Professor Charlton Copeland Named Clyde Ferguson Award Recipient for Outstanding Law Teaching


Professor Copeland

Professor Charlton Copeland

The Association of American Law Schools Section on Minority Groups has named Professor of Law & Dean's Distinguished Scholar Charlton Copeland as the 2021 recipient of the Clyde Ferguson Award, the highest award bestowed by the section.

The award, named for the late C. Clyde Ferguson Jr., the former United States ambassador to Uganda, dean of Howard University School of Law, professor at Rutgers University and Harvard Law School, is given to an outstanding law teacher, who in the course of his or her career, has achieved excellence in the areas of public service, teaching, and scholarship.

"Professor Copeland is a brilliant and engaging professor beloved by students and colleagues alike," said Dean Anthony E. Varona, M. Minnette Massey Professor of Law. "He has earned national acclaim for his scholarship and helped to spearhead some of the most valuable and transformative experiential learning opportunities Miami Law has offered. His recent efforts to organize the Online Summer Legal Academy were nothing short of spectacular. During a challenging summer filled with grim public health news and calls for meaningful action to address racial and economic inequality, the Online Summer Legal Academy was a beacon of hope that provided underrepresented minority groups in high school and college with the chance to broaden their understanding of the law and legal education. I am thrilled to see Professor Copeland honored in a manner as significant as receiving the Clyde Ferguson Award, and I hope to see his many momentous accomplishments continue to receive well-deserved recognition in the years to come."

Particularly aimed at law teachers who have provided support, encouragement, and mentoring to colleagues, students, and aspiring legal educators, many people from many schools nominated Copeland for the award, not only recognizing his work this past year executing a vision that became the Miami Law Summer Legal Academy and his long history of mentorship and scholarship but also his long-term commitment to the John Mercer Langston Writing Workshop – a convening of Black male law professors and aspiring law professors from across the country each year aimed at promoting professional development, networking, mentoring, and community activism.

“As I am certain others will attest, Professor Copeland has been a leader among the black male faculty that created and have maintained the John Mercer Langston African-American Law Professors’ Workshop for over a decade," said Mario Barnes, the Toni Rembe Dean of the University of Washington School of Law. "Not only has Professor Copeland participated in organizing and coordinating the workshop, within our gatherings he has routinely been an academic 'all-star.' Year after year, he is the person who shows up having carefully read EVERY paper, provides in-depth and on-point critiques that improve the work, and volunteers to mentor any junior participant desiring help. Moreover, in years when I and other senior scholars have felt too busy or burnt out to volunteer for JML, he is the person who calls or emails and reminds us of our shared responsibility for nurturing and lifting up our junior colleagues.”

Copeland, a leader within the litigation and dispute resolution concentration affiliated faculty, teaches civil procedure I and II, federal courts, administrative law, and the regulatory state. He has also served as the Florida Supreme Court internship program's faculty coordinator and the law school's Washington, D.C., externship program, where he taught federal policymaking: legislation, regulation, and litigation.

His scholarship has focused on issues related to American federalism. Out of that interest grew Copeland's interest in health and educational policy. More recently, Copeland's research interests have focused on the role that political polarization has played in expanding presidential power. He is currently working on a project that attempts to explain why conservatives, despite having occupied the White House for the last four years, have abandoned the Chevron doctrine. The project connects to Copeland's other interests in political parties as actors that drive legal transformation. Copeland continues to be interested in how race shapes the development of legal and political institutions and the development of American law.

He is a recipient of the 2013 Dukeminier Award and the Michael Cunningham Prize, from the Williams Institute at UCLA Law School, for the best law review articles published on sexual orientation and gender identity law issues in the previous year. That article engaged another of Copeland's intellectual interests, the relationship between law and theology. His interests in religion are more than academic, as Copeland chaired his church's Christian Education Ministry for several years and regularly serves as a lay preacher.

In addition to his academic commitments, Copeland has served the broader Miami-Dade community as a member of the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust, an independent county agency with advisory and quasi-judicial authority, from 2010-2014. He served as chair of the commission from 2012-2013. He has also served as chair of the Law and Humanities Section of the American Association of Law Schools.

Summer Legal Academy Reaches into Underrepresented Communities

The three-week virtual summer legal academic was for students who would not otherwise have access to Miami Law's programs or campus. The target was to draw students from historically underrepresented communities: a full 46% of the high school and college students identified as Black, and 44% of the college students identified as first-generation in higher education.

"The Summer Legal Academy was Charlton's vision," said Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Community Osamudia James, "an idea he executed at every stage of the process, from personally reaching out to faculty across the country to ensure a diverse applicant pool, to lining up faculty outside of Miami Law to teach in the program, to working closely with Miami Law administrators to develop programming that would expose students to the possibilities of a legal career."

Over three weeks, students enrolled in short courses in the first-year subjects, an elective, and extracurricular activities including moot court and roundtables with industry leaders, upper-level law students, and admissions and financial aid administrators. Copeland's team selected students from a recruiting pool of over 4,000 applications for the high school and college tracks. The overwhelming response required a more extensive than initially planned program, ultimately enrolling 39 high school students and 140 college students.

Founded in 1900, the mission of AALS is to uphold and advance excellence in legal education. In support of this mission, AALS promotes the core values of excellence in teaching and scholarship, academic freedom, and diversity, including diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints, while seeking to improve the legal profession, to foster justice, and to serve its many communities–local, national and international.

In winning this award, Charlton joins many other distinguished faculty including Emma Coleman Jordan (2005), Angela Harris (2008), Angela Onwuachi-Willig (2015), Guy Charles (2018), Jerry Kang (2020), and two Miami Law recipients, Frank Valdes (2002) and Barnes (2015).

"I am still rather dubious that anything I have done merits an award that has been attached to so many people whom I admire, including my colleague Frank Valdes and former colleague Mario Barnes," said Copeland. "That said, I am honored to be included in their company, and I am committed to paying my continuing debt to do whatever I can to welcome others into the legal community, as students, as future lawyers, and as academic colleagues. Also, I am beyond proud that the University of Miami Law School is connected to so many winners of the two prizes that the Minority Section of the AALS has given – now five by my count. This is an honor for our law school, of which we deserve to be very proud."

AALS will present the award at a virtual awards ceremony on Tuesday, January 5, and again on Saturday, January 9.