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CUNY Law School accepting nominations for W. Haywood Burns Chair on Human & Civil Rights

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CUNY School of Law in Long Island City is accepting nominations for the W. Haywood Burns Chair in Human & Civil Rights in memory of the trailblazing dean. (Courtesy of CUNY Law)

The City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law in Long Island City announced the return of the W. Haywood Burns Chair in Human & Civil Rights in honor of the school’s second dean. CUNY Law is accepting nominations and applications for the distinguished visiting faculty position that “uplifts the work of racial justice leaders who reflect the qualities and convictions” of Burns, who was serving as the school’s second dean when was killed in a car crash in 1996 while attending a conference on democracy in South Africa.

The Burns Chair was established at CUNY Law that same year to honor the trailblazer’s commitment to advancing civil rights and human rights, and his dedication to the education of lawyers who uphold and defend the rights of the most vulnerable in society.

Haywood’s political activism showed at age 15, when he helped integrate a swimming pool in his native Peekskill, N.Y. After graduating with honors from Harvard and earning his law degree from Yale, Burns served as the first law clerk to U.S. District Court Judge Constance Baker Motley. Then, while assistant counsel to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, he also served as general counsel to Rev. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign.

In 1969, Burns helped to found, and then became the first director of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. He became the first African American president of the National Lawyers Guild and led both organizations in championing international solidarity from Grenada to Namibia. He monitored trials in Northern Ireland and South Africa’s first election and advised on the drafting of South Africa’s Interim Constitution.

He successfully defended the racial justice scholar and activist Angela Davis against criminal charges, and he represented 82 incarcerated men facing charges related to the Attic Prison uprising.

Burns continuously battled racism with his writing and in the courtroom, believing that the law needed a public institution dedicated to recruiting and training lawyers committed to the representation of those who have been and continue to be underserved, or not served, by the legal profession.

A recognized constitutional and criminal law authority, Burns was the founding dean of the City College Urban Legal Studies program from 1977 to 1987 and then became the first African American dean at CUNY School of Law.

“When he served as CUNY Law’s dean, Haywood mentored and inspired generations of students, many of whom were the first in their families to attend college or earn a law degree,” CUNY School of Law Dean Sudha Setty said. “Today, they are leading efforts to advance justice at a time when CUNY Law graduates are needed more than ever.”

A singular opportunity for scholars, legal educators, litigators and activists, the Burns Chair engages the intellectual and social life of the law school through public lectures, symposia, seminar classes, class visits and social events. The Burns Chair will receive “competitive remuneration, research and administrative support, assistance with travel and living expenses, and the unique opportunity to advance their work while engaging CUNY Law’s dynamic network of social justice students, lawyers, activists and scholars, locally and internationally,” according to the announcement.

The Burns Chair will also support the professional development of CUNY Law students through meaningful engagement with classes, clinics, student groups and the Burns Student Research Fellowship.

“It is such an exciting and fitting tribute to celebrate Haywood’s legacy as we anticipate celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2023, Setty said.

Nominations and applications for the spring 2023 semester appointment will be open until Oct. 7, though submissions will continue to be accepted on an ongoing basis.

For more information, contact Professor Nicole Smith Futrell at burnschair@law.cuny.edu.

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