Reflections on the Career of Professor Arlene Kanter

Arlene Kanter

More than 50 faculty, students, alumni, and friends from Syracuse Law and Syracuse University along with dozens on Zoom from around the world, attended the program “The Past, Present, and Future of Disability Lawn and Policy at the College of Law” to honor the retirement of Professor Arlene Kanter.

Kanter’s contributions to the lives of numerous Syracuse Law students and the global legal profession during her four-plus decades of service are difficult to wrap one’s head around. There are countless books, articles, presentations, committee memberships, guest teaching positions, not to mention co-counsel to two U.S. Supreme Court cases, and so much more, it is hard to narrow these accomplishments down to a few highlights.

There are, however, two lasting accomplishments that will continue to make an impact on the world at large:

  • Kanter established the Syracuse Law Disability Law and Policy Program (DLPP) in 2005 which has evolved into one of the most comprehensive disability legal studies programs in the country. DLPP draws J.D., LL.M., S.J.D., and visiting scholars from around the world to immerse themselves in all aspects of disability law and its intersection with international human rights law.
  • From 2001-06, Kanter worked with the United Nations committee on drafting the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD). Since then, she has collaborated with governments and disability organizations on implementing the CRPD in more than a dozen countries and counting.

In Their Words:

Dean Craig Boise clapping in recognition of Arlene at the podium

“As we gather today, we owe a big thank you to Professor Arlene Kanter for founding the DLPP back in 2005 and serving as the director of the program for nearly 20 years. Under her leadership, the DLPP has grown into a center that is not only integral to the College of Law but also to the broader university.”

Craig Boise, Dean

Paula Johnson speaking at the podium

“You are a beloved teacher, and that is to say not only for the law students and [those] in the School of Education and other places, but for all of us. You have always committed to teaching us to make us more aware. Your path-making ways have also inspired all of us to be and do our best.”

Paula Johnson, Director of the Cold Case Justice Initiative

Suzette Meléndez speaking at the podium

“There were several instances when the Children’s Rights and Family Law Clinic represented members and families that were members of the disability community. When I needed to seek out disability expertise, and someone who knew the area at both a theoretical and practical level, for me there was only one answer. It was Arlene. Arlene always made herself available as a collaborative partner who could consult to make sure that I was serving our clients to the best of our ability and withwhom I could explore the latest and greatest developments in disability law that would provide the best option for our clients.”

Suzette Meléndez, Faculty Fellow for the Office of Strategic Initiatives in Academic, Affairs and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Syracuse University; former director of the Children’s Rights and Family Law Clinic

Cora True-Frost laughing

“You have fostered an environment of inquiry and critical thinking and most importantly to me, you have delivered real change in our university community. You secured a commitment that our university would ensure that our newly-constructed buildings not only ensure accessibility but also move beyond mere compliance to ensure equity through your advocacy on the campus facilities advisory board. Simply put, your voice matters in the room. It matters for people with disabilities and all of us.”

Cora True-Frost G’01, L’01, Bond, Schoeneck & King Distinguished Professor

Beth Ferri speaking into a microphone

“We are truly indebted to your leadership, your energy, and your passion for all things disability rights. I know you’ll continue to be a strong force for change, but I also hope you get to enjoy a little bit more time with family and friends and the beautiful sun and sea of Cape Cod.”

Beth Ferri, Associate Dean for Research, School of Education

Julie and Arlene pose together for the camera

“Every time I return to SU for alumni events or to speak with disability law students, I am astounded by the diversity of students and professions and interests that Arlene has cultivated within the DLPP. Every time I’m at an event I am inspired by the law students and alums. It’s an amazing legacy.”

Julie Morse G’05, L’05, Attorney, Legal Services of Central New York

Two people hugging

“Although I did not have the benefit of being one of your students, the lessons I’ve learned from you transcend the classroom. Evidenced here today, your work and your humanity have left an imprint on so many and the seeds you planted continue to grow.”

Andrew Horsfall L’10, Assistant Dean of International Programs, Co-Director, LondonEx

Daniel VanSant speaking into the microphone

“What strikes me is that my story is not really special when you look at the alums in this network. She’s created a who’s who network of people in disability rights. I think it’s important to summarize what an impact she has had on the world if we just think of the number of people with disabilities who were her alumni’s clients as part of a class action, as part of policies we are changing, we quickly get to millions of people that were positively impacted by Arlene and whose lives have her fingerprints on them.”

Daniel Van Sant G’16, L’16, Director of Disability Policy, The Harkin Institute

Renci “Mercy” Xie, Arlene and Johannes pose for a photo

“Professor Kanter is an internationally recognized scholar in disability law. And she writes incisive articles defending disability rights. Yet she is a humble, warm, and friendly person. I am so grateful and honored to be Professor Kanter’s student as an LL.M. and S.J.D. As an advisor, she is guiding me through my dissertation and encourages me to explore new methods in legal study. I could not ask for a better Ph.D. advisor.”

Renci “Mercy” Xie LL.M.’20, S.J.D. candidate

Kat Macfarlane speaking into the microphone

“As I think of the past very busy year as I settle into my life in Syracuse, one thing has been constant—Arlene’s support. In the disability law field, Arlene is nothing short of a legend. The College of Law has a reputation as a disability law and policy leader thanks to Arlene’s groundbreaking work. As I continue to think of the future of DLPP, I think about continuing to live up to Arlene’s standards and staying true to her values.”

Katherine Macfarlane, Director of the Disability Law and Policy Program