Letters to the Editor

College of Law Dean Craig Boise: CCJI not being terminated; faculty asked to return to teaching

Dear Editor,

I was disappointed to read your coverage about the Cold Case Justice Initiative (CCJI), because it does not accurately portray the status of CCJI and inaccurately points to a lack of transparency and failure to communicate with CCJI’s co-directors, professors Paula Johnson and Janis McDonald. To be clear, CCJI has not been “terminated” by the College of Law or Syracuse University. What has occurred is that a long-understood funding commitment to CCJI by the university and the College of Law ended by its own terms last summer.

There is no question that CCJI has accomplished great things over the years, bringing national attention to unsolved, racially motivated killings that occurred during the Civil Rights era of the 1960s. In support of that work, during the 10 years since CCJI’s inception, the university and the College of Law have invested more than $3 million in the program. Those funds were provided with the expectation that CCJI’s co-directors would obtain additional funding for the program to continue. Professors Johnson and McDonald began conversations nearly three years ago with both the former Provost and the former College of Law dean about the fiscal sustainability of CCJI. In a June 2014 memo to the university administration, both co-directors acknowledged that the university “has generously supported CCJI in its activities,” and stated, “We understand that Syracuse University cannot continue to support CCJI at the same financial level.”  The term of the original funding commitments to CCJI expired on June 30, 2016.

Our investment in CCJI included providing professors Johnson and McDonald full relief from their teaching obligations for more than six years. With the expiration of that funding, both professors have returned to the classroom. I believe that having our faculty in the classroom providing law students with the specific legal knowledge and skills required to be successful graduates in pursuit of their careers is an important and appropriate use of faculty resources. Professors Johnson and McDonald have told The Daily Orange that they “have the capacity to teach courses while also running the program,” so their return to the classroom was not a termination of CCJI.

Professors Johnson and McDonald have also told The Daily Orange that they’re “capable of funding the CCJI without SU’s help.” Since January, I have been engaged in conversations with both professors about the future of CCJI, and I have been clear in expressing my support for their efforts to secure a different funding model to sustain their work. Specifically, I have encouraged their exploration of potential options for transitioning CCJI and its historical investigative work by identifying alternative, mission-aligned philanthropic or government funding sources. I remain hopeful that professors Johnson and McDonald will be successful in forging a new model for CCJI that will allow its work to continue.

One additional fact bears noting. Although CCJI has engaged students in its work over the years, those students received no academic credit for their work. The research work done by CCJI, while in some areas touching on the law, is essentially investigative rather than legal. I believe our students are best served by the wide range of opportunities the College of Law offers them through our nine legal clinics, and dozens of externships and pro bono initiatives. By engaging in these opportunities, our students earn academic credit for public service and legal advocacy on behalf of underrepresented and disenfranchised populations, and in turn develop the legal acumen that is required to succeed in the legal careers of their choice.

The College of Law fully supports engagement by both faculty and students with pressing social issues in our community and beyond. I will continue to support the investment of our resources in ways that directly support our mission: to provide an outstanding legal education to our students in the classroom that prepares them for success long after they have left the College of Law.

Craig M. Boise

Dean and Professor of Law

Syracuse University College of Law

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