Social Justice Initiatives Recognizes Columbia Law Graduates' Contributions to Public Interest Law

Honors Celebration Commemorates 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Legacy of Professor and Distinguished Alumnus Ted Shaw '79
New York, May 16, 2014—Fifty years after the historic passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Columbia Law School students, alumni, and faculty continue to fight for a better world, said Dean for Social Justice Initiatives (SJI) Ellen Chapnick and Professor Ted Shaw at Social Justice Initiatives’ 2014 Honors Celebration on April 16.
Dean for Social Justice Initiatives Ellen Chapnick, Professor Ted Shaw '79, Judge Ronald Ellis, and Dean David M. Schizer enjoyed the convivial evening celebrating SJI's exceptional year.
“This is not your usual public interest awards dinner,” Chapnick said to the energetic crowd assembled for the reception and ceremony at Columbia University’s Faculty House. “We are here to recognize students who have come to Columbia Law School to contribute their knowledge and their energy to the challenges before us.”

The gathering served as the capstone for another exceptional year of public interest advocacy among the Law School community and honored the extraordinary commitment of students from the Class of 2014, including 65 who performed at least 100 hours of pro bono services during their time at the Law School. According to SJI’s tally, 53 spent both law school summers working for public interest organizations or government agencies, and 72 will work in the field immediately after graduation. The classes of 2015 and 2016 enjoyed a banner year as well, participating in this year’s Spring Break Caravans and more than 20 in-house pro bono projects, several of which were student-run.

The evening also marked the beginning of a new chapter for Theodore M. “Ted” Shaw ’79, Professor of Professional Practice in Law, who is leaving Morningside Heights after six years to become director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law. SJI presented Shaw with the 2014 Distinguished Public Interest Graduate of the Year Award, which is presented to a Columbia Law School graduate who exemplifies commitment to social justice.

Chapnick quoted from a note that one of Shaw’s friends, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, wrote for the occasion, that said Shaw’s life is “a guiding beacon for anyone interested in public service.”
Dean David M. Schizer, the Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law and the Harvey R. Miller Professor of Law and Economics, praised Shaw and his remarkable career, which includes years of leadership at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF).

“It is such a pleasure to see everyone together tonight and to honor an utterly brilliant, magnificently talented lawyer,” Schizer said. “If Ted Shaw says it, he believes it; and if he believes it, he lives it, which is more rare than you might think.”

Another of Columbia Law School’s distinguished public interest graduates, Anurima Bhargava ’02, chief of the educational opportunities section at the civil rights division of the U.S. Department of Justice, spoke movingly about Shaw’s impact on her career during her time with the LDF.

“Ted taught us how to bring ourselves and be ourselves in our work,” Bhargava said. “Today, like yesterday, race matters, context matters, and facts matter. And always, we all matter.”
Professor Shaw thanked his wife, Halona Shaw.
Taking the podium to thunderous applause, Shaw was characteristically modest and gracious, honoring the iconic career of Jack Greenberg ’48, the Alphonse Fletcher, Jr. Professor of Law and civil rights trailblazer who argued Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court before becoming a renowned teacher and mentor at Columbia Law School.

“I thought I’d be roasted and not toasted,” Shaw said. “If you believe everything that’s said it starts to go to your head and you lose perspective. I’d rather shine the spotlight on Jack Greenberg, who’s here tonight, and about whom all those things are true. Everything I am as a lawyer—everything I’ve done—flows from Jack Greenberg.”

Apologizing for being unable to personally thank everyone who has supported him along the way, Shaw acknowledged the indefatigable support of his wife, Halona Shaw, and reflected on the lifelong journey he has shared with his sister, Vivian Buckingham ’02, also a Columbia Law School graduate.

“I am so proud we are both alumni of this law school, and have joined this marvelous Columbia community that has brought so many of us together,” Shaw said. “We started out in Harlem, on 129th street between Fifth and Madison, and looking up the hill at Columbia we have a different perspective than most others in this institution.”

Concluding his remarks, Shaw said the work of social justice movements continues, for African Americans and other populations.

“I think about the women who work at the Law School, now mostly Latino, who clean our offices and our toilets, who are the contemporary version of our grandparents,” Shaw said. “You are better off, not better, so give back.”
Students and faculty, including Professor Jack Greenberg '48, gathered for a group shot.
Attendees at the event signed a thank you card for Shaw, who is leaving Columbia Law School for the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law.