Referred to as a “legal pioneer” with careers in both the private and public sectors and now higher education, Karol V. Mason was appointed as the first woman and the first minority president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2017.
In the announcement of her appointment, Chancellor James Milliken stated, “Karol Mason has established herself as a bold, visionary leader in the fields of law and criminal justice reform…she will be bringing her skills, energy and insights to our outstanding students…” Eric Holder, former United States Attorney General (2009 to 2015), commented: “In a nation grappling with issues surrounding its criminal justice system, the appointment of Karol Mason at John Jay College is a welcome sign that evidence-based solutions to these issues will be championed. Throughout her career, and especially during her time at the Department of Justice, Karol was an advocate for principled research and the development of new ways to deal with issues that we have confronted for so long. In this new role at this prestigious institution I am confident she will be a leader in helping to make the progress our nation so sorely needs."
Following graduation from the University of Michigan Law School, Mason clerked for the Hon. John F. Grady who served on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. She then joined the international law firm of Alston & Bird, LLP moving from Associate to Partner, Chair of the Public Finance Group, and Member and then Chair of the firm’s Management Committee. Mason was the firm’s first black female partner. She left the firm for a few years beginning in 2009 (to 2012) to serve as the Deputy Associate Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice where she oversaw the Office of Justice Programs, the Office of Violence Against Women, the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Community Relations Services, and the Tax Division. Nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Karol Mason was appointed as Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs (2013-2017) where, among other things, she oversaw an annual budget of more than $4 billion dedicated to supporting state, local, and tribal criminal justice agencies; an array of juvenile justice programs; a wide range of research, evaluation, and statistical efforts; and comprehensive services for crime victims. Led and managed a workforce of approximately 1,275 people, of which 720 were federal employees, and the remainder were contractors and fellows.
In an interview shortly after arriving at John Jay, President Mason said that she decided she wanted to be a lawyer because she saw that civil rights lawyers were changing the world. When asked to describe the defining factor that led her to take on the role as President of John Jay, Mason responded, “I didn’t want to be a college president—I wanted to be the President of John Jay, because of what John Jay does and represents. John Jay students are often the first generation to attend college. John Jay provides a wonderful opportunity to educate future leaders whose perspectives are critical for our country. This is a dream job because education has the power to transform people’s lives. I want to be here for the long haul and end my professional career at John Jay, and see what these young people do to lead our country.”
When asked about her greatest strengths, she replied, “I’m not a traditional candidate, but I have had deep exposure to academia, and I’m a continual learner. I’m also able to listen and build consensus…My experience in the DOJ administration also lets me make connections for students.”