Cedric Merlin Powell has been a professor at the Brandeis School of Law since 1993, teaching Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Critical Race Theory, Evidence, Law and Literature, Professional Responsibility and Race and the Law.
He is active in several community and UofL organizations and was recently named the university’s faculty grievance officer, where he will assist faculty in dispute resolution. UofL News had the chance to talk to Powell recently about his career path, his public service work and his loyalty to Cleveland sports.
UofL News: What brought you to the Brandeis School of Law?
Cedric Powell: Before I came here, I was at a large New York firm, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. I was there about four years, but I always wanted to teach. Before that, I was the Karpatkin Fellow in the American Civil Liberties Union in their national legal office. Before that, I clerked in DC. I did different things looking toward teaching.
I went to what they called the “meat market” years ago, an annual recruitment event they have in DC. I interviewed at some schools and got a call back here, interviewed and got the job and been here ever since.
I always envisioned, at least at some point, being a law professor.
UofL News: What was it about being a law professor that was attractive to you?
Powell: You can do a lot of different things. You’re not formally practicing but you’re bringing practice experience. There still is the opportunity to be involved in discrete projects, calling upon what you did in your former career. I’m still involved in a lot of public interest litigation on some level, usually working on appellate briefs or amicus briefs.
You can be involved in a lot of different things as well as being in the classroom and having the time to think, research and write. People say that scholarship is just talking to ourselves and just the professors read it, and on some level that is true.
But scholarship should also try to push for change in a positive way. That’s important in the law. That’s something that judges do. We certainly aren’t judges, but we certainly have the ability to impact public opinion. And that’s probably the most appealing part about this job — being involved in everything.
UofL News: You’re dean for research at Brandeis Law. What does that role entail?
Powell: It provides support for the faculty. You bring in interesting speakers for symposia. Last year we brought in someone to talk about the bar examination and incorporating those techniques into the classroom. We did a panel discussion on community-engaged scholarship because we’re actively involved in trying to define that and how we measure both our impact in the community and how faculty members will be evaluated.
I provide support for junior faculty in advancing their scholarship, which may mean just sitting back and helping them pay for a symposium to talk about writing or trying to organize informal workshops where they can get comments on their papers. Some of that, they do by themselves, but I’m here to help with suggestions on articles and any other discussions that they may want to have.
It’s sort of like continuing legal education for law professors.
UofL News: You were named UofL’s faculty grievance officer in September. How do you plan to approach that role?
Powell: I will continue in the tradition of my predecessor and colleague, Enid Trucios-Haynes, who recently began her tenure as Faculty Senate chair, to ensure that faculty members are fully informed about the procedures outlined in the Redbook (UofL’s basic governance document) and how to work through the informal and formal grievance processes to resolve disputes in a manner that respects our shared values at the university.
UofL News: You’ve been chairman of the TARC board since 2008. What is that work like?
Powell: We’ve been able to do some things to modernize our transit system. We have electric buses. We have fuel-efficient buses.
We recently dedicated a $50 million improvement on Dixie Highway. Louisvillians derisively refer to it as “Dixie Dieway” because of the high speeds, narrow lanes and high occurrence of serious accidents. We’re trying to change that with dedicated bus routes. We’re going to do something called bus rapid transit, which will focus on access, mobility and broader lanes for buses. We’re going to try to change the traffic pattern. We hope that this will lead to better things in terms of looking at a modern transportation system.
UofL News: What’s something that people might be surprised to know about you?
Powell: I like Cleveland sports. I’m from Cleveland. The baseball team is playing well. I keep telling my friends they’re going to win the World Series. Nobody believes me.