2016 Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching
Olatunde Johnson—a nationally renowned expert on civil procedure, legislation, and anti-discrimination law—is the recipient of the 2016 Willis L.M. Reese Prize for Excellence in Teaching. The award is presented annually by the graduating class of Columbia Law School.
Johnson is devoted to cultivating the next generation of socially minded and well-prepared lawyers. Her teaching is deeply informed by her background in trial and appellate litigation and time spent in government. She uses an interdisciplinary approach and presents students with real-life problems.
“I encourage my students to read cases closely, to understand how contested facts shape outcomes, and to rigorously defend their arguments," says Johnson, who will also receive Columbia University's Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching at the 2016 Commencement exercises. "I also encourage them to explore how to make litigation more effective in advancing social change, and to consider other modes of public problem solving that do not involve courts.”
Johnson’s scholarship has explored modern civil rights legislation, congressional power, and innovations to address racial discrimination and poverty.
Before joining the Columbia Law School faculty in 2006, Johnson served as counsel to U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee; as a consultant on racial justice matters at the ACLU; and as a litigator and legislative advocate at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Johnson clerked for Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court.
This is the second time Columbia Law School students have voted to honor Johnson—in 2009, she was selected as the “Public Interest Professor of the Year.” The prize’s citation praised her as a “role model for aspiring public interest lawyers” and noted her “warm, approachable” nature: “She not only inspires us to pursue public interest endeavors, but also acts as a catalyst to making these efforts successful.”
The daughter of an International Monetary Fund economist and a schoolteacher from Sierra Leone, Johnson grew up in the Washington, D.C., area. She received her J.D. from Stanford Law School and her B.A. from Yale University.