JOHN KRAMER, FORMER TULANE LAW SCHOOL DEAN
By John Pope,
New Orleans Times-Picayune
John Kramer, a merry intellectual who bolstered Tulane Law School's commitment
to social justice during his decade-long deanship, died Tuesday of complications
from diabetes at his New Orleans home. He was 68.
"The theme of John's life was attempting to bridge the gap and provide equal
access through the law, " said his wife, Sandra Scarbrough Kramer. "His whole
life and study of the law dovetailed."
During his tenure as dean from July 1, 1986, to June 30, 1996, Mr. Kramer
instituted a mandatory community service requirement and increased from three to
eight the number of clinics where law students can hone their skills while
representing people in cases involving specialties such as immigration law,
appeals and environmental law.
"He had a lifetime commitment to legal education and, particularly, clinical
legal education, because that's where the law has the capacity to change
people's lives, " said David Marcello, executive director of the Public Law
Center, which trains students from Tulane's and Loyola's law schools in fields
such as legislation and the development of agency rules.
Mr. Kramer also increased the faculty size by half, recruited aggressively to
make the student body more diverse and oversaw the construction of a new law
school on Freret Street.
"He had a robust enthusiasm for everything he did, " Marcello said. "He had a
good life and a good time living it."
Although some people regard law as "a dry, arcane area, " Mr. Kramer viewed it
as "a vibrant, living thing, " said Jonathan Turley, a George Washington
University law professor who taught at Tulane Law School from 1988 to 1991.
"John got so much fun out of the law, " Turley said.
Along the way, friends said, Mr. Kramer, an outspoken liberal, enjoyed kicking
up controversy, whether it was by joining the successful campaign against Robert
Bork's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, questioning America's decision to
drop atomic bombs on Japan during World War II or publishing the country's first
gay and lesbian law journal.
When people protested, "he was in seventh heaven, " said Gary Roberts, who was
vice dean under Mr. Kramer. "He loved that people got angry at him, because he
knew he was making them think. He knew he was accomplishing something. He told
me that if nobody gets angry at what you're doing, you're not doing what you're
supposed to be doing."
Mr. Kramer also delighted in doing the unexpected. Despite his liberal leanings,
he started a chapter of the conservative Federalist Society -- and joined it.
"He felt they were at least questioning things and doing something different, "
his wife said. "He never wanted an idea excluded."
A New York City native, Mr. Kramer frequently told this story about himself to
explain his behavior: When he passed a pond on the way to school and saw that
the water was utterly calm, he simply had to pick up a rock and toss it in.
"He couldn't stand to see anything so tranquil, " Roberts said. "He loved to
stir the pot. . . . He couldn't stand to let things be the way they were."
An honors graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, Mr. Kramer was a
Fulbright scholar at the University of Cambridge and a clerk at the NAACP Legal
Defense and Education Fund.
Among the lawyers he clerked for was Thurgood Marshall, who later became the
U.S. Supreme Court's first black justice.
Mr. Kramer also worked on Capitol Hill, where he was counsel to Rep. Adam
Clayton Powell, D-N.Y., on the House Education and Labor Committee. As executive
director of the National Council on Hunger and Malnutrition in the late 1960s
and 1970s, Mr. Kramer drafted much of the legislation on food stamps and meals
at schools. He also created the Project for Older Prisoners to offer legal
advice and representation to older inmates with longer sentences.
From 1971 until he came to Tulane, Mr. Kramer taught at Georgetown University
Law Center in Washington, D.C., where he became an associate dean.
After retiring as Tulane's law dean, Mr. Kramer returned to full-time teaching
-- and to imbuing students with his passion for public-interest law.
"He believed that . . . if they didn't learn in law school about their
commitment to society, they would never learn it, " Turley said. "In teaching
students about the law, he taught them a lot about themselves.
"There are few ideals: the 1968 Mustang, the Hope diamond and John Kramer, " he
said. "There are some items that just can't be replicated."
In addition to his wife, survivors include three sons, Dr. Christopher Kramer of
Charlottesville, Va., Daniel Kramer of New York City and Andrew L. Kramer; a
stepson, Gladstone N. Jones III of New Orleans and New York City; a sister,
Alison Kramer Buck of Paris; a stepbrother, Edward Rosenthal of New York City
and White Plains, N.Y.; and five grandchildren.
Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements, which are
CORRECTION / CLARIFICATION
Kramer obituary information clarified: An obituary on John Kramer in Thursday's
paper erred on who created the Project for Older Prisoners (POPS) and the
purpose of the group. Mr. Kramer was the dean of Tulane Law School when POPS was
created by Jonathan Turley, at the time a professor at the school. The group
assists prisoners regardless of their sentences. (3/11/2006)
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