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Public interest lawyer is ILR program’s Visiting Activist Scholar

Sam Magavern, a public interest lawyer and community leader in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, is the Cornell Buffalo Co-Lab Visiting Activist Scholar for the 2019-20 academic year.

Sam Magavern, the new Visiting Activist Scholar in the Cornell Buffalo Co-Lab, speaks at the 2013 Partnership for the Public Good Community Agenda Rollout in Buffalo. Magavern has served as a pro bono adjunct faculty member in the Co-Lab since 2009.

In his role, Magavern will teach a class, Lawyers as Change Agents: Pathways to the Public Good, on the Ithaca campus and conduct workshops in Ithaca and Buffalo.

“The purpose of this program is to bridge academic knowledge with experiential expertise in many facets of progressive community change,” said Lou Jean Fleron, co-lab director. “Grounded in Buffalo’s struggles and regeneration as a post-industrial city, these visiting scholars engage with students and faculty, research and write, and teach courses that draw on their own unique experiences as community innovators and public intellectuals. For ILR students, they illuminate potential career pathways that improve communities and make a better world.”

Cornell impacting New York State

Magavern has a long history with the Buffalo Co-Lab, serving as a pro bono adjunct faculty member since 2009, when he began teaching in courses related to the High Road Fellowships.

“The focus of Sam’s appointment will be on the role of public interest lawyers in community change,” Fleron said. “In these challenging times for American democracy, interest in law and policy is heightened among ILR students. This opportunity will be valuable academically, exploring many facets of policy change and application, as well as for their understanding how careers in the legal profession can make progress on tough social, political and economic problems.”

Magavern graduated first in his class from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law. After 12 years as an attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, Minnesota, he returned to Buffalo.

In 2007, Magavern joined Fleron and others to co-found the Partnership for the Public Good, a community-based think tank, where he held a leadership position through 2018. During that time, the organization grew to more than 290 partner organizations, produced hundreds of fact sheets, policy briefs and reports, and helped its partners shape policy at the local, regional and state levels. The organization works closely with Cornell on many projects, including the High Road Fellowships and the Buffalo Commons.

“I’ve been a public interest lawyer for 30 years now,” Magavern said, “and it seems like a good time to reflect and engage with students on the question of the lawyer as change agent. Buffalo and Ithaca will furnish us with fascinating case studies of lawyers working in widely varying ways to make systemic change in their communities.”

Aaron Bartley was named the inaugural visiting activist scholar in 2018, transitioning to ILR after 13 years with People United for Sustainable Housing in Buffalo.

Julie Greco is a communications specialist with the ILR School.

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Lindsey Hadlock