A 40-Year Legacy: A Model Professor and ‘Remarkably Good Man’ 

College of Law Faculty Retirement

A 40-Year Legacy: A Model Professor and ‘Remarkably Good Man’

Jurist. Scholar. Historian. Professor. Poet. Painter. Mentor. Colleague. Mensch. At any given time, Christian “Chris” Day is any one of these descriptives and, sometimes, all of them at once.

Professor Christian Day
Professor Christian Day

“Chris is a great colleague who has a unique appreciation for many aspects of the world beyond the law,” says Professor Margaret Harding of her long-time colleague at the College of Law. After four decades of teaching, Day is retiring, a milestone that his colleagues and former students see as an opportunity to reflect on the very best of what the College of Law has to offer. “He’s a great role model for all of us,” says Harding.

“He’s a superstar,” says Frank Forelle ’80, L’85, of his law school professor who also became his friend. “Chris is a true gentleman, old school, incredibly caring, and interested in seeing his students succeed. The impact he had on my life is more than any other professor I ever had. He’s just light years different from anyone else.”

Day is typically dismissive of accolades: “I’m someone who is uncoachable and unteachable. I don’t know how to teach students who haven’t learned how to learn. Sometimes I have a problem connecting sentences properly because I assume everyone is in the same conversation going on in my head.”

Day’s humility reflects a deep-rooted humanity that has guided him throughout his career and impacted generations of students.

“Law is a civilizing agent,” says Day. “It considers history, psychology, morals, and religious values. It permeates every aspect of our lives and offers a way of resolving problems. It’s a wonderful profession,” says the professor who has taught more than 20 courses ranging from antitrust law to restructuring of enterprises, and written dozens of articles on topics ranging from real estate finance to economic history. “I love teaching because

I like to see the excitement in other people’s eyes as they solve problems and enjoy themselves the way I do.”

For Day, it’s about giving students the tools to be problem-solvers. “I’ve worked with trial teams and appellate teams. Once you’ve grasped control over these wonderful tools and used them for good, it’s a joy.”

“As a professor, Chris offered tools, but more than that, he offered guidance to develop perspective and understanding,” says Donghoo Sohn LL.M.’13. Sohn came to Syracuse from South Korea and was part of the College of Law’s inaugural Master of Laws class. He later became a Visiting Scholar at the College and is now a corporate lawyer with Melvyn & Melvyn. “I learned from Chris that to be a good lawyer, you must be a good person. In corporate law, you learn many terms and cases that are useful in practice. But business is done by humans, and a successful business transaction must consider how it benefits people.”

“I teach commercial transactions, which is probably the most statutory of law courses,” says Day. “But I also teach that sometimes the solution to a problem is not a legal solution. A lot of things can be solved by a conversation among the parties involved.”

Former law student and now Professor of Law Cora True-Frost G’01, L’01 says Day’s willingness to engage in lengthy conversations—and debate—help make him so special. True-Frost describes herself as a “seemingly unteachable student” who arrived at the College of Law with “an affinity for public service and a strong suspicion of profit-making and corporate America.” In her classes with Day, she would debate with him over fundamental principles in corporate law: “Chris modeled professional ways to engage and mentor students that not all professors do. As my professor, he valued and engaged my opinions even though they differed from his own. Although he was the expert in this area, he welcomed my outsider perspective. He offered me an opportunity to exercise my voice and to do it with confidence. In the process, he modeled for me how to bridge the divide between professors and students, and how to do so professionally. For better or worse, he also persuaded me that there can be some value in profit-making. He values personal interaction and has always been willing to devote significant amounts of time to students. He became a very important part of my life and I have been incredibly fortunate to be his colleague.”

Day describes himself as “a red-meat-eating-capitalist” and True-Frost says the story of their friendship is a “message of hope for where the United States is right now. We remain on opposite sides of the political spectrum, but we respect each other and continue to learn from each other, and value each other’s very different perspectives. Everyone who works with him, and all his students would agree that Chris has a heart of gold, notwithstanding his strong belief that we should all be going after gold! He’s a truly endearing person…a true mensch in belt and suspenders.”

“Chris always put his students’ needs and interests first,” says Harding, who started teaching at the College of Law in 1994 and followed Day as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in 2015. “Chris wanted to make sure his students were prepared for the practice of law. He has a true appreciation for the role lawyers play in our society and encouraged his students to understand the context within which clients’ problems arise. With this understanding, Chris believed that students would be well positioned to resolve clients’ problems holistically.”

“Lessons from his course on land use law have stayed with me throughout my career,” says Michael Walls L’84, who retired last year as Vice President of Regulatory and Technical Affairs at the American Chemistry Council. “I worked in the policy arena, and Chris gave his students a wonderful way of understanding how policy decisions play out, including the unintended consequences, and how the law can help resolve conflict.” Walls was one of Day’s first research assistants, an experience he says convinced him that Day was “a polymath in the classic sense of the word. He may have been writing about an IRS ruling, but he always brought other interests into his work—tax law, economics, how markets work, history, and finance. My experience with Chris not only demonstrated his abiding interest in the law but how it could be a force for good and for justice.”

An exhibit of Professor Day’s oil paintings were on display in the library and atrium during the spring semester.
An exhibit of Professor Day’s oil paintings were on display in the library and atrium during the spring semester.

Day says he enjoyed bringing his experience in the corporate world into the classroom. Before coming to Syracuse, Day practiced law in Philadelphia, spending several years at a firm specializing in real estate and litigation. Today, he stays in touch with many of his students and offers counsel in their real-world jobs. He says his 10 years of experience as Associate Dean at the College of Law honed his management skills. “I try to bring my observations of good people skills into the corporate setting. A lot of times, a legal problem is not a legal problem at all, but it’s a management problem or a personality problem.”

“Chris is a remarkably good man,” says Aviva Abramovsky, Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Buffalo School of Law. Abramovsky spent more than a decade at Syracuse University College of Law, much of it working closely with Day in the Law in London program. Day was co-director of the Law in London Program from 2004-2007, and director of the Law in London Externship Program from 2008-2017. “Chris is a real believer in corporate responsibility. He is a man of great character and commitment, the kind every institution needs and not enough have.”

She notes that Day’s appreciation for history and other cultures made him the perfect person to help shape the London program. “In many ways, the British have the greatest English language lawyers in the world,” says Abramovsky. “It is a privilege and pleasure to watch the barristers, with their wigs and robes. It helps us understand the common law system we inherited from the British. Given Chris’s love of history, literature, theaters, and Shakespeare, he was very much at home.”

“For many students in the London program, it was their first time outside the U.S.,” says Day. “They worked with good mentors. Every student matured from their placement.” Day tried to integrate British culture into the London law experience. “The Brits work at a slightly different pace—and their manners are better than ours generally,” he notes with a touch of humor.

“Knowing Chris for well over 30 years is like attending a lovely dinner party in the English countryside,” says colleague Robin Paul Malloy, E.I. White Chair and Distinguished Professor of Law and Kauffman Professor of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “It is quite the treat. There is so much to enjoy and to learn from the conversation being served. Chris always brings a love of history and legal tradition to the table. Most of all, he takes pleasure in relaying stories about the successes of his many students.”

Part of Day’s legacy is the redesign of the London program. Similarly, he leaves an enduring legacy in the design of Dineen Hall which redefined legal education. A decade in the planning and construction, Dineen Hall is a magnificent 200,000-square-foot space that was named one of the most impressive law school buildings in the world by Best Choice Schools. Day was a member of the “Gang of Five” that directed the construction of Dineen Hall.

“I had a strong interest in architecture and as a corporate real estate lawyer, I worked with engineers and builders, so it was my pleasure to work with architects and others from start to finish,” says Day. “It gave me a chance to do what I love doing in practice— solve problems.” He describes the result as “a glorious place to learn and teach and work.” And, ever attentive to detail, Day adds: “They brought it in on time and under budget!”

Most important to Day was creating a building that would allow nature’s beauty to be felt. “Even on the gloomiest of days, there’s natural light in the building. It’s such a wonderful thing.” Says Harding: “Syracuse can be so gray, yet so much light comes in the classrooms. The design integrates faculty offices with classroom spaces and the atrium is a place to both work and socialize. It’s very beautiful.”

Day says the interior staircase that runs from the ground floor to the fourth floor is reminiscent of Fallingwater, the iconic home in Laurel Highlands, PA, designed by renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Fallingwater is described as “organic architecture: the harmonious union of art and nature.” Day says it was his goal to bring together art and nature in a place that would nurture those who study and work at the College of Law.

“Surroundings are just so important,” says Day, a conviction captured in his other passion and avocation, his art. “I grew up in Wheatfield, Niagara County, Western New York. It was farm country. Farms are beautiful and important. They have dignity and heft,” says Day in the introduction to a catalog of oil paintings featured in a recent exhibition entitled Still Life, Still Land at Dineen Hall. “There is great beauty, power, peace, and longing in the farmland, lakes, and rolling hills of Central New York.”

Day started drawing and painting at the tender age of four and continued to develop as an artist, but decided on a career in law, so that he could make a living. He says his legal training and management skills have made him a better artist. “I’m efficient. I think a lot about the subject. I paint what I know. I paint what I love.”

Day’s students and colleagues believe there’s a natural connection between his vocation and avocation. “Chris loves teaching law students in the same way he loves painting,” says former student Sohn. “As an artist crafts a painting or shapes a sculpture, Chris crafts and nurtures law students into becoming fine lawyers.”

“His paintings are works of introspection,” says former student Forelle. “He zeros in on a scene. He’s focused.”

“His artistry is evidence of his sensitivity, his ability, and his desire to perceive and reflect what is beautiful in life,” says colleague True-Frost. Day displays that focus on what is beautiful in life in one of his favorite poems, entitled Ordinary Times: “…the gentle wind, the dying of the light, frost on the grass; petals staying the course, winter coming; life renewed, and gentle breeze, rising sun envelopes me…”

Day calls himself an “impressionistic realistic.” He paints what he sees, leaving an impression that is beautiful and inspiring. Similarly, he teaches the language of the law (he calls corporate finance a “bizarre sort of poetry”), leaving an indelible impression on four decades of College of Law graduates.

“For Chris, teaching was not about getting you to the right answer,” says Walls. “It was about getting you into the ballpark with the ability to play around. It was never just the one-and-done answer. He helped his students understand the broad parameters of the law—to see the entire landscape and figure out ways to interpret that landscape in a meaningful way.”

“Every person who studied under or works with Chris will tell you that he is generous with his knowledge, but that’s not what makes him unique,” says Dean Craig Boise. “He channels his many passions—as a true Renaissance man—into his teaching and gave his students a unique vision of what the law could help them accomplish in the world. There’s a little bit of Chris—his voice, his spirit, his goodness—in hundreds of College of Law graduates making a difference around the globe.” 

Professor Margaret Harding spoke about Professor Day and his impact on the College at the end of his final class.