Stephen F. Burns Professor of Law
In 2017 Stephen F. Burns, class of 1968, endowed a professorship that further enables the Law School to continue its innovative curricular focus on ethics and professionalism.
As CEO of Wheaton Van Lines, Burns helped transform it from a small van line to one of the nation’s biggest moving companies. Throughout an award-winning career that saw the company’s growth accelerate beyond expectations, Burns said he would often interact with people who didn’t possess the kind of traits he admired.
“When I went into business, I met a lot of good leaders. And I met some who were, shall we say, a bit unscrupulous,” Burns said. “Ethics seemed to be a void in them. And in talking with others, it wasn’t necessarily how smart they were, it was whether or not you could trust them.”
When he began to see the work the Maurer School of Law was doing to prepare its students to become not only good lawyers but good people, Burns recognized an opportunity to ensure that training would persist over time. He said he was particularly inspired by the work of Prof. William D. Henderson, one of the nation's leading scholars in this field.
“He’s the reason for this gift,” Burns said. “When I was in law school, we hardly had any courses like the Legal Profession course or Wintersession. Bill Henderson has the same passion that I do: that there needs to be a greater curricular experience in terms of ethics and professional responsibilities.”
The Legal Profession course, which the school launched in 2009, teaches first-year students the skills of lawyering in context by examining practice settings, law firm norms and nondoctrinal skills that all successful lawyers need: judgment, project management, client relations and teamwork.
Students work in teams on real-life, practice-related problems, developing their interpersonal skills in a team setting. The course was developed with the help of Henderson; former dean Lauren K. Robel, now IU Bloomington provost and executive vice president; and professors Charles Geyh and Carwina Weng. In addition to teaching the Legal Profession course, Weng was instrumental in the school’s Career Choices series, which invites alumni to Baier Hall to relay their professional experiences to current students.
“After hearing what Bill and others were doing and then after sitting down with Bill, it was clear that his passion for students and for the profession is unique,” Burns said. “Teaching ethics and professionalism is difficult to do in many respects, and I think that’s the reason so many other schools have shied away from it. I’m pleased to see my school taking a lead here.”Burns has received numerous honors for his industry achievements, including Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2006 (Indiana, Midwest and U.S. finalist); 2008 Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Moving and Storage Association (the industry's highest award); and Wheaton's highest honor, the Extra Mile Award, in 2010. He has also been an active volunteer, with a special emphasis on Give Kids the World, which helps children with life-threatening illnesses realize their dream of visiting Disney World.
Burns stepped down as Wheaton's CEO in September 2008, but he remains the company's chairman, focusing on acquisitions and diversification. He is a member of the law school’s Academy of Law Alumni Fellows, the highest honor the school bestows on its alumni.
William D. Henderson, Stephen F. Burns Professor of Law