Outstanding Faculty Award
Throughout her distinguished career that has spanned numerous disciplines — lawyer, professor, researcher, administrator, fundraiser, to name just a handful — Nancy Rapoport has been guided by a straightforward outlook on life: “Oh, what the heck, let me try it and see if I’m good at it.”
That mindset is what led Rapoport to law school and everything that has followed: Leading expert and scholar on bankruptcy law and legal ethics; law professor and dean (professor at four different institutions; dean at three); special counsel to the president (at UNLV); acting executive vice president and provost (at UNLV); senior advisor to the president (at UNLV) — the list goes on and on.
So, too, does the praise: No fewer than 15 letters of recommendation were included with her nomination for the 2022 UNLV Outstanding Faculty Award. These letters were submitted by business leaders, colleagues in the legal community and from various divisions within the UNLV ecosystem, and both current and former students from the William S. Boyd School of Law.
Each letter came with its own unique reasons why Rapoport was deserving of such a prestigious honor. But all shared one commonality: Rapoport’s impact on the lives she has touched — particularly since she arrived at UNLV in 2007 — has been substantial, and her dedication to her many roles resolute.
That’s why this is just the latest in a lengthy list of professional honors that have been bestowed upon Rapoport over the years. Among the others: 2008 Public Service Counsel of the Year; 2013 UNLV Boyd School of Law Dean of the Year (voted by students); 2017 CLLA Lawrence P. King Award (Commercial Law League of America); 2018 NAACP Legacy Builder Award (by Las Vegas Branch #1111); 2021 UNLV Boyd School of Law Faculty Member of the Year (voted by students); and 2022 UNLV Distinguished Professor Award (voted by peers).
Indeed, it’s clear that Nancy Rapoport’s personal mantra — “Oh, what the heck, let me try it and see if I’m good at it” — has served her and so many others well. It’s also clear that she’s more than “good at it” — no matter what “it” is.
Well, save for maybe one exception: “I actually entered Rice University as pre-med,” says the Houston native. “But it took me about a week to figure out that I hated the sight of blood. I also realized I didn’t really care how the body worked, so long as it did work. And so … law.”
What were your initial plans for a legal career?
There were no U.S. lawyers in my family — just one from Canada and one from Israel. So like many people who didn’t know a lot of lawyers, I had no idea when I started law school what lawyers really did or what options there were for me after graduation.
As I went through law school, I realized what a great life law professors had, so I found out what I needed to do to become one: Clerk for a judge, work for a firm, then apply for a teaching position. So I clerked for a federal judge, then went to work at a big firm with a main office in San Francisco.
I had every intention of staying a few years before leaving to become a professor, but I really liked the partner in charge of the bankruptcy practice, Adam Lewis. He mentored me and we became friends, so I thought of staying and making partner. But Adam pointed out that what I loved most about the practice of law was writing about things that interested me and training more junior lawyers.
He looked at me one day and said, “I think that, in your heart, you want to be a professor. So try to do that.” He was right. I’m glad I took his advice.
How did your interest in bankruptcy law intersect with your desire to be a law professor?
When I started practicing law, I began to realize that I loved thinking about things that interested me (things that clients weren’t necessarily interested in me researching). I found myself wanting to read and write about legal ethics in bankruptcy, which wasn’t a “thing” so much back when I was a beginning lawyer.
As for how this relates to teaching, there is a thrill that professors get when seeing someone start to grasp a difficult concept — which can lead to another thrill: Seeing someone realize his or her talents in a specific area, like watching former students become judges. That’s a joyful moment.
You’ve served in numerous administrative capacities at UNLV. What led you to go down so many different roads?
I’ve been fortunate to have colleagues who have appreciated my ability to pitch in and help make systems work more smoothly — to make places run better; to make places more harmonious. So when [former UNLV presidents] Don Snyder and Len Jessup asked me to serve in various roles, I was happy to say yes.
I absolutely loved my time in UNLV’s central administration, working with talented and driven people. Seeing the university outside of Boyd Law made me appreciate UNLV’s potential.
UNLV students and alumni are encouraged to embrace the “Rebel Spirit” — to be daring and gutsy and to resist convention. Describe a time when your “Rebel Spirit” was on full display.
Both Don Snyder and Len Jessup wanted to see if UNLV could reach Carnegie Research 1 (R1) status — the highest research designation in the country. That was a very heavy lift and getting there took enormous work from a vast network of people.
Many said UNLV couldn’t do it — that our research activity wasn’t large enough. But UNLV did do it. And it achieved that status while being the most diverse university in the country, as both a Minority-Serving and Hispanic-Serving Institution. UNLV did it while helping first-generation students feel welcome; while helping veterans and service members feel welcome; while helping DREAMers (thanks to our Immigration Clinic) feel safer; and while maintaining outstanding research and teaching across several areas of campus.
That’s the Rebel Spirit in action: A willingness to soar high while staying inclusive.
What does this honor mean to you personally?
This honor took my breath away. I’ve had two career highs this year: This honor and the honor of being named a UNLV Distinguished Professor. The latter comes from faculty peers, which is meaningful in that particular way; this one comes from people whose lives my life has intersected.
Knowing that, in some ways, I’ve helped to make the lives of UNLV students and alumni better and happier is something that touches me deep in my soul. As a teacher, the greatest gift that you can get is to see your students soar after they graduate.