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James E. Crawford

Professor of Law, Emeritus

UC Berkeley

1934 – 2008


James E. Crawford, a longtime professor, first in the University of California’s Hastings College of Law and then in the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law, died in Chicago on February 19, 2008. Jim was born on February 1, 1934, in the tiny southern Illinois town of Harrisburg, the eighth child and first son of William A. Crawford, a railroad employee, and his wife, Levonia. His college education began at the University of Illinois; he graduated with a joint degree in history and political science in 1956. A year later he returned to Champaign and entered the University of Illinois Law School, receiving his J.D. degree in 1960. From 1960 to 1963 he was a member of the University of Illinois faculty as assistant dean of students.

Jim came to California in 1964 to enter a doctoral program at Stanford University, where he had been appointed assistant dean of undergraduate education. In 1965, he gave up his doctoral studies and, after receiving an M.A. degree from Stanford, took a three-year leave of absence to work for the U.S. Department of State in West Africa, serving as part of a team establishing the University of Sierra Leone, a new institution supported by American assistance. Jim always referred to this as his “Peace Corps” service, but his contribution was actually much more extensive and included administrative work at a high level within the State Department. He often spoke warmly of the people of Sierra Leone, and with less affection of the problems and frustrations in dealing with the local and foreign assistance bureaucracy in West Africa. He returned to Stanford in 1968, but not for long, taking a teaching position at the University of Santa Clara Law School in 1970.

Jim came to San Francisco as a visitor at Hastings, beginning in 1971, and joined the faculty in 1972 as one of the younger professors at that law school who was not a member of the “65 Club”, the group of Hastings teachers who were retirees from other law schools. Jim was the first African-American to receive a tenured teaching appointment at Hastings, where he taught commercial law in its various aspects, as well as contracts and law and poverty. Jim Crawford was not just a law professor, he was a gifted and committed teacher; he had a love for teaching the law, his courses were practical and of interest and value to his students in their later professional life. He was even more than a teacher; he was a wonderful “talker”, engaging his students on different planes and at different opportunities—in classroom lectures, in questions during and after class and in his office, where he was always available for discussion. Hill Blackett III of the Hastings Class of 1977 wrote, “In many ways Jim Crawford was the ideal first-year contracts professor. His stern classroom countenance and formal but humane Socratic method commanded respect for the law and the learning process. When we discovered some time during the first year that he was also a kind soul, keenly interested in the happiness and success of his students, it was icing on the cake”.

By 1981, after a brief visiting period in Berkeley, 1979-80, Jim shifted to Boalt Hall, the School of Law at Berkeley, where he continued his interests in commercial law and contracts, expanding into seminars on the legal profession and creditors’ rights, commercial transactions, and bankruptcy. He had been viewed by the students as one of the most popular professors at Hastings and achieved this same regard at Boalt during his 15 years at Berkeley. For the rest of his life, the former students of Jim Crawford would gather annually, some coming from across the country, to join in lunches and dinners with and for him, a clear token of the great affection in which he was held. Jim retired and was made emeritus in 1994, although he taught a bankruptcy course that year. He had lived in San Francisco since 1970 during his years at Hastings and Boalt; as his health began to fail, he moved to Chicago to be near his extended family.

Jim Crawford was a man of many parts. Often law teachers and professors in all departments are called upon to serve as administrators, not always with distinction. Jim was truly successful in the field of academic administration; this was probably due more to his natural abilities, character and personal approach than his experience as dean at Illinois and Stanford. He was academic vice-dean at Hastings, 1978-79, and was associate dean at Boalt for a year during his tenure. As Dean Herma Hill Kay recalls, “Jim helped raise the level of the law school’s response to many troublesome problems involving faculty, student, and staff matters. He earned my everlasting gratitude by handling many of these problems without burdening me with the details while consulting me on issues of policy. His approach to problems was a practical one: pragmatic, and above all, prompt.” This observation characterizes Jim so well. He was a wonderfully articulate person; a conversationalist, and always an interesting one, he could get to the point quickly, while seeing and discussing the alternatives along the way. As an administrator, Jim combined determination with flexibility, bringing tact and a rational approach to difficult situations. He was a moderate man, a man of reason and accommodation. As an African-American, this may have created difficulties during the early insurgent days of black activism at the law school. How much it grieved him is hard to say, since he never gave evidence that it did, dealing with the experience with his customary balance and maturity. He was a colleague who always made clear that the person to whom he was speaking, whether in class, faculty discussion, a lunch meeting, or a casual hallway conversation, was the sole focus of his attention. He was the perfect raconteur, having a way with stories, anecdotes, and descriptions that many of us remember vividly.

Another part of Jim was his love of music. He was an accomplished pianist, but for his own pleasure; it was difficult to get him to play for others. He was a regular subscriber to the San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera (and later to their Chicago counterparts), and by no means an uncritical one. But if he enjoyed a performance, he would return to that same performance a second, even a third time. He was also a good eater; even later in life, when health considerations restricted his diet, he enjoyed good food. An excellent cook (but again just for himself) he preferred to take friends out to dinner at a favorite restaurant, always putting his guests at ease, since then no one had to worry about the kitchen. He was a traveler, and enjoyed cruises, especially to southern Europe. He went to the Mediterranean the year before his death.

Jim Crawford will be remembered by his many friends and colleagues at Boalt and Hastings as a witty, articulate and friendly guy, truly a “kind soul”, always ready to give advice, listen to problems and come up with a story or remark that would put the cap on everything. We shall miss him.


              Sanford H. Kadish                                                                                                    2009

              John K. McNulty

              Thomas H. Reynolds