Faculty Members Anthony D’Amato, John Elson, and Stephen B. Presser to Retire this Year

June 05, 2015

With a combined total of 124 years of service, three esteemed members of our faculty retired this year. Professors Anthony D’Amato, John Elson, and Stephen B. Presser all leave behind legacies that reflect their rich and distinguished academic careers at the Law School. 

In his opening remarks at an April reception honoring the three professors, Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez noted that perhaps the achievement that stands above all their numerous successes is that they “taught generations of law students who have gone on to great things.”

One of the longest-serving members of faculty, Anthony D’Amato joined Northwestern Law in 1968 after three years as a professor of political science at Wellesley College. The Judd and Mary Morris Leighton Professor of Law pursued academic interests in ethics and human rights. His courses included Analyzing Human Rights, International Law, Jurisprudence, and Principles of Justice. His first book, The Concept of Custom in International Law, was published in 1971 and is one of the most cited works in the field.

D’Amato’s passion for theater and music also benefitted the Law School. At faculty law review dinners, he played the piano and led the faculty to its most “professional and engaging performances,” commented David S. Ruder, William W. Gurley Memorial Professor of Law Emeritus and former Law School dean. This passion also led to D’Amato’s involvement as a producer of the musical Grease in its original run in the 1970s in Chicago and ultimate run on Broadway.

John Elson, professor of law and director of the Civil Litigation Center, joined Northwestern Law as a visiting assistant professor in 1975 and became one of the first tenured clinical faculty hired in the Bluhm Legal Clinic. Elson taught skills-related courses, engaged in a wide variety of law reform efforts including three cases he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, and developed clinic projects to protect the rights of disabled students, prisoners, and divorce clients. Through his scholarship, work in the ABA accreditation process, and consultations with other law schools, Elson has sought to make legal education more responsive to students’ practice needs. A fierce advocate for both clients and students, Elson received a number of Dean’s Teaching Awards as a result of student evaluations.

At the reception honoring retiring faculty members, Thomas F. Geraghty (JD ’70), Class of 1967 James B. Haddad Professor of Law and director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic, spoke about the enormous influence of Elson on the Law School. “John’s service to his colleagues, to his students, and to the community was marked by courage, skill, dedication, and the ability to engage the academy about the challenges facing clinical education.”

For the next three years Elson will continue to teach in the clinic during the fall semester.

Stephen B. Presser, Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History, joined Northwestern Law in 1977, following appointments at Rutgers State University School of Law and the University of Virginia School of Law. Presser’s diverse research interests led to cross appointments in the Kellogg School of Management’s Department of Strategy and Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of History.

Presser taught courses in American Jurisprudence, American Legal History, and Corporations. He received seven Dean’s Teaching Awards and was a three-time recipient of the Childres Award, an honor given to a faculty member selected by the student body as the most outstanding teacher that year. Presser has also been chosen multiple times by graduating law students to deliver the Last Lecture.

Professor Robert William Bennett, who initially recruited Presser when their terms as visiting professors overlapped at the University of Virginia School of Law, spoke of Presser’s prodigious talent. 

“Stephen is both a formidable scholar in legal history and a storied teacher. He captures the students’ attention in a way that can only make the rest of us envious,” said Bennett, Nathaniel L. Nathanson Professor of Law.

A leading American legal historian and expert on shareholder liability for corporate debts, Presser is frequently an invited witness on issues of constitutional law before committees of the US Senate and House of Representatives. He will continue to teach part-time at the Law School for at least the next three years.