Winter 2019

The Rappaport Ripple Effect

This past September, the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy began its fourth year at BC Law by welcoming Professor Daniel Kanstroom as its new Faculty Director and retired Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy and former Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy ’80 as the 2018-2019 Distinguished Visiting Professors (fall and spring, respectively).

As envisioned by Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport and supported by a gift from the foundation that bears their name, the Boston College Law School Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy is a locus of public policy reflection and activity, hosting an influential series of events, distinguished lecturers and visiting professors, and supporting a fellowship program that mentors students in public policy and interns them to government agencies and civic entities.

“The energy generated by the Rappaport Center has been felt in every corner of the Law School, the University, and well beyond,” said Dean Vincent Rougeau. “The stakes for our democracy are high. The topics under discussion have been timely and provocative. And the debates have been powerful reminders of the importance of informed policy making. Our collaboration with the Rappaport Center has provided our students and the community as a whole with all that we hoped it would—and more.”

From top left, visiting professor Robert Cordy; College Debt panelist Darrick Hamilton; Voting Rights and Electoral College panels.

From top left, visiting professor Robert Cordy; College Debt panelist Darrick Hamilton; Voting Rights and Electoral College panels.

Under the leadership of inaugural Faculty Director R. Michael Cassidy and Executive Director Elisabeth J. Medvedow, the mandate of Phyllis and Jerome Rappaport to improve understanding of public policy issues has been animated by the challenging perspectives and analyses brought to BC Law by the center’s leadership and participants.

According to Cassidy, the Rappaport Center has reenergized the Law School’s longstanding commitment to preparing students for a lifetime of leadership in public service. “Our former dean, Robert Drinan, SJ, was fond of saying that ‘lawyers are the architects of a just society.’ The Rappaport Center allows us to expose our students daily to the pivotal role lawyers in all subject areas play in shaping public policy, both regionally and nationally,” Cassidy said.

“The Rappaport Center’s reputation enables us to secure panelists and speakers who are experts in their field, incredibly smart and articulate, and who present practical insights and approaches to solving complicated, and at times, intractable societal issues,” added Medvedow.

The numbers tell much of the story. In its first three years at BC Law, the Rappaport Center presented fifty lectures, symposia, and conferences and hosted thirty A-list speakers, among them three current or former governors, two former lieutenant governors, three US legislators, three attorneys general, three cabinet secretaries, two state supreme court justices, and five mayors. And that’s not counting the prominent academic, civic, business, and nonprofit leaders, and state and local officials who have given new meaning to the role of public policy in the life of the Commonwealth. This past fall such numbers grew.

One of the largest beneficiaries of this outpouring has been the student body. “A primary goal of the center is to demonstrate how important public policy is in terms of a law school education,” said Jerome Rappaport, founder and trustee of the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation. “Two things students learn are that there are a lot of good people in government, and that it’s not impossible to change law and sometimes it’s very easy. To give people the sense that if it’s the right time and they’re in the right place, they can change things, is very empowering.”

Each year the Rappaport Center at BC Law selects twelve Rappaport Fellows from Massachusetts’s eight law schools. A similar program, the Public Policy Summer Fellows for graduate students in other fields, is administered by the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston at Harvard University. Between the two programs, and including the students who participated when Suffolk Law School housed the Rappaport Center, there are now some 400 alumni fellows.

“Two things students learn are that there are a lot of good people in government, and that it’s not impossible to change law and sometimes it’s very easy. To give people the sense that if it’s the right time and they’re in the right place, they can change things, is very empowering.”  —Jerome Rappaport, founder and trustee of the Phyllis and Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation

In all, it’s not hard to see why the program has reached a level of breadth and integration that pleases Jerome Rappaport. “The community reflects a unique network that demonstrates that the fellows program has impacted people, more frequently than not, to go into public service at the state and local level. I love to see this mature,” he said.

From her vantage point as Chair of the Board of the Rappaport foundation, Phyllis Rappaport sees a widening circle of talent populating local law firms and city government, legislative offices and the statehouse. “The mentors and supervisors of the fellows feel like they’re getting new energy by working with the students. Each year they raise their hands and want more students,” she said. “This injects a powerful, fresh view for both the people in the office and the people who are seeing for the first time how government works.”

As Kanstroom, the new faculty director, says: “Boston College has a long-standing, genuine, and deep commitment to rigorously ethical, academically sound, multi-disciplinary approaches to complex public policy questions. This creates an excellent synergy with the Rappaport Center that opens many doors for exciting future programming and research.”


To read the expanded version of the Rappaport story, click here.

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