Legacy Series: Urdang’s Simple Path to HRM Leads to No Regrets

Posted: Monday, July 24th 2017 at 12:09 PM

Professor Bruce UrdangProfessor Bruce Urdang, originally from Queens, New York City, New York, and then South Shore Long Island, went to public schools his whole life, including his undergraduate degree in political science from State University of New York, College at Oneonta in 1980. He had a brief internship during senior year working for a member of the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. and discovered he had an interest in the law.

Post-graduation, he leveraged that connection into a position with US News and World Report on an LBJ Undergrad scholarship in D.C. but returned to Queens to achieve his J.D. from St. John’s University. After all of this, he was ready for a change.

“It's ’84, and I'm about to graduate law school, and I had enough of New York by then. I'd been there my whole life. It was rough, unlike now. I had an older brother who had escaped first to California so I was one of the few New Yorkers who realized there were places that existed west of the Hudson River. No one leaves.

“I had some really good job offers. I had clerked over the summers during law school for the biggest law firm on Wall Street, and they made me a nice offer to join them. I didn't want it. I just didn't want to be a Wall Street lawyer at that time. I wanted to get out of New York,” he said.

Checking the job board at St. John’s, Urdang noticed an ad for a small firm in Phoenix that was recruiting back East because one of the partners had gone to Rutger’s (in New Jersey). He contacted them, and they invited him to come out for an interview.

“I'd never been to Phoenix in my life. I didn't know anyone. I went out for an interview, they offered me a job, a couple weeks later I graduated and was on my way to Phoenix,” he said.

Urdang held the job for five years. In his third year, a young rookie lawyer by the name of Bill (aka Billy) Miller joined the firm. Miller was the son of Bill Miller, then-associate dean at NAU’s School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM). Urdang was a few years older and more seasoned at the firm, and they became very good friends. One day, Miller approached Urdang about a teaching opportunity.

“Billy says to me, ‘you know my dad is the associate dean at the Hotel School up in Flagstaff and the person teaching the law class there is leaving… Do you want to apply for the position?’ I thought, Flagstaff, I like it, I'd been up there, Phoenix was getting a little hot and old after 5 years there. College professor, never thought about that. I thought, sounds kind of interesting, and by then I’m married, had a young infant. So I met with then-Dean Peter Van Kleek, Bill Miller, Sr., David Whorton, the vice president under [then-NAU President] Gene Hughes. That afternoon they offered me the job. Things were different back then. They called it an administrative hire. I took a pay cut and said 'ok,'” he recalled.

A few months later, in Fall 1989, he sold his house in Phoenix, moved to Flagstaff and “had to learn how to be a college professor.”

“One of the best things about coming up here was that those administrators including Peter Van Kleek, Bill Miller, later Dave Williams, were very professional academicians. They didn't treat faculty like troops or employees; they treated us like we were in charge. Dave Williams, he said the greatest thing, ‘I'm just gonna get out of the way and let you good people do your work,’ and he did.

“I remember when I met with Van Kleek, he said, ‘I want a person who is a lawyer teaching this course, who is a real lawyer, not just an academic lawyer, someone who goes to court and been to court and writes documents and still does.’ …a tort is a tort, if it's in a hotel or a restaurant, real estate office, doesn't matter. I think that was wise. I think he did that with most of the faculty here,” he said. 

“I was always encouraged – not only permitted, but encouraged – to maintain my private practice of law and have to this day. That keeps me sharp, keeps me busy, keeps me current,” he said.

Urdang also recalls Van Kleek trying to entice him with the fact that one benefit of working with NAU would be tuition assistance for his children.

“I had an infant and one in utero, and I thought to myself, I don't care about that. That's 18 years from now. I care about whether I can buy groceries tomorrow.” Eighteen years later, the benefit paid off with Urdang’s two sons.

“The older son is just about 29 now and holds a dual major in chemistry and biochem from UofA. He was accepted into the University of Oregon medical school’s MD-PhD program. Out of the 100 and some odd med school students who entered that year, only three of them are MD-PhD students,” Urdang said with pride. “My younger son is 27, finishing a masters in art education at UofA. He's going to be a teacher. He's a good artist, just like my wife is and my mother, too. Two good boys. They're just fine. We get along great,” he said.

Over time, Urdang achieved his status as a tenured professor. He teaches the junior level introductory law class, Hospitality Law, focusing on contracts and torts. The cases covered include contracts involving accommodations and group contracts at hotels for lodging. They talk about breach of contracts and about laws pertaining to food service.

“I like teaching. This school has always been so friendly, so collegial among faculty, administrators, and students. Always been so student-friendly... There were never any conflicts, no one ever had any problems with students, students were loving this place, they got personal attention all the time. I wasn't used to that. Such a non-confrontational place to be with people like Don Carlson, Galen Collins, and Frannie Hill, on and on. Everyone liked each other. A great place to work,” he said.

“My friends back East say, ‘Where are you?’ They’re in Plainview, Long Island or Merick or Queens. I don't regret a minute. I like teaching, I like my students, I like that I've had the freedom to do my other work along with my University work. I wouldn't change a thing,” he concludes.

Categories: bruce urdang legacy series 2017 summer 2017 faculty