Message From the Dean on the Passing of Professor Stephen J. Ellmann

Dear NYLS Family and Friends,

I know that you join me in mourning the recent loss of our dear friend and colleague, Professor Stephen J. Ellmann, who passed away on Friday, March 8.

When I reflect on my friendship with Steve, I think of his beautiful writing and kindness. Steve wrote prolifically about human rights, South Africa in the aftermath of apartheid, the rule of law, and even about his experiences with illness. He wrote the way he lived: with grace, compassion, and profound honesty.

Steve recently completed his master work, And Justice for All: Arthur Chaskalson and the Struggle for Equality in South Africa, which will soon be published. The book is a tribute to the late Arthur Chaskalson, the first President of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, who shared a rich and lasting friendship with Steve.

On February 20, a group of Steve’s friends, colleagues, and admirers gathered on campus to celebrate Steve and the completion of And Justice for All. Steve talked about the book and the abiding importance of the rule of law. It was a discussion about how we can learn from the past in order to improve the future for others. In short, it was a discussion about the principles to which Steve dedicated his career and shaped what will be an enduring legacy.

At the celebration, we announced the new Stephen J. Ellmann Judicial Fellowship, which will allow committed students to work as Judicial Fellows in South Africa, where they will continue to advance the rule of law. We also announced that the person appointed to direct clinical and experiential learning at NYLS will forever be called The Stephen J. Ellmann Director of Clinical and Experiential Learning, in recognition of Steve’s life’s work helping students grow into skilled and compassionate lawyers.

Before the event, friends and colleagues sent their well wishes to Steve, which we compiled into a book. The warmth and affection that poured from those pages was not surprising, but it was awe-inspiring. Steve’s loved ones wrote what we all knew: that Steve was, at his core a deeply kind human being, a true humanist, a person whose kindness made indelible impressions on those around him.

Nelson Mandela wrote, “There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Steve didn’t play small. He lived fully. And he gave of himself to others: To our School and its students, he gave nearly three decades of service.

Let us keep Steve’s loving wife Teresa and his family in our thoughts. And let us be reminded of not only the ideals he spent his life pursuing, but also how the way he lived was a gift to all of us.


Anthony W. Crowell,
Dean and President

Supporting the Stephen J. Ellmann Judicial Fellows
Per Steve’s family, those who wish to honor his work by supporting the Fellowship or NYLS’s Clinical and Experiential Learning Program are invited to make a designated gift. This may be done via NYLS’s online giving form. Checks may be mailed to the Office of Institutional Advancement at 185 West Broadway, New York, NY 10013.


View photos and video from NYLS’s February 20 book celebration for Steve.