James Brecher, Professor (Teaching) Emeritus of Writing
Brecher in Memoriam
I met James Brecher in Chicago. It was January 2014, and I was interviewing for a position at USC. He was part of the hiring committee. After some initial pleasantries and a few gentle queries from the other professors in the room, Brecher, who’d been silent up to that point, announced that like me, he was a lawyer. For the next twenty minutes, he lodged the most aggressive line of questioning I’ve ever been subjected to (“Imagine you’re teaching a writing course on health and healing. Give me your four-assignment progression now.”) He was testing me, prodding me, trying to determine if I had the stuff to fill his shoes when he retired.
Before I came to USC, I’d never taught legal writing. In my own academic career, I’d only taken the course in law school. But USC offered something unique to its pre-law aspirants, and when I got the job, Brecher was assigned as my mentor. In my second semester in Los Angeles, when I was charged with my first legal writing sections, I used Brecher’s course packet and assignments as models. Brecher also taught an Advanced Legal Writing course that flew to San Francisco to see arguments in front of the California Supreme Court. I was asked to observe that class, too, and later, Brecher and I co-taught it.
For several years, I had a front seat to one of the most gifted and natural teachers I’ve ever witnessed. Brecher was a grand storyteller with a colorful career trajectory—from hard-nosed Florida litigator to program director of the Home Shopping Network to USC legal writing professor. He commanded his classroom in a way I’d never seen before (and could never emulate). He was gruff and tough, prickly and demanding, generous and as dedicated to this university as anyone.
Early this year, James Brecher, my mentor and my friend, passed away. It was a shock to learn that this man, this force of nature who’d built the foundations of the curriculum I teach every year, was no longer with us. Brecher had a personality that could never be forgotten and indeed, from time to time, I can still hear his raspy baritone poking at the logic of an argument or forecasting the latest Supreme Court opinion. Brecher was one of the most brilliant lawyers I’ve ever known, and I owe him a debt of gratitude for all he taught me. On behalf of USC’s Writing Program, I extend my deepest condolences to his family and friends. While he may no longer tread this earth, Brecher’s impact lives on through the sharp and thoughtful rhetoric of the army of young lawyers he edified and inspired. Rest in peace, Jim. ‘
-Antonio Elefano, Associate Professor (Teaching) of Writing
Geoffrey Middlebrook, Professor (Teaching) Emeritus of Writing
Geoffrey Middlebrook is a Teaching Professor Emeritus in the Writing Program and a Distinguished Faculty Fellow in the Center for Excellence in Teaching. Dr. Middlebrook has established himself as an authority on writing in digital environments, and is the recipient of the USC Provost’s Prize for Teaching with Technology, USC Faculty Mentoring Award, and USC Advanced Writing Teaching Award. He presents his work frequently at national conferences, has published in journals and books, and is a past member of the CCCC’s Committee for Effective Practices in Online Writing Instruction.