Fazal Khan, associate professor in the School of Law, says his primary goal is to make his students better thinkers and communicators.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I received a B.A. in biological sciences from the University of Chicago and an M.D. and J.D. from the Medical Scholars Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I am an associate professor in the School of Law, teaching primarily in the area of health care law.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I started teaching at UGA in 2006. Before this, I was a litigator at a large law firm in Chicago. I represented clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to pro bono clients convicted of murder. I came to UGA because of the strong reputation of the law school and the collegial and intellectually dynamic faculty. The charm and beauty of Athens also aided my decision.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I enjoy teaching all of my courses, but I have a particular fondness for bioethics. In this course, I challenge students to think critically about legal and ethical issues pertaining to complex and often controversial topics such as reproductive technology and end-of-life decision-making. The class discussions tend to be very engaging and I often find that my dialogue with the students sharpens my own thinking about a certain bioethics topic. In other words, the transfer of knowledge often goes both ways as my students reciprocally challenge me with their probing questions and insights.
What interests you about your field?
Change is the only constant in health care law, and the rate of new developments has been especially rapid since I started at UGA. Further, keeping abreast of these dynamic changes almost necessitates that one inhabit a liminal space between disciplines. For example, on my research involving the legal and ethical implications of epigenetics research, I have engaged directly with scientists in this field and their primary research. Thus, I force myself to develop a deep understanding of the underlying scientific subject matter before I engage in my legal and ethical analysis. Switching back and forth between different disciplinary modes can be mentally and physically draining, but when I feel that I have achieved a “eureka moment” of insight, it makes the struggle all worth it.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
It gratifies me to know that my role as a law professor has an impact outside of the academy. Since health care law and policy has been a hot topic, I receive many requests by the media, civic groups and other academic departments (e.g. public health, medicine, sociology) to speak on these issues. Satisfying these requests does take a lot a time and effort, but I strongly believe in disseminating my scholarly ideas in a way that is relevant to the public interest and not just cloistered academic circles.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
The students at the School of Law are very academically capable, so my intrinsic goal is to transform them into experts on the subjects I teach, whether it’s public health law, bioethics or health law generally. Of course, it is not realistic to expect the students to reach this endpoint in a semester when practitioners take years or decades to gain expertise in a field. However, I have been pleasantly surprised at how many of my students have developed a very sophisticated understanding of my field in a short amount of time. This has led me to use many of my students as research assistants, and in exceptional cases I even have partnered with students to co-author and publish articles that started out as student research papers in my courses.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
My primary goal is to make my students become better thinkers and communicators. But, I also stress professionalism and preparedness because I know that most of my students will not become academics, but rather practitioners of law.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is intellectually curious and not afraid to engage in dialogue when advancing ideas based on informed research.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I love escaping with a manuscript or book to the Founders Memorial Garden during a lunch or coffee break—it’s akin to taking a mini-vacation. This special place engages all of your senses. Visually, it’s a verdant pointillist canvas, punctuated with bright dabs of floral blooms. When in season, the scents of jasmine and tea olive bushes are intoxicating. Finally, I encourage one to close their eyes while standing among the colonnade of bamboo trees and to hear the whispering conversation that ensues as the slender stalks sway back and forth in the wind.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
I love that downtown Athens has unique shops, restaurants—and ultimately people—that exist nowhere else. I’m a huge fan of all of the local business owners and service professionals that make Athens a great music, food and arts scene.
Community/civic involvement includes….
I am on the board of visitors of the Lamar Dodd School of Art. Moving to Athens has turned me into an art collector as the artists here are incredibly talented and the art scene is very accessible compared to a larger city. I encourage everyone to check out the exhibits at the School of Art as well as at local galleries and the walls of restaurants and other businesses.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
Extremely difficult question—I’ll give a top-five movie list in no particular order. “Dr. Strangelove”—Kubrick and Sellers at their apex—hilarious, tension-ridden and still politically relevant. “Breaking Away”—a simple coming of age story about townies in a campus town (Bloomington, Ind.) done extremely well. “A Fish Called Wanda”—wickedly intelligent humor with a stellar ensemble cast. “The Matrix”—an audacious amalgam of film noir, kung fu, sci-fi and agitprop that blew your mind the first time you saw it—of course, they should have stopped after the first film. “Never Let Me Go”—underappreciated adaption of Ishiguro’s novel about an alternate history where human cloning is legal in the U.K., with subtle and heartbreaking performances by Carrie Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.
Proudest moment at UGA?
When I interact with former students who are successful in their careers, it makes me feel good knowing that I potentially had a positive impact on their intellectual and professional development.
(Originally published Sept. 8, 2013)