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  • Writer's picturePatricia Salkin

One Lawyer Campus President Engaged in Colorful Feminist Activism as a College Student

Appointed as the 10th President of CUNY’s Brooklyn College in 2016, Michelle Anderson previously served as the Dean of CUNY Law School from 2006-2016. Prior to joining CUNY, Anderson was a law professor at Villanova University School of Law, where she became a leading legal scholar on rape law and sexual assault.

Following graduation from Yale Law School with a JD, Anderson clerked for Judge William A. Norris on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. After the clerkship, she entered academia working in the Appellate Litigation Program and Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center where she earned an LLM in Advocacy.

At CUNY Law School, Anderson enjoyed a successful tenure as dean where she is credited with, among other things, “…overseeing a period of great renewal and transformation in development, facilities, programs, and recognition…CUNY Law strengthened its public interest mission, increased its academic standards…. CUNY School of Law moved from a converted junior high school building in Flushing, Queens, to a new LEED gold-certified facility in Long Island City. CUNY Law launched a number of groundbreaking initiatives, as well, including the Pipeline to Justice Program, the Incubator Program, the Community & Economic Development Clinic, the Center for Urban Environmental Reform, the Center on Latino and Latina Rights & Equality, and the Sorensen Center for International Peace and Justice.”

But long before, as a college student, in 1988 Michelle Anderson disrupted the Miss California beauty pageant. Spending a year and half along with financial resources to enter the pageant, just as the winner was about to be announced, Anderson pulled out a banner that read, “Pageants Hurt All Women.” This protest actually exemplifies many traits of good college presidents – speaking out for what they believe is right, taking risks, strategic planning, and having the confidence to say and do what others may be thinking but are not willing to act on. Moreover, Anderson’s action suggested a youthful but ultimately enduring commitment to education and equality.

President Anderson has received numerous awards and recognition for her educational leadership, including City & State’s “Above & Beyond Award for Outstanding Women in Public Service” at the organization’s gala honoring the 25 most powerful women in New York who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in their field and made significant contributions to society; the “Susan Rosenberg Zalk Award” by the Feminist Press; and by the Center for Women in Government and Civil Society at the University of Albany, with its “Public Service Leadership Award.”

In announcing her appointment as President, Board of Trustees Chair Benno Schmidt (former President of Yale University and former Dean of Columbia Law School) and Chancellor James B. Milliken (also a lawyer) stated, “Dean Anderson brings to Brooklyn College a record of extraordinary academic leadership and success, a strong commitment to students, an exemplary record of public service and a deep belief in Brooklyn College’s mission of academic excellence and opportunity.” The search Committee was chaired by noted attorney and trustee Barry F. Schwartz.

The fact that the search committee and board of trustees were headed by lawyers, certainly created a welcoming environment for qualified lawyer leaders to navigate through the presidential search process, something that is not the case on every campus. While her legacy at Brooklyn College is still being written, Michelle Anderson has proven to be an excellent higher education leader.


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