Professor Emeritus Burton Wechsler, veteran professor at AU’s Washington College of Law and champion for progressive activism and First Amendment Law since 1948, died Jan. 18.
Throughout his career, Wechsler has represented many interests: NAACP; Welfare Rights Organization; citizens charged with contempt of Congress by the House Un-American Activities Committee; anti-Vietnam War protesters seeking to demonstrate in public parks; peace activists challenging anti-leafleting ordinances; anti-nuclear demonstrators; Playboy magazine.
He held degrees from the University of Michigan, Harvard Law School and began his teaching career at Valparaiso Law School in 1957. He also participated in many progressive causes in Lake County, Ind., which included the Wallace for President campaign in 1948. Wechsler was a catalyst in the movement to dismantle segregation in Gary, Ind., and helped to plan the first African-American mayor of a major United States city as well as the Civil Rights struggle in Mississippi.
He moved to Washington in 1973 and began teaching at Antioch Law School where he started and ran the school’s Women’s Law Clinic.
In the fall of 1979, Wechsler became a full-time faculty member at WCL until his retirement in May 1998, teaching Constitutional Law, Federal Courts and First Amendment Law.
A recipient of the Alumni Distinguished Teacher Award, Wechsler was also given the Outstanding Teacher Award of American University Washington College of Law in 1979, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1989 and 1992. He was the Third-year Class Outstanding Teacher Award in 1994 and 1996, and in 1995 he won the Outstanding Faculty Award for Outstanding Teaching. He also founded the Burton Wechsler Moot Court Competition in 1993.
“Accordingly, substantial portions of my courses include the ongoing struggles - in and out of the law - of working people, ethnic and religious minorities, women, creative artists, political dissidents, the poor, and other groups who do not occupy the seats of power, private or public, and whom much of our law throughout our history has slighted or disfavored,” said Wechsler.
Robert Dinerstein, associate Burton dean for faculty and academic affairs, remembers Wechsler as a progressive teacher who supported clinical and experimental education.
“‘Beloved professor’ gets overused a lot but it really did apply to him,” Dinerstein said. “He was a passionate believer in legal justice and fairness.”
He also recalls that Wechsler always had candy and nuts in his filing cabinet and good conversation. If a student was walking in the hall, he would say something like. “How are you doing, sister?”
“Countless generations of alumni of our institution were inspired by his passion for freedom and justice,” WCL Dean Claudio Grossman said in an announcement. “All of use in this community knew of his generosity without limits and his affection and love for his students, his colleagues, and all those in the WCL community.”
Wechsler leaves behind his wife, Fredi; and two daughters, Shonna and Maia; and grandchildren.