Campus Community / People of SU

Cornell Law Dean Who Grew Up in Puyallup Returns Home to Lead Seattle University

October 22, 2020

Graphic reads Introducing President-Elect, Eduardo M. Peñalver. Our Future Begins Now. Features photo of Eduardo M. Peñalver, who will be Seattle U's 22nd President.

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Eduardo M. Peñalver, the dean of Cornell University’s Law School, a Rhodes Scholar and a professor of law who clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, has been named the next president of Seattle University, the Board of Trustees announced today.

He will become the university’s 22nd president, its first Latino president and the first layperson to take the helm since Seattle U was founded in 1891. Peñalver will begin his official duties on July 1, 2021.

President Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J., previously announced he will step down in June after 24 years leading the university.

Peñalver, 47, grew up in Puyallup and was raised in a deeply Catholic family. His family moved there when he was two years old for his father’s pediatric residency at the University of Washington Medical School. He received his primary education at his parish school, All Saints, before attending Henry Foss High School in Tacoma. His parents and four siblings all live in Puyallup and Tacoma.

“Dean Peñalver is a brilliant scholar and highly respected dean, professor of law and leader of one of the nation’s top law schools,” says Nicole Piasecki, chair of the Seattle University Board of Trustees. “Eduardo is an innovative thinker who understands the impact of partnerships and collaboration. He is passionate about the power of Seattle University to make the world a better place. His leadership qualities, background and experience make him uniquely well-suited to lead Seattle University into the future. The Board’s decision was as enthusiastic as it was unanimous.”

“I am so grateful to join Seattle University, excited about its future and looking forward to working with all of the faculty, staff, students and alumni of Seattle University to bring that future into being,” says Peñalver. “It is an honor to follow Father Steve, who has expertly steered the university these past two-plus decades and for the opportunity to build upon the solid foundation he has laid.”

Peñalver’s seven years as a law school dean has prepared him well for this next step into university leadership. The interdisciplinary nature of most legal research means that successful law schools function as intellectual crossroads for their universities, with faculty in a range of academic disciplines and joint appointments. Under Peñalver’s leadership, Cornell Law School faculty have been principal investigators on federal grants and have secured millions of dollars in grants from private foundations.

Peñalver says the presidency presents a unique opportunity to help guide the university during challenging times to even higher levels of achievement and impact.

“As a Jesuit Catholic university, Seattle University takes the foundational value of a liberal education and adds to it by embedding it within a value system rooted in the Jesuit commitment of caring for and educating the whole person, ‘mind, body and spirit,’” he says.

He continues, “Seattle University aims to produce students who are knowledgeable, who have superb critical thinking skills, who have learned to engage with a wide diversity of people and ideas. But it also goes farther and aspires to imbue them with a sense of purpose and a desire to put their education to work in the service of others, especially the most vulnerable among us. All of which speaks to why Seattle U students are well prepared to be difference makers and are highly valued by top employers across the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

“Seattle University’s deep commitment to providing an education rooted in engagement with the world could not be more important than it is today. In our country, polarized as we are along political and religious lines, Seattle University’s identity as both Catholic and progressive gives it a distinctive voice as it speaks not only to members of this community, but to the wider community, here in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”  

Among the opportunities for the university to take on in the coming years, Peñalver says it should bring its sense of mission and engagement to bear on the study of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution.”

“As our society digitizes and as the pace of technological change accelerates, we risk becoming—in the words of Pope Francis—a people characterized by ‘information without wisdom.’ Our efforts to counter this risk will benefit from Seattle University’s distinctive voice and from its Jesuit approach to providing an education that can bridge the gap between technology and humanity. Such an effort will draw on the full breadth of Seattle University’s academic excellence as well as the richness of its values.

 “Seattle University’s location on the doorstep of one of the world’s great tech hubs positions it perfectly to both observe and engage with those working in that industry, an industry that includes many of the university’s own distinguished alumni.”

More about Eduardo Peñalver

Eduardo Peñalver became the first Latino dean of an Ivy League law school when he was appointed to his current role in 2014. He is in his second five-year term as dean.

At Cornell Law, Peñalver helped guide the school through one of the most turbulent periods for American law schools in living memory. Through successful fundraising and an openness to experimentation, Cornell Law School thrived. Since 2014, the law school has raised more than $100 million in new gifts and commitments, with more than $25 million of that dedicated to financial aid. During the same period, the school improved the credentials of its incoming classes while increasing the diversity of the student body. It also launched new clinical and academic programs in Ithaca, NY, New York City and online.

Peñalver also held leadership roles outside the law school. He served on the Board of Directors of eCornell, Cornell University’s platform for online education and led successful searches for Cornell’s university counsel and the new dean of the Engineering College. Peñalver spearheaded university task forces on campus speech, as well as the use of race in undergraduate and professional school admissions and was a key administrator for producing campus programming focusing on the intersection of free speech and an inclusive campus environment.

Peñalver received his bachelor’s from Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences in 1994 and his law degree from Yale Law School in 1999, where he wrote his law review note on the constitutional definition of religion. He joined the Cornell faculty in 2006 and the University of Chicago Law School faculty in 2013. He taught at Fordham Law School from 2003 to 2006 and has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale law schools.

Upon completing law school, he clerked for Judge Guido Calabresi of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Between college and law school, Peñalver studied philosophy and theology as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford.

Peñalver’s work on property law has been published in scholarly law journals at Yale University, the University of Michigan, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. He is considered a leading voice in the “progressive property” movement, deriving many of his insights from Catholic social teaching. His research explores how property law creates or reinforces communal bonds and how property rights mediate the relationship between individuals and communities. His book Property Outlaws (co-authored with Sonia Katyal), published by Yale University Press in February 2010, explores the vital role of disobedience within the evolution of property law. His most recent book, An Introduction to Property Theory (co-authored with Gregory Alexander), was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011.

Peñalver is married to Sital Kalantry, a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School. The two met as undergraduates at Cornell and have two sons.

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