight chant states that the “woo” preceding the words “Pig! Sooie!” should last eight seconds, Professor Mitchell called the Wikipedia page’s editor’s integrity and knowledge into question (a degradation not unfamiliar to those poor redheads unfortunate enough to take Professor Mitchell’s classes).

Pig! Sooie! flaws aside, Professor Mitchell is an engaging and beloved member of the UVa Law faculty. His love of the legal profession and unique perspective as a behavioral psychologist have endeared him to generations of law students. Readers of this paper are encouraged to take his classes; unless, of course, they have red hair.