Distinguished Teaching Award

Mark Fischler, Professor of Criminal Justice

John Anderson photo.

Mark Fischler has come full circle. A self-proclaimed “faculty brat,” Fischler was born just weeks after his father, Michael Fischler, joined the faculty of PSU’s Department of Education. He grew up on campus and experienced his first sense of community at PSU, where he was influenced by everyone from his father’s colleagues, who were early mentors, to members of the paint crew, with whom he had his first job.

Fischler left Plymouth to attend the University of New Hampshire where his studies in political science ignited a love of philosophy and justice that led him to law school at the University of Maine. After graduation he worked for nearly four years as a trial attorney for the Public Defender’s Office from a home base in Sugar Hill. “While I fulfilled my dream to work as a trial attorney, I also felt a strong spiritual pull,” Fischler explains. “I left my job and spent 18 months living in a meditative community outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.”

Early experiences had opened Fischler’s eyes to the critical role that teachers play in society, but his experience in New Mexico made him consider his own potential as an educator. Still, he returned home with plans to begin a private law practice—until Professor of Business and Criminal Justice David Kent approached him about joining the new criminal justice department at PSU. “Through my work as an attorney, I often served as a guest lecturer, but never saw a path to university teaching for myself,” Fischler says. “Then I was presented with an amazing opportunity to help build this new program, and to infuse classes with my own philosophies about individuals, the human experience, ethics, and the law.”

Fast forward 10-plus years. Fischler is now an associate professor and chair of the department that he helped build. In his classes, he is recognized for his focus on students. He is known for arriving early to allow time for engagement and fostering conversations that bring real-life experiences to classwork. “The idea is to nurture mutual respect. It’s important to see students as total beings, to discover their learning styles and how they relate to the world,” he says. “The greater the personal connection, the greater the level of investment, and the better our understanding of the topics we study.”

Fischler is equally open with his students, sharing events from his life. “When my daughter Aurora was born, my wife and I received advice from everyone, but the most precious came from students. We did an exercise about what makes a good parent, and each student submitted an essay, thoughtful and thought-provoking writing, which my wife and I still look at often,” he remembers.

In Fischler’s classes, respect is also tangible. Just as he is recognized for always being early, so too is he known for his rules of classroom etiquette: class starts on time, and any distraction—including the ever-present cell phone—is put aside.  “It is impossible to be two places at once,” he says. “Our time in the classroom is time for each other, so we need to be fully present to self-reflect, consider the material, and learn.”

As PSU’s criminal justice department graduates another class, Fischler reflects on those students who have entered law enforcement and corrections, or who serve as prosecutors or defense counsel, and are impacting their communities. “Justice is the only system in the US that can take away a person’s liberty permanently, and that’s serious business. Through our program, we see students grow to fully understand themselves and their beliefs,” Fischler concludes. “Our students have a holistic perspective of the justice system and an elevated level of consciousness, which equips them to enhance their new roles with a deep understanding of the law, ethics, and morality.”

Donna Eason ’85 

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