Letitia "Tish" James is an accomplished lawyer and activist whose long career in the public sector has served to break racial and gender boundaries across the country. In 2018 James was elected Attorney General of New York, making her the first woman elected as attorney general and the first Black woman to win statewide office. Before that, 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 began her career as a public defender in the New York Legal Aid Society, and founded the Urban Network, a coalition of minority organizations that raise money and distribute college scholarships to deserving inner city youth. She is revered for passing groundbreaking legislation and protecting the city’s most vulnerable communities.
A lifelong New Yorker, in 2013 James attended Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) as a graduate student. The school offers a program designed for the experienced professional who is looking for a top-quality and practical graduate program but cannot take the time off to pursue full-time study. This was ideal for James, who in addition to her studies at Columbia, managed to successfully run for New York City Public Advocate, eventually winning the general election in a landslide. That same year she received her Master of Public Administration degree from Columbia, positioning her well as a leader and advocate for public services.
Since then, James has only strengthened her position in the Columbia community, namely by returning to her alma mater for public events where she's shared her expertise. For instance, the attorney general was back on campus in 2019 to speak on alternatives to incarceration during an event hosted by the Columbia Law School. Then in 2020, James was among several illustrious keynotes (including one Nobel laureate) for the She Opened the Door event, where she shared her historic journey through public service. Following that, in January of 2021, her alma mater announced that the trailblazing alumnus will return for a more permanent position.
As the inaugural holder of the William S. Beinecke Visiting Professorship, James will join the SIPA faculty to teach a course on policing and policy in Spring 2021. And if that's not enough for the high-powered attorney, she is also slated to be this year’s keynote speaker at the virtual graduation ceremony for the School of Professional Studies at Columbia, where her extraordinary commitment to justice, equity, and public service will be an inspiration to some of the country’s finest minds.