May 2017 Innovative Pedagogy Interview

Craig Barkacs, Professor, Business Law

Barkacs sets the Bar 


Who would have thought that a courtroom and classroom could have similarities? Well, powerhouse attorney and Professor of Business Law, Craig Barkacs, accredits his experiences as a trial lawyer as an invaluable tool to becoming more effective in the classroom.

“When you’re dealing with the courtroom dynamic, you not only have to know your case well, but at the same time you have to empathize and know how it’s being viewed from the other party’s perspective, the jury’s perspective, and the judge’s perspective.” 

Professor Barkacs has often represented the underdog in high-profile civil and business litigation cases, and he has often achieved exceptional results. Professor Barkacs takes the approach and mindset he’s learned from being an attorney into the classroom by really putting himself in the shoes of his students. He designs exercises in such a way where he’s engaging his students so they will comprehend and internalize lessons to make it work for them. He really believes in experiential learning in the classroom, engaging in highly interactive activities, and even a bit of misdirection to enhance critical thinking skills. 

Barkacs wants the lessons to sink in, so that students can learn to think for themselves. A lot of his teaching is based on exercises that are designed to really challenge what other students are applying to lessons being taught. The exercises are set up so there is a short path to a simple obvious solution. Many students will go down this path rapidly and be rather proud of themselves. However, they’ll be able to find out through the course debrief that the simple short path they took can end up leading to a suboptimal outcome.

Barkacs believes that if he intellectually challenges students, they might think they know the answer to something, but when they find out they didn’t know something as well as they thought they did-well that sticks with them.”

There’s even a running joke that no professor in the world teaches more classes then Professor Barkacs. Whether it’s negotiation, teams & leadership, business ethics, power & politics, or international law, he really looks for the integration of different subject matters to enrich all of his courses.

“I see teaching a variety of classes as highly beneficial because a key to learning is finding a way to tie the subject matter material to the student in a way that’s relevant to them. I think the more disciplines in which I teach, the more likely I am to find various domains the students can identify with.”

One of his favorite courses to teach is “Power in Politics,” an upper division leadership class in the School of Business. This course deals with a variety of strategies, interpersonal communication techniques, and interpersonal influence. It teaches students how to approach their careers strategically in the real work world. Students learn just how necessary it is to have sophisticated political skills to advance their careers.

With that being said, Barkacs acknowledges that there is always room for improvement in higher education. In this fast paced world, he believes that there is a need for connecting what is taught to life skills that are needed moving forward.

“The extent to which we can more effectively integrate the learning environment with the living environment that the students are going to be encountering, the better served and the better prepared our students will be.”

It’s no surprise that Professor Barkacs cares deeply about his students’ education.

“Students pick up on how engaged the professor is. One of the things I like best about the University of San Diego – and one of our strengths and something we pride ourselves in – is having faculty members who enjoy the classroom and who want to do all they can to help students succeed.”

Professor Barkacs believes that when the students know you want to be there too and you care about their education it creates a very positive learning environment. This can lead students to adopt this empathetic perspective in their own personal and professional lives.