Professor Alan Dershowitz Donates Papers to Brooklyn College
Pride and joy were palpable as famed lawyer, law professor and author Alan M. Dershowitz returned to his alma mater, Brooklyn College, to formally present a treasure trove of papers to the college’s archive that document his life and career. Friends, teachers from 55 years ago, judges, students he taught at Harvard Law, and family learned a bit more about Dershowitz as they heard warm tributes and reminiscences that were often punctuated by good-natured humor.
In his remarks, a clearly delighted Dershowitz thanked his mother, “who saved everything,” for the beginnings of his collection. He was barely accepted to Brooklyn College, coming from a parochial high school where he was an indifferent student with poor grades. Making a remarkable transition, he graduated first in his college class, went to Yale Law, and, at 28, became the youngest ever full-time professor at Harvard Law.
He credits Brooklyn College with opening him up intellectually, teaching him to think, and preparing him “for everything,” he said. Statements that could have brought suspension at his high school brought commendation at Brooklyn. “It was an incredible campus. I loved every minute there,” he said, as he told stories and shared memories.
Praising the faculty, Dershowitz reminisced about a blind professor who recognized everyone by voice by the second week of classes; Benjamin Rivlin, a distinguished Mideast politics teacher (now emeritus, but present to honor his former student) who presented “all the facts, all sides, not the propaganda being taught today;” and John Hope Franklin, the first African-American professor in a non-historically black college, who refrained from pressing his own viewpoint and instead encouraged students to think for themselves.
When he looks at Brooklyn students today, Dershowitz said he sees himself and his friends. They may wear different types of clothing and be of different colors and ethnicities, he explained, but share with him a history of being first-generation Americans with teachers who understand them.
Jeffrey Toobin, the well-known writer and legal analyst for CNN and New Yorker magazine, spoke of his first day in Dershowitz’s class at Harvard Law, where Dershowitz told his students that “more of you will wind up as criminal defendants than as criminal lawyers.” Expressing deep affection for his former professor, Toobin declared, “Alan is first and foremost a teacher.” He said that “no one has written with more rigor and intelligence than he has.”
Professor Stephanie Walker, chief librarian, and Professor Anthony M. Cucchiara, college archivist and head of Distinguished Collections at the Brooklyn College Library, explained that acquisition of the papers began in 2003. For Cucchiara, “a fabulous archival journey” commenced as almost 1,900 boxes of materials (with more still coming) began to arrive and over 20 archivists began laboring over “processing” the collection for public use.
“The Dershowitz collection will inspire students for decades to come,” Walker said. In today’s increasingly digital world, she said that the papers are important primary-source documents to students and researchers, a category of material generally not digitized.
College President Karen L. Gould described the gift as “a testament to the lifelong impact Brooklyn College has on its students.”
An exhibit, “In My Own Defense: The Papers of Alan Dershowitz,” is on display in the Brooklyn College Library until Jan. 3. Selected works capture his life and career and include childhood memorabilia, correspondence with significant public figures, copies of some of his over 30 books, magazine and newspaper articles, video interviews, hate mail, and views of life at Brooklyn College. #