The First Monday in October is the official start of the Supreme Court term and at Rutgers Law School, is traditionally recognized by a speaker's panel on a timely court topic.

Over the years, First Monday events have included experts and discussions on voting rights, affirmative action, housing, civil rights, bringing in professors and leading scholars from around the United States to offer insight to law students and other guests.

First Monday 2016

Co-dean Ronald K. Chen was given the Eric R. Neisser Award for his commitment to social justice and diversity issues throughout his career, at the law school’s First Monday celebration on October 19.

Chen ’83, who has served as a professor, vice dean and dean of the law school, was lauded by his colleagues Assistant Dean Yvette Bravo-Weber and Vice Dean Reid Weisbord.

“He’s been a fierce advocate in defense of civil rights and the pursuit of social justice,” Bravo-Weber said of Chen. “His most important roles have been as dean and vice dean of this law school.” She talked about the formation of the Minority Student Program almost 50 years ago and Chen’s commitment to it, teaching a mini-course to incoming students and serving as a role model as a distinguished alumnus of the program.

In addition to serving as Co-dean, Chen was the Public Advocate for the state of New Jersey and actively tries cases for the ACLU of New Jersey. Weisbord noted that Chen advocates for the most vulnerable in society, trying cases to protect and assist the elderly, disabled and undocumented, “It’s not just in his words, but his actions.”

Chen, who served as vice dean under Neisser, said he was humbled by the award. Neisser, a civil liberties lawyer and former acting dean of the law school, died in 1999 of a heart attack. Neisser spent many years at the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School and also tried cases for the ACLU. Chen said, in the spirit of the award, he credits the whole law school – including the clinics and pro bono programs – with being “soldiers in the battle for using the law for positive social change.”

Chen credited Neisser with getting him involved in ACLU work, “I try to teach the younger generation of Rutgers lawyers how to be advocates in this state.”

During the rest of the First Monday program, a panel of professors discussed the future of affirmative action in higher education institutions, after the Supreme Court’s decision that upheld the University of Texas’s right to consider race as part of its admissions program.

Panelists, left to right, Professor Alexis Karteron, Elise Boddie, Carlos Gonzalez and Susan Sturm, discussed the future of affirmative action in higher education at this year's First Monday celebration.

Professor Elise Boddie, who was formerly the Director of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund and has published widely on the issue of affirmative action, pointed out that the case before the Supreme Court was a broader assault on racial inclusion, not just at colleges and universities. Professor Carlos Gonzalez said that racial background was one of several factors considered by the University of Texas and Alexis Karteron, the Director of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic, pointed out that the actual numbers of African-American students being admitted to the University of Texas was proportionally small, compared to the actual number of students of color living in the state.

Another guest speaker, Susan Sturm, a law professor at Columbia University, challenged colleges and universities to “broaden the frame” of affirmative action and to seek students who have traditionally been disenfranchised, “What is the responsibility for your institution to connect with communities that have been left out?”

The First Monday celebration, which is a tradition at Rutgers Law School, was organized by Susan Feathers, director of the law school’s public interest and pro bono programs.