James’s service as the state’s top lawyer represents several firsts for New York. In November 2018 she became the first woman elected as attorney general and the first Black woman to win statewide office. Upon taking office she became the first Black person to serve as attorney general in New York.
At SIPA, James is the inaugural holder of the William S. Beinecke Visiting Professorship, which was established in December 2020 to support a scholar or practitioner with a focus on public policy.
“We are pleased to welcome Attorney General Letitia James to the SIPA faculty,” said Dean Merit E. Janow. “SIPA has long provided its students with the special insights of both scholars and practitioners. It is exciting to welcome one of New York’s trailblazing public officials to teach on an issue of such vital concern.”
“I am honored to return to SIPA and engage with the next generation of thought leaders in New York,” said Attorney General James. “Reimagining the role of police in society is one of the most pressing issues we face, and I am eager to continue the work on how best to rebuild trust in our communities and ensure justice is served for everyone.”
The attorney general will co-teach a new course, Rethinking Policing in the 21st Century, in partnership with longtime SIPA adjunct faculty member Basil Smikle, Jr., a noted political strategist and policy adviser. James and Smikle will examine current police practices through the lens of history, race, recent events, and jurisprudence, analyzing police training, disciplinary procedures, use of force guidelines, and other practices in an effort to foster and improve community-police relations. The class will be open to students at SIPA — in both the part-time EMPA program and full-time MIA and MPA programs — and at Columbia Law School.
The collaboration springs from James’s participation in a discussion about “Building Trust Between Police and the Communities They Serve” held earlier this year. That program, which included Smikle as well as Marilyn Mosby, state’s attorney for Baltimore, Maryland, was part of ongoing Food for Thought lecture series hosted by SIPA’s Picker Center for Executive Education.
The Beinecke chair memorializes the late William S. Beinecke, a 1940 graduate of Columbia Law School, and his commitment to social responsibility.
Before taking office as attorney general, James served as the New York City public advocate for five years, and for 10 years before that as a New York City Council member representing her native borough of Brooklyn. James previously served as head of the Brooklyn regional office of the New York State attorney general. She began her career as a public defender at the Legal Aid Society.
James, who is known widely as Tish, received her law degree from Howard University and her undergraduate degree from CUNY’s Lehman College. She is a former student in the same EMPA program in which she will soon teach.