Professor Donald H. Zeigler (1945-2011)

Professor Donald H. Zeigler (1945-2011)


Faculty Scholarship

Faculty Scholarship Publications

The NYLS community mourns the loss of Professor Donald H. Zeigler, one of the School’s most revered and accomplished professors, who passed away on October 9, 2011. Professor Zeigler joined the faculty in 1984 and taught core courses in evidence, civil procedure, and federal courts for more than 25 years. He was also the Co-director of the School’s Center for Professional Values and Practice.

Professor Zeigler’s teaching style was marked by meticulous preparation for class, a collaborative in-class approach, and overwhelming respect for his students. He came to each class with a detailed “script” designed to organize the flow of thoughts for that particular lesson. The scripts included all of the questions he planned to ask students about a case, followed by leading and back-up questions. He encouraged exploration in the discussion, constantly creating as he went with ad-libbed questions sparked by students’ responses.

In an interview with New York Law School Magazine in 2008, Professor Zeigler described his exchange with students in the classroom as a “group effort—one that’s meant to be cooperative rather than competitive.” It was during these moments that Professor Zeigler felt most “in the moment, fully engaged.”

“Time passes differently,” he said. “I feel very strong. I feel creative. When class is going particularly well, I feel a deep sense of satisfaction.”

In 2007, the faculty asked Professor Zeigler to share his proven strategies with his colleagues. Always a willing mentor, he happily obliged, with the presentation in 2008 of his paper How I Teach, which outlines the approach he perfected throughout his teaching career. In addition to this valuable resource, Professor Zeigler helped many colleagues over the years—both at New York Law School and Pace University—by offering them his scripts as a preparation tool. Professor Zeigler said one of his greatest challenges as a teacher was being prepared to walk into class every day with the energy and focus he needed to do a good job. The last five years proved especially trying for Professor Zeigler, who was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2006. But that didn’t stop him from doing everything he could to help his students succeed.

The love and respect that Professor Zeigler had for his students came across in everything he did, from his careful preparation, his openness with students, and even his dress code—always a jacket and tie. Students received the message loud and clear and responded with overwhelming admiration. Professor Zeigler was recognized by students with the “Teacher of the Year” award, given at Commencement, in 2005, 2008, and 2009.

Professor Zeigler graduated from Amherst College in 1966 and Columbia Law School in 1969. He was appointed a staff law clerk, first at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1969–70, and then at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from 1970–72. In 1973, he joined the New York City Legal Aid Society as a staff attorney in the Special Litigation Unit. He became the head of the unit in 1975. While at the Legal Aid Society, he helped bring a number of federal civil class action suits seeking to reform the New York City criminal justice system. In 1978, Professor Zeigler joined the faculty of Pace University School of Law, where he taught for six years and was granted tenure.

Professor Zeigler is survived by his wife, Brannon Heath; his step-children, Tyler and Bennett Stewart; his son-in-law, John Eason; his father, Earle Zeigler; his sister, Barbara Zeigler; and his nephew, Kenan Sungur. Contributions in his memory may be sent by check to NYLS’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations, Attention: Zeigler Memorial Fund (checks payable to New York Law School).

Note: A memorial service was held for Professor Zeigler at New York Law School on November 7, 2011. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni joined members of Don’s family to honor his memory and celebrate his life.

Remarks by Professor David Schoenbrod Memorial for Donald H. Zeigler | November 7, 2011 | New York Law School

To his colleagues, and I have had the good fortune to be one for over a quarter century, one of Don’s most outstanding characteristics was his generosity. That generosity manifested itself in his teaching. He prepared for class by writing what he called his “script.” In it, he would set out not only each question he would pose to the students, but also each conceivable answer and his response. Such preparation came from a source much deeper than the motto “Be Prepared,” although he did have his inner Boy Scout. No, the assiduousness of the preparation came from his desire to give everything that he could to his students—that is, from his generosity. That is why the students acknowledged him as a master teacher, and his colleagues did too.

He was profoundly generous towards us too. He not only befriended new colleagues, but offered to teach them how to teach. To those lucky enough to teach his subjects, he gave copies of his precious scripts with stage directions to go with. He was equally generous in offering to read drafts of articles and providing constructive—always constructive—comments. I can still hear the excitement bubbling up from within him as he offered suggestions on how to make our work better.

This generosity to colleagues was evident from the first time that I met him in the academy in 1983. That generosity continued even after he fell ill. Don and I went off to lunch at a nearby restaurant. I didn’t know how many more such lunches there would be. What Don wanted to talk about was our new First-Year Legal Skills Program. We had hired Anne Goldstein to design it. The design was a big challenge because it would involve 15 full-time professors giving hands-on help to the entire first-year class, and lots of long-time professors had opinions. In hearing Don talk, I saw that he believed deeply in Anne and the program, that he was on her side and the side of the students who would benefit from it, and that despite being ill, he was up to his elbows helping her.

Don’s generosity was also evident outside the academy. He loved to help. I see marks of his help in my daily life. I open the door of my house and see a flower garden, which he designed. I open my favorite cookbook, which he recommended. I pick a tomato from one of my tomato plants, which is thriving because he suggested strategies to stave off the dreaded tomato wilts.

A week ago, as I was preparing these remarks, I saw a dish of tomatoes on the dining room table. This year’s tomato vines had finally succumbed to the wilts and the cold. These were the last of their tomatoes. Today those tomatoes are gone. What is left is the memory of Don’s generosity, and the source from which it came—love.

Professor Donald H. Zeigler (1945-2011)