Professor Mindy Chen-Wishart
Tutor in Law
Mindy Chen-Wishart is a Professor of the Law of Contract at the University, and currently also the Dean of the Faculty of Law. She has been a Fellow and Tutor in Law at Merton since 1994.
Mindy describes Oxford as her ‘intellectual home’, although she considers herself to have three homes. She was born and spent her formative years in Taiwan. When she was ten, her family emigrated to New Zealand. There, she was educated and studied law at the University of Otago. And then in 1992 she came to Oxford, to St Hilda’s, as a Rhodes Visiting Research Fellow. She arrived in the UK as a young mother for that three-year fellowship, originally planning to return to New Zealand afterwards. But at the end of those three years, she was offered a tutorial position at Merton – and she has been here ever since.
Mindy has taught many subjects over the years, including restitution, torts, administrative law and consumer protection law, but her focus is now on contract law. She has taught in law schools in China, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Thailand – experience that leads her to say: "But I can honestly say that Oxford's tutorial system gives the best legal education in the world."
These international links are reflected in Mindy’s other professorships: she is an Honorary Professor at Otago University, holds a fractional Professorship at the National University of Singapore, and is a Visiting Professor at Hong Kong University.
Her research and writing naturally reflect her interest in contract law. Mindy is co-editor of an extensive six-book project for OUP on the contract laws of 14 Asian jurisdictions. Three books of the six in the series, Studies in the Contract Laws of Asia, have now been published. Mindy is also author of Contract Law (the 6th edition came out in 2018) and one of the editors of Chitty on Contracts (now in its 33rd edition).
She explains her fascination with contract law.
"Other species make and use tools, but they don’t coordinate and cooperate to the high level that human beings do; a significant form of this is via the institution of contract. Contract law gives a partial but important answer to the question: how should we treat one another?"
Mindy has always played an active role in the Law Faculty: after first taking the role of Director of Undergraduate Studies, she spent four years as Associate Dean of Taught Graduates, and, following a sabbatical in New Zealand, became Dean of the Faculty of Law in October 2020. She is philosophical about the effects of the pandemic on Oxford:
"It is rare for our venerable institution to change our modus operandi in such fundamental ways. But within crisis lie the seeds of opportunities."
Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch, what was your first impression?
How on earth did I get here! My grandfather was a truck driver and I remember my mother cooking over a fire on the ground. And, here I have the immense privilege of teaching, researching, and serving this world-class institution that has continuously engaged in the academic endeavour since 1264. It all seemed unreal, and I still pinch myself. It has been the honour of my life.
Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?
Being told that I was the first tenure-track female tutorial fellow in the College’s history was pretty memorable. I recall thinking that Merton was incredibly brave to take me on.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I am not nearly as scary as my students think I am.
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?
I cannot think of a ready answer to this. Every chaotic twist and turn in my life as an immigrant, a woman of colour, a mother, a sister, a wife, an ex-wife, someone who has experienced depression and extreme self-doubt, a traveller of the old world and the new, of the East and the West, has brought me to my current location. My younger self probably would not have followed any tips. We all have to make our own mistakes and find our own way.
Describe Merton in three words.
Magnificent; Understated; At ease.