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  • Writer's picturePatricia Salkin

Famed Lawyer President and Higher Education Reformer Benno Schmidt Passed Earlier This Month

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

Benno C. Schmidt, Jr. the 20th President of Yale University, passed away on July 9, 2023. Schmidt was appointed President in 1986 as the University was dealing with challenging labor, fiscal and facilities issues. His $1.5 billion capital campaign was, at the time, the most ambitious in higher education. He served at Yale until 1992. At times his relationship with the faculty was rocky. He was aware of the importance of town-gown relationships and is credited with investing millions of dollars in the neighborhoods around campus.

Prior to serving as President of Yale, he was Dean of Columbia Law School for two years, where we awarded tenure as a law professor at the age of 29. He clerked for the Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren after his graduation from Yale School and then at the Justice Department before joining Columbia Law School. Schmidt was a noted First Amendment scholar.

In 1998, Schmidt was appointed by then Mayor Rudolph Guiliani to a task force charged with revamping the CUNY system. Soon thereafter he was appointed as vice chair and then chair of the CUNY Board of Trustees, a position he held until 2016. He has been credited with reserving a “spiral of decline” at CUNY.

Schmidt was not the first lawyer president at Yale University. The first lawyer president was Elisha William from 1729 to 1739. Attorney Theodore Dwight Woolsey served as President from 1846-1871, and lawyer Kingman Brewster, Jr. served from 1963-1977.

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