Nance to Receive Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award

Dean Cynthia Nance
Russell Cothren, University Relations

Dean Cynthia Nance

Cynthia Nance, dean of the U of A School of Law, will receive the Association of American Law Schools Section on Women in Legal Education's Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lifetime Achievement Award in January. 

"This award is richly deserved," said Lisa Mazzie, chair of the AALS Section on Women in Legal Education and professor of legal writing at Marquette University Law School. "The purpose of the award is to honor an individual who has had a distinguished career of teaching, service and scholarship for at least 20 years. The recipient is someone who has impacted women, the legal community, the academy and the issues that affect women through mentoring, writing, speaking, activism and by providing opportunities for others."   

Previous recipients of the award include Kimberlé Crenshaw of Columbia Law School and the inaugural recipient and the award's namesake, United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.      

"It was an amazing surprise and a terrific honor," said Nance when notified of her selection. "I'm still in shock, honestly."      

Nance, the Nathan G. Gordon Professor of Law at the school, is serving as dean of the school for a second time. She joined the faculty in 1994 and served as dean from 2006 to 2011. She was the first woman and the first person of color to serve as dean in the school's then-82-year history. Her leadership, teaching, mentorship, generosity and success have inspired countless students, particularly women, to excel as lawyers, educators and public servants. In July 2022, she was named dean for the second time. Her steadfast leadership will guide the school until a national search to hire the next dean is completed. 

Nance is passionate about teaching, social issues and service. Her choice to become a lawyer and relentless drive come from a sense of responsibility rooted in history and experience. The 1957 Little Rock Central High Crisis — and the events surrounding the Arkansas National Guard's attempt, under orders from the governor, to prevent nine black teenagers from integrating the school — had a profound impact on her and her decision to study law.

"When I walked in the doors after getting appointed to the dean's position the first time, I felt like I carried their legacy with me," Nance said.

Her experiences working the midnight shift to provide security at a commercial facility and enduring sexual harassment from co-workers influenced her decision to focus on employment law and workplace legislation.  

Although Nance's professional focus is on labor and employment law, workplace legislation, poverty law and lawyers as leaders, she has also taught foundational law courses. Generations of alumni learned tort law under her instruction as she taught the course for more than 20 years.

"Dean Nance, simply put, is an outstanding educator," said Jim Miller, senior associate dean of students at the School of Law and a career-long colleague. "She takes a personal interest in each student and provides course content in a thorough and engaging manner. She eagerly watches the career progression of her former students and stays connected through publications, social media and in-person visits at conferences and professional meetings. Our alumni cherish her congratulatory notes upon being hired for a new job, making partner or even at the birth of a child." 

Nance is committed to helping and mentoring others. A member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., Nance has served in leadership and mentoring roles in the local chapter, Phi Alpha Omega, which she helped charter. She has created scholarships to support law students at the U of A School of Law and the University of Iowa College of Law, her law school alma mater. 

Nance's prominence in her field is evidenced by many appointments to leadership roles and award selections. She is a former member of the American Bar Association's Eighth Circuit Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary and past chair of the American Bar Foundation Fellows. She also represents the American Bar Association's Labor and Employment Law Section in the organization's house of delegates. She is an elected member of the American Law Institute (ALI) and is a member of the academic Labor Law Group Executive Committee. She is a fellow of the College of Labor and Employment Lawyers and treasurer of its board of governors. She has served on the Law School Admissions Council Board of Trustees. On the state and local level, she is an Arkansas PBS commissioner and a member of the Arkansas Bar Foundation Trust Committee. She serves on the Arkansas Advisory Committee to the United States Civil Rights Commission. In 2020 she chaired the search committee for the Federal Magistrate for the Western District of Arkansas.    

Nance is also the recipient of many awards honoring her commitment to education and service. She is a 2021 recipient of the University of Iowa's Hancher-Finkbine Alumni Medallion, the University of Iowa's highest honor recognizing graduates who exemplify learning, leadership and loyalty. In 2018 the American Bar Association Commission on Women recognized and celebrated her achievements with the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award. The honor is reserved for women lawyers who have excelled in their field and paved the way to success for other women lawyers. Nance's other awards include the Richard S. Arnold Award for Distinguished Service in the Western District of Arkansas, the American Bar Association Spirit of Excellence Award, Arkansas Bar Association Outstanding Lawyer-Citizen Award, the U of A Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award in Public Service, Arkansas Alumni Association's Honorary Alumna Award and the Arthur A. Fletcher Award of the American Association for Affirmative Action. The Women's Law Student Association at the School of Law recognized her with their 2012 Gayle Pettus Pontz Award. Pontz earned an LL.B. in 1937 and was the first woman to graduate from the U of A School of Law.

Nance's scholarship appears in journals, including the Iowa Law Review, Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, Rutgers Law Review and Brandeis Law Review.

Nance will accept the award at a ceremony during the section's assembly, scheduled as part of the AALS Annual Meeting in San Diego Jan 3-7. The award ceremony is slated for noon Friday, Jan. 6.

Previous recipients of the award, in addition to Ginsburg and Crenshaw, include Robin West of Georgetown University Law Center, Phoebe Haddon of Rutgers University-Camden, Tamar Frankel of Boston University School of Law, Martha Albertson Fineman of Emory University School of Law, Marina Angel of the James E. Beasley School of Law at Temple University, Herma Hill Kay of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law and Catharine MacKinnon of the University of Michigan Law School.        


Jackie Stites,
School of Law


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