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Emotional ceremony dedicates new Law School professorship

The Luke W. Cole Professorship in Environmental Law and Directorship of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic was created by alumnus John Kleinheinz, who knew Cole as a Stanford undergraduate, and his wife, Marsha. Deborah Sivas is the first Cole Professor.

Michael Johnson Deborah Sivas

Deborah Sivas

BY KATE CHESLEY

In a Reunion Homecoming ceremony filled with emotion, friends and family dedicated a new Law School professorship to the late Luke Cole, a noted environmental activist who died in a car accident in Uganda this summer at age 46.

Deborah Sivas has been appointed to the chair, which is called the Luke W. Cole Professorship in Environmental Law and Directorship of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic. Since 1997, Sivas has directed Stanford's Environmental Law Clinic, which gives students a chance to provide legal counsel on environmental issues to nonprofit organizations.

"Being named the first holder of the Luke Cole chair is especially meaningful for me," said Sivas. "Luke was a contemporary and a colleague whose advocacy on behalf of underserved communities was truly pathbreaking and whose vision of environmental and social justice continues to be so inspiring to all of us who knew him."

"I think Luke would be pleased to know that a gift in his memory will help train and prepare a new generation of lawyers to carry the flame of environmental justice that he lit and kept burning for so many years," Sivas added.

The professorship was created by alumnus John Kleinheinz, who knew Cole as a Stanford undergraduate, and his wife, Marsha. Neither Kleinheinz nor Cole attended the Law School. But Kleinheinz told those in attendance at the ceremony that Cole's deep commitment to environmental law made the Law School professorship appropriate. The ceremony was scheduled to coincide with Reunion so their classmates could attend. Reading from hand-written notes, Kleinheinz, founder and president of Kleinheinz Capital Partners, based in Fort Worth, Texas, described his friendship with and respect for Cole.

Cole was executive director and founder of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, an environmental justice litigation organization based in Northern California. After graduating from Stanford, Cole worked for Ralph Nader as a consumer activist, later earning his degree from Harvard Law School. He moved to San Francisco and started the center.

"As the center's founder and executive director, he opened our eyes to the devastating and disproportionate effect industrial negligence has on the poor and the powerless," said Provost John Etchemendy at the ceremony.

Etchemendy added, "Luke Cole brought his passion and keen intellect to bear defending people who have suffered from environmental discrimination. He was among the first to build legal bridges between the environmental movement and the civil rights movement. Those bridges have forever changed the world and the way society decides how and where to site our hazardous facilities and dispose of our toxic waste. Because of Luke Cole, those who were once powerless are now understood as having rights to a clean and healthy environment."

Larry Kramer, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean, said, "Luke Cole was a pioneering figure in the movement for environmental justice. We feel a keen sense of responsibility, as well as honor, in accepting a chair in his name. Fortunately, there is no better person than Deborah Sivas to live up to the high standard Luke set, and her work will contribute greatly to advancing environmental safety and training generations of lawyers capable of carrying what they learn here into the world outside the university."