On September 29, the Cornell Law Review and the Rutgers School of Law co-hosted a symposium commemorating the life of Sherry Colb and exploring the wide impact of her scholarship.
Colb was a member of the Rutgers School of Law faculty from 1993 to 2008. Beloved by colleagues and students alike, she was selected as a faculty graduation speaker. After stints as a visiting professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia law schools, in 2008, Professor Colb joined the Cornell Law School faculty. There too, she was beloved by colleagues and students. In 2012 she received the Anne Lukingbeal Award for outstanding commitment to the women of Cornell, and she was chosen as the faculty graduation speaker in 2015. In 2019, Professor Colb was named the inaugural C.S. Wong Professor of Law. She taught at Cornell until her death in 2022.
The symposium, which was a collaborative effort by faculty, administrators and students at both Rutgers and Cornell, took place at Rutgers School of Law in Newark. The day’s events featured papers and discussion by four panels of distinguished faculty from the two institutions as well as other law schools around the country, and focused on four areas inspired by Professor Colb’s work: cross-cutting themes, animal rights, criminal law, and feminist jurisprudence. The papers will be published in the Cornell Law Review.
Andrew Gelfand, class of 2023 and former editor-in-chief of the Review, noted, “Professor Colb trained class after class of Cornell Law students to approach complex problems of law and society, to resist dogmatic thinking while remaining committed to first principles, and to not be afraid to make use of enlightening wit or righteous anger.”
That theme of enlightenment, and of light, continued throughout the event in reference both to Colb’s intellectual brilliance and to her fearless and influential advocacy. Rutgers’ Sally Goldfarb recalled, “She had a coruscating wit, which she deployed to powerful effect.” Cornell’s Deborah Dinner observed, “Hers was a prophetic voice.” Cornell’s Mariann Sullivan said, “I just wish Sherry was here to shed a little bit more light.”
Multiple speakers recalled Colb’s diverse approach to creating change, which encompassed strategies ranging from highly persuasive writing, to public speaking, to baking for her students – and, which, though philosophically rigorous, was also grounded in practical concerns and in compassion.
Cornell’s Michael Dorf, Colb’s husband and frequent collaborator, discussed Colb’s book Mind If I Order the Cheeseburger? as an illustration of the thoughtful way that she could engage those who disagreed with her. It modeled, he said, “a kind of advocacy that I think is extremely effective.”
Throughout the day, Colb’s legacy was palpable as the speakers both lauded and grappled with her wide-ranging work. Several wished aloud that Colb were there, to weigh in on current events, to respond to ideas in the presented papers – to continue the discussion. As U.C. Berkely Law School’s Dean Erwin Chemerinsky observed, “I don’t think I would be doing Sherry’s memory good service if I agreed with everything she said, because she loved to argue and debate things.”
He added, “[There’s] something wonderful in celebrating Sherry’s words and also knowing that her articles and ideas will live on and be debated for decades to come.”