Legendary teacher and mentor Robert B. Kent, professor emeritus at Cornell Law School, died February 5 at the age of 93. Professor Kent dedicated more than half a century to educating aspiring lawyers. An expert in alternative dispute resolution, civil procedure, and international law, Kent was a favorite among students for his compelling teaching style and inspirational lectures.
Kent began his teaching career at the Boston University School of Law, his alma mater. He taught there for thirty-one years, two of which he spent abroad as professor of law and dean of the University of Zambia. He joined the Cornell Law School faculty in 1981 and served as associate dean from 1982 to 1986. Even after his retirement in 1992, Kent was a distinguished visiting professor at Roger Williams University School of Law from 1997-2001.
Among the many students inspired by Kent were Muna Ndulo and Cynthia Farina, both of whom went on to become professors at the Law School. Professor Ndulo, also director of Cornell’s Institute for African Development, was taught by Kent at the University of Zambia. Ndulo says that Kent’s encouragement and mentoring helped him decide to pursue graduate studies at Harvard.
“I knew Bob Kent throughout my entire academic career,” says Ndulo. “I don’t think I would be where I am without him. What struck me most were his humanity and his dedication.”
Farina, the William G. McRoberts Research Professor in Administration of the Law, can pinpoint exactly what inspired her to pursue a career as a legal academic: the federal courts course taught by Kent that she took as a Boston University Law School student.
"Bob Kent inspired people with his unflagging intellectual curiosity about law and legal actors. It was infectious," says Farina. "Whether you were a student, a new teacher, or a more experienced colleague, interactions with Bob always made you think harder and deeper. And he was one of the kindest men I've ever known."
Building upon his experience in Zambia, Professor Kent spearheaded the Lawyers in Africa initiative at Cornell Law School in which recent graduates were sent to the University of Zambia to teach. The project was a cooperative effort with Cornell's Institute for African Development and the Peace Corps. In 1996, Kent received the Peace Corps Citation for this work. The president of Zambia also honored him for his service to that country.
During his time at Cornell Law School, Kent was regularly chosen by the graduating class to deliver the keynote speech at Convocation. In his keynote speech of 1983, he described the elements of success as he saw them: a belief in the value of one's work, conquest of self-doubt, lack of cynicism, and most important, commitment and stamina. "It is that sense of commitment and stamina in performance of work you believe worthwhile which I hope for each of you. And if you have that, then given the richness of talent you possess, success by any other standard is destined to follow."
Robert Kent is survived by his wife, four children, and five grandchildren.
To watch Professor Kent discuss his career, including his time at Cornell Law School, please click here.