Brooklyn Law School holds installation ceremony for Michael Cahill, ninth dean
Francis Aquila makes first public speech as board chair
It was a passing of the guard, but also a welcome back party at Brooklyn Law School on Wednesday where Michael Cahill was officially installed as the ninth dean in the Downtown Brooklyn school’s history.
“Michael Cahill possesses a deep understanding of our law school’s legacy, our strengths and our opportunities for growth,” said Stuart Subotnick, chairperson emeritus. “I’m confident that as president and dean, Michael will build on our traditional areas of excellence and he will forge new paths that will bring further distinction to our law school.”
It was also the first public appearance of Francis Aquila, who conducted the investiture ceremony, since he was elected as chairperson of the board at BLS earlier in October.
“It’s fitting that this installation ceremony is his first public occasion as the new chairman,” Subotnick said. “It’s been a tremendous honor to lead the board for the last 16 years and now I turn the reins over to Frank. Between these two guys, our school is in great hands.”
It was a homecoming for Cahill, who was a faculty member at the school for 13 years, including five years as the associate dean for academic affairs and vice dean. He left briefly to serve as co-dean at Rutgers Law School before his return to BLS in July.
Over 100 members of the legal community were in attendance to show their support, including judges, professors, the members of the board of trustees, alumni, and Cahill’s family and friends.
Aquila served as the master of ceremonies for the event. Father Patrick Keating, an alumnus, performed the invocation, which was followed by remarks by District Attorney Eric Gonzalez; Justice Claire Kelly, of the U.S. Court of International Trade; and Prof. Maryellen Fullerton, who served as interim dean during the 2018-19 school year.
After Aquila was introduced, and before the focus shifted to Cahill for good, the new chairperson of the board gave a special thanks to Subotnick. Subotnick has served over the past 16 years as chairperson of the board and has been a board member since the 1990s.
“He has just finished serving 16 years as chairman of the board of trustees while I’ve barely served 30 days. I don’t know how he could have lasted for 16 years,” Aquila said. “The contributions of his time and talent have gone far beyond any monetary contributions that he’s made. He really has been what has made Brooklyn Law School such a fine institution and a far better law school today than it was before his tenure.”
Gonzalez noted that it was weird welcoming Cahill back, especially considering he took over as dean in July. But, he joked, it wasn’t dissimilar from his own career, in which he served as acting district attorney for over a year before his own installation.
Justice Kelly roasted Cahill a bit when she asked what was up with his desk, that never, ever has any papers on it, and made mention of the fact that he doesn’t seem to age. Things quickly became more emotional when she talked about how proud the school’s faculty was to see Cahill leave to serve as co-dean at Rutgers, but how much more excited members are to have him back.
“At the same time, we were conflicted because we didn’t want to lose him,” Justice Kelly said. “You have to put that aside and people at BLS were truly happy for Michael when he was able to pursue that goal [of becoming an administrator at Rutgers]. Boy, are we really happy now that we get our colleague and friend back.”
After an investiture ceremony conducted by Aquila, four students, Diego Gomez, John Churchill, Bridget McDonagh and Emily Fullhardt, helped Cahill during the robing ceremony. Afterward, Cahill shared his gratitude and his plans for BLS.
Part of his speech reflected on what he considers the four core features of BLS — independence, engagement with the legal community, a focus on practical education and offering opportunity to its students.
“One of the most heartening themes of our history is that we have always opened our doors to women, racial and religious minorities, immigrants, first-generation lawyers and first-generation college graduates,” Cahill said. “In doing so, we have not only shaped career paths, but family histories and entire communities. Literally thousands of people, including many in the room, have a powerful and profound story to tell about how a BLS education transformed their lives.
“I’m honored, I’m grateful and I’m excited to be working with and for all of you in creating the next chapter of our story,” Cahill said in conclusion.
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