News and Events
Renowned Real Estate Scholar Shines in the Classroom
This fall, world-renowned real estate scholar Grant Nelson joined the faculty at Pepperdine—the third institution to grant him tenure. He came most recently from UCLA, where he taught real estate finance, advanced real estate transactions, property, and remedies for 17 years. He was also a Faculty Research Fellow of the Richard S. Ziman Center for Real Estate.
While his widely regarded scholarship is well known throughout the academic world, he is also a gifted teacher who is at home in the classroom as much as he is when publishing ground-breaking material.
It’s a bit of an anomaly, but the real estate scholar started out teaching Constitutional law. After gaining his B.A and J.D. from the University of Minnesota, serving two years as a military police officer during the Vietnam era, and working two years at the large Minneapolis law firm Faegre and Benson, he became a young assistant professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia (Mizzou), where he taught Constitutional law.
The Constitutional law pool, he soon realized, was a bit crowded. “My opportunity to say something original or meaningful in the Constitutional law setting was relatively remote,” says Nelson. He found his niche by chance in the early 1970s, when the Mizzou dean planned to go on leave and needed another professor to teach his real estate finance course. He knew Nelson had practiced real estate finance at his firm, so in his absence, the dean appointed him.
Nelson saw the opportunity to impact this arena, and he went for it. Three years later another opportunity further solidified his decision. Nelson came into contact with Roger Noreen, head of the Law School Division at Westlaw Publishing. Noreen was unlike many publishers at the time; he was willing to take chances on young people. He directed Nelson to Dale Whitman, another young scholar who wanted to write a book on real estate finance. Nelson called, they wrote the book, and the twosome struck up a partnership and friendship that has lasted 34 years. Together they have written many case books, treatises, and articles.
In the late 1980s, the American Law Institute approached Nelson and Whitman about writing the first-ever restatement on mortgages. They spent the following eight years working as coreporters to create the groundbreaking Restatement of Property Third, (Mortgages). “I have to say,” reflects Nelson, “of all the projects I’ve ever worked on, it was the most rewarding.” Over the years, they have watched numerous courts adopt their positions from the Restatement.
While his scholarship is robust, Nelson is not the type of legal scholar whom students avoid. Unlike some professors who consider teaching “the price to pay” for scholarly freedom, Nelson sees a symbiotic relationship wherein teaching and scholarship richly enhance each other. In his 41 years of teaching law, Nelson has seen conflict between these two charges on some faculties, but he disagrees.
“My scholarship informs my teaching literally every time I’m in the classroom,” he says. “It’s what keeps my mind expanding about the subject matter. Scholarship and teaching are inextricably intertwined.” Considering his nine distinguished awards for teaching, one point is clear: he’s a professor’s professor as well as a student’s professor.
At the same time, advancing the body of knowledge about the law remains a high priority of Nelson’s, and he always has scholarship in the works. His recently published pieces include a seventh edition of Equitable Remedies, Restitution, and Damages (with R. Leavell, J. Love, and C. Kovacic-Fleischer) a fourth edition of Land Transactions and
Finance (with Dale A. Whitman), and a sixth edition of Real Estate Transfer, Finance, and Development (with Whitman). Scheduled to be published this fall is a fifth edition of the two-volume treatise Real Estate Finance Law (with Whitman). In addition, he serves on the Law School Editorial Advisory Board of the West Group. He is also a member of the American College of Real Estate Lawyers as well as the American College of Mortgage Attorneys.
At present, Nelson is immersed in teaching real estate finance and property at Pepperdine as the William H. Rehnquist Professor of Law. Although new to his position, Nelson has longtime connections to the school, dating back to his first term as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in 1987. Later, he became a Pepperdine parent when his daughter
Rebekah attended and graduated from Seaver College and the Graduate School of Education and Psychology. In the fall of 2006, he returned as a visiting professor and decided to leave UCLA for Pepperdine.
His reasons for the change center on his prior contact with the University and the new opportunities teaching here brings. Working in a private, faith-based institution interested him. “I think there are certain things in a secular university one cannot impart in class,” observes Nelson. “Given the fact that my wife Judy and I take our Christianity seriously, this is an opportunity late in my career to do something I’ve never done before—to be part of a Christian legal institution.”
He cites Dean Starr as an outstanding leader and another reason for the move. “He came here with the notion that it’s time Pepperdine broke into the top tier of law schools, and frankly, I’d like to be part of that,” says Nelson.
His appointment has been greeted warmly from the school’s side as well. Dean Starr notes, “We welcome Professor Nelson at Pepperdine. He will have tremendous impact on our students and our school, and we are honored to have him join our faculty.”
At the end of the day, it may be the students who gain the most. They have the opportunity to learn from someone who loves to teach. “It’s my life,” says Nelson. “I like teaching in the same way a thespian likes going on stage; it is an indescribable high. I still—after 41 years of being a law professor—am on edge and a bit nervous before I go into the classroom. But after a minute or two, I get into the zone. And having a good class is one of life’s joys. For me, it’s fun.”
by Emily DiFrisco
Originally published in the fall issue of Pepperdine Law.