Haywood Burns with colleagues

The Burns Chair honors W. Haywood Burns, a people’s lawyer, professor, and civil rights activist who helped bring to fruition a new model of legal education focused on training lawyers dedicated to the public good while dean of CUNY Law.

The Burns Chair welcomes scholars, legal educators, litigators, and activists with groundbreaking contributions to civil and human rights discourse to work alongside the CUNY Law community in advancing civil and human rights while training a new generation of people’s lawyers.

2024 W. Haywood Burns Chair in Human and Civil Rights

Professor James Forman Jr.

James Forman Jr.

J. Skelly Wright Professor of Law at Yale Law School,  Faculty Director of the Yale Law and Racial Justice Center

James Forman Jr. is a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and expert on race and class dimensions of schools, police, and prisons whose work focuses on racial justice in higher education and the criminal legal system. Building upon his exploration of racial exclusion in American education and pathways for access to legal education, Professor Forman examines practical interventions to address the harms of mass incarceration. His work as the Burns Chair will also draw upon his forthcoming anthology, Dismantling Mass Incarceration: A Handbook for ChangeProfessor Forman has developed innovative educational opportunities, such as Yale Law’s Access to Law School Program and the Maya Angelou School in Washington, D.C., to serve underserved as well as justice-impacted youth and adults. Under his leadership, Yale Law School launched its first center dedicated to developing and implementing projects that advance racial justice. 



Open to scholars, legal educators, litigators, and activists with groundbreaking contributions to the discourse on civil and human rights, appointments are considered on a rolling basis.

The Burns Chair engages in the intellectual and social life of the law school by participating in various activities for students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members, such as public lectures, symposiums, seminar classes, class visits, and social events. The Burns Chair holder receives competitive remuneration, research, and administrative support, assistance with travel and living expenses, and the unique opportunity to advance their work while engaging with CUNY Law’s dynamic network of social justice students, lawyers, activists, and scholars, locally and internationally.

The Burns Chair also supports the professional development of CUNY Law students through meaningful engagement with classes, clinics, student groups, and the Burns Student Research Fellowship.


Dean W. Haywood Burns smiles and poses in the CUNY Law library

As Dean of CUNY Law from 1987 to 1994, Haywood Burns brought to fruition a new paradigm in legal education: recruit and train lawyers dedicated to the representation of those underserved, or not served at all, by the legal profession. A respected scholar, advocate, and teacher, Haywood’s gifts of intellect and scholarship led him to Harvard College, to post-graduate work at Cambridge University, and subsequently to Yale Law School, where he earned his law degree. He moved quickly to the front lines of the great civil rights contests of the day.

Throughout it all, he championed community and diversity, ensuring that CUNY Law students remained intimately connected with the grassroots needs of racially and socioeconomically marginalized groups in New York City.

Prior Burns Chairs

Vince Warren, Exec. Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

Vince Warren is a renowned expert on racial injustice and discriminatory policing whose career reflects the life and work of Haywood Burns. Under Warren’s leadership, CCR has successfully challenged the constitutionality of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices, ended the policy of holding people in long-term solitary confinement at California’s Pelican Bay Prison, and established as a crime against humanity the persecution of people who identify as LGBTQ2IA+.

In his teaching and public presentations, Warren explores social movement lawyering, addressing the role that lawyers, activists, journalists, and artists play in mobilizing movements that advance racial, economic, and social justice.

Co-Founder and President, Legal Coalition for Puerto Rico
Co-Founder, Human Rights and Gender Justice Clinic (previously called International Women’s Human Rights Clinic), CUNY School of Law

Wismer Professor of Gender & Diversity
Seattle University School of Law

Senior Advisor, Executive Vice President, University of New Mexico (UNM) Health Sciences Center
Professor Emerita, UNM School of Law

Michael J. Connell Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and Distinguished Research Professor
UCLA School of Law

President, IC Alliance Development Group
Commissioner, New Jersey Civil Service Commission (previously called NJ Department of Personnel)
Chair, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

Professor of Clinical Law
George Washington University Law School

Research Fellow of Law and Inaugural Executive Director, Human Rights Center
University of Dayton School of Law

Fred T. Korematsu Professor of Law and Social Justice
William S. Richardson School of Law, University of Hawaii

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
Assistant Special Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Co-Founder, National Conference of Black Lawyers

Founding Member, Constitutional Court of South Africa

Professor of Law Emeritus, David A. Clarke School of Law, University of the District of Columbia
Executive Director, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Julius L. Chambers Distinguished Professor of Law and the Director of the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for Civil Rights
Associate Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF)

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
General Counsel, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)

Thank You to our Funders

The New York State Legislature committed funding in the 2022 state budget for the purpose of reinstating the W. Haywood Burns Chair in Human and Civil Rights at CUNY School of Law.  The Law School community—students and faculty, staff, and board members—acknowledges and appreciates this financial support from state lawmakers and Governor Kathy Hochul. The Burns Chair is also made possible with leadership from the CUNY School of Law Foundation Board. The W. Haywood Burns Fund was established by family, friends, and the CUNY Law community with the goal of building a dedicated and permanent endowment for the Burns Chair.

Contact Us

A street view photo of the CUNY Law School, colorized in hues of green and blue.