Double impact: Law and Education dual degree
By Kimberly Blanton
Education adviser to U.S Senator Elizabeth Warren. Civil rights attorney in the U.S. Department of Education. Legal intern for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
These are among the plum jobs snared by alumni and students of Boston College’s Law and Education Dual Degree Program.
Each fall, students who enter the three-year program simultaneously begin work toward a degree from the Boston College Law School and a Lynch School master’s degree in one of three fields: curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, or higher education. This niche program graduates only a handful of students each year.
“These programs are [relatively] rare in universities,” according to Lynch School Professor Diana C. Pullin, who holds a J.D. and a Ph.D. in education and who created the program at the request of two students who became its first graduates in 1997. But interest in the law-and-education specialty has grown nationally. When Pullin earned her doctorate in the 1970s, “there were probably a dozen of us in the country with those two degrees,” she said. “Now there are hundreds.”
The degree “leads to what are sometimes very nontraditional law jobs, and it also leads to jobs that don’t require a law degree but where your law degree really enhances your capabilities and appeal as a job applicant,” Pullin said. It is suited to the needs of students interested in promoting social justice and advocating quality education from grade school through college, for example. Multi-faceted and cross-disciplinary, it is also increasingly well suited to preparing graduates for today’s challenging job market.
“I think it made me more competitive for this job,” Philip Catanzano, an attorney in the Boston office of the Department of Education, said about his 2002 dual degree. He is responsible for ensuring that schools and colleges that receive federal funds comply with anti-discrimination and civil rights laws.
Another former dual-degree student, Julie Margetta Morgan, is Senator Warren’s point person on education on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. Morgan started out in the law/master’s program but went on to earn her doctorate from the Lynch School in 2010—Pullin headed her dissertation committee—four years after completing her law degree.
Morgan believes both degrees were instrumental in landing her crucial first job as a policy analyst for the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Looking back, she realizes “it’s helpful to know how laws work and to have a background in the social science research that informs the content” of legislation.
Meanwhile, Colleen Robinson, who expects to graduate in May 2015, hopes to become an attorney in an urban public school system. This summer, she is working as a legal intern for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Robinson, who once taught pre-kindergarten, says she drew on what she learned during her internship last summer conducting legal research and answering the hotline at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, which helps children with disabilities.
“If I only had a legal background,” she said, “it would’ve been more difficult to do the job.”