Q&A: Forbes No. 1 Ranked Instructor Douglas Klutz

Douglas Klutz, criminal justice instructor
Douglas Klutz, criminal justice instructor

From the November 2017 Desktop News | A September article in Forbes named University of Alabama instructor Douglas Klutz as the top professor in the United States.

In a nationwide poll conducted last month, college students voted for their favorite professors on RateMyProfessors.com.

Out of the 1.7 million professors from more than 7,500 colleges on the site, one stood above all the rest: Klutz, the internship and advising director and a full-time criminal justice instructor in the College of Arts and Sciences at The University of Alabama.

According to the site, Klutz received an overall quality rating of 5 out of 5 from 322 students. They also rated the difficulty of his classes as a 1.8 out of 5 with 5 being the hardest, and 100 percent of students said they would take another course by him.

He also received a hot chili pepper, which means that most students think he is physically “hot.”

“I mean what’s to say that hasn’t been already said?” said one student on the site. “He’s so down to earth and his lectures are fantastic! He really makes sure that you know your rights as a citizen.”

Another student simply posted “LEGEND.”

So what’s it like being the top-ranked professor according to student opinion? And what’s his secret? The UA New Center spoke with Klutz to find out.

Q: Instructor Klutz, you’re obviously “the man.” How does it feel to be No. 1?

A: I am very thankful for the positive feedback from students. It’s a real honor to have been reviewed so positively, and a big surprise to find out about the article from Forbes.

When I was an undergraduate student, RateMyProfessor had just come on the scene in terms of popularity, so I was just starting to use it back then as a student. There are a lot of extremes on it. You can get great reviews, but if you have students who are disgruntled you can have very negative reviews as well. Some of the extreme comments you can throw out, but in general the comments seemed to hold true.

Q: What is it about how you teach these classes that causes students to think of you so highly?

A: I think one of the advantages I have is I teach about 900 students a semester – two large Introduction to Criminal Justice classes with about 410 students a piece, and I teach Internships in Criminal Justice, which ranges from 50-100 students a semester.

I think the field of criminal justice itself is interesting, and there’s always something pertinent to discuss going on in society. I try to make sure my lectures focus a lot on current events.

I also really enjoy helping students with their résumé and career preparation, as well as going over what jobs are available in the field. I like to incorporate discussions about in-demand skill sets such as learning a foreign language, gaining advanced computer skills, and developing soft skills to better prepare them for their future careers and what they will face in the job market.

I find that making class content directly applicable to the real world helps. Students like to see the bridge from academia to the real world.

Q: Can you give some examples of real-world content you use in your classes?

A: We talk about Fourth and Fifth Amendment issues and cases. For example with the Fourth we talk about what consent means with regard to searches and we also discuss SCOTUS cases like Weeks, Mapp, Katz and Kyllo and the precedent behind these cases. With the Fifth, I cover Miranda in good detail. I find that students really enjoy learning about their rights and landmark Supreme Court cases.

Many students at the beginning of the semester are largely unfamiliar with their Constitutional rights, and I think they enjoy learning about them in greater detail and how they apply to the real world. We also talk a lot about white-collar crimes, and I tell them we’ve all been affected by some of these scandals in order to give an example of why criminal justice is important to study.

We also talk about trial-by-media cases like O.J. Simpson and Casey Anthony. We discuss the intricacies of these cases, and cover a lot of nuances pertaining to the cases many people have no idea about.

I also like to cover the Zodiac Killer case, which is one of the great unsolved murder mysteries in U.S. history, as well as civil court cases like the McDonald’s hot coffee case.

Q: How has The University of Alabama helped you?

A: Working at The University of Alabama has been great. I teach a lot of students and I get to meet students from so many different backgrounds, and many students from all over the world. So teaching at UA has really been a great opportunity for me personally.

We have amazing resources here at UA. To be able to teach 410 students in a room at once and yet it feels like a small environment where we’re still able to carry on conversations, is great. Sometimes I forget how big the class is.

Q: You received a hot chili pepper from students about how you look. How do you feel about that? 

A: (silence, followed by short laughter)

Q: What is your background?

A: I’m originally from Wilmington, North Carolina. After obtaining my undergraduate degree in criminal justice from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, I had the opportunity to work on a Department of Defense-funded contract during my graduate school days. This work involved looking at federal government law enforcement technologies, and trying to get some of these technologies into the hands of local and state law enforcement personnel.

My goal at the time was to work for the federal government long-term, but unfortunately the timing of me finishing graduate school came on the heels of the financial crisis in 2008-2009. A lot of federal contract work dried up. … So, I decided to gravitate towards the academic market, and fortunately I was hired for this position at UA in the fall of 2011.

Q: Any advice for other professors and for students?

A: I think students really enjoy professors who make classes as relatable to the real world as possible, and let students know what is out there in the work world in their given field. Students enjoy when you sit down with them and answer questions pertaining to career planning and what they will face in the job market. Especially in the field of criminal justice, there are many misconceptions based on what is portrayed in television shows and movies.

My advice for students is to seek to gain as much real-world experience in school as possible. Complete internships in your given field. And remember the importance of networking. The more contacts you can develop the better. Often it only takes one opportunity to set your entire career in motion.