Law Professor William Koski to receive Roland Volunteer Service Prize

Law Professor William Koski will receive the Haas Center for Public Service’s Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize, which annually recognizes faculty who engage students in integrating academic scholarship with significant and meaningful volunteer service to society.

Law Professor William Koski will receive the 2017 Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize for his two decades of inspiring and training the next generation of social justice lawyers and improving educational opportunities for disadvantaged youth.

William Koski

Stanford Law Professor William Koski (Image credit: Courtesy Stanford Law School)

The Haas Center for Public Service awards the Roland Prize annually to members of the faculty “who engage and involve students in integrating academic scholarship with significant and meaningful volunteer service to society.”

The $5,000 prize was established in 2001 with a gift from Stanford alumna Miriam Aaron Roland. Deborah Stipek, who is faculty director of the Haas Center and the Judy Koch Professor of Education, will present Koski with the Roland Prize on March 13.

Koski is the Eric and Nancy Wright Professor of Clinical Education and professor of law (teaching) at Stanford Law School, as well as a professor of education, by courtesy, in the Graduate School of Education.

An accomplished clinical teacher and litigator, he founded and directs the Youth and Education Law Project (YELP), through which law students work on behalf of disadvantaged children and their families in educational equity, disability rights and school reform matters.

In a letter nominating Koski for the award, Carly Munson, clinical supervising attorney and lecturer in law, wrote, “Bill Koski is a warrior for teaching Stanford Law School students practical lawyering skills, while helping underserved children and youth. … He solves clients’ problems – and teaches Stanford Law School students to do the same – by building and empowering communities and relationships.”

Empowering students, communities

Students who participate in YELP note that, after assigning cases to law student teams, Koski gives them considerable autonomy to learn through experience.

Koski’s confidence in students and interest in multidisciplinary approaches to social problems sparked the development of the new Stanford Center for Public Research and Leadership in partnership with Columbia University. Launched in the spring of 2015, the center brings together upper-level Stanford graduate students from education, public policy, business and law to consult on projects for public education organizations such as school districts and nonprofit groups. The goal is to create multidisciplinary teams to develop solutions that transform public education and improve the life chances of K-12 students, while developing the knowledge and leadership of Stanford students through community-based learning.

Koski’s scholarly work focuses on the related issues of educational accountability, equity and adequacy; the politics of educational policy reform; and judicial decision-making in educational policy reform litigation. His research concentrates on equality of educational opportunity in the context of educational standards, adequacy and accountability.

Koski earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, graduated cum laude from the University of Michigan School of Law and earned a doctorate from the Stanford Graduate School of Education.

During his doctoral program, Koski became the supervising attorney at the Law School’s East Palo Alto Community Law Project while also working on the longstanding case Citizens for Lawful and Effective Attendance Policies (Citizens LEAP). The case dealt with attendance-based expulsion policies of the Sequoia Union High School District that disproportionately affected students of color, low-income students and students with disabilities.

While heading the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, Koski served as a lecturer in the Law School. He became the first official faculty member in clinical teaching at the school in 2001.

Among Koski’s most significant cases is Emma C. v. Delaine Eastin, a landmark suit filed in the late 1990s to create a high-quality special education program in East Palo Alto. Two decades later, the district nears completion of a self-improvement plan that was a part of the negotiation by Koski and his students.

Koski and law students also represented more than 60 students from across California in the multi-year, class-action lawsuit Robles-Wong v. California, which challenged the constitutionality of the finance system in California.

Shaping the next generation

Koski said that he is “humbled and honored” to be chosen for the Roland Prize and that, for him, clinical teaching “is a unique and privileged charge to always do something innovative and inspiring. Harnessing the power and reputation of Stanford Law School to do social justice lawyering is remarkable.”

He explained, “I hope that I can inculcate the value of doing social justice work, of understanding that we as lawyers have a privilege. We have access to these institutions; we have a kind of power that we can deploy for commercial gain, for a lot of good things. One of those good things really needs to be improving access to justice for those who don’t have it and improving the conditions for those who are suffering injustice.”

Students are quick to note that Koski has broadened the lens through which they work with underserved communities, as well as their own career trajectories.

“Being able to see someone who has stuck with this, especially with a group that people don’t usually pay attention to, I think that’s something that sticks out to a lot of students. It isn’t the one that gets all the massive headlines. That makes it so much more exciting and powerful,” said Stanford law student Kevin Rich. “Bill gave me the ability to help somebody, and now I’m invested.”