By Gwyneth K. Shaw
Over a 35-year career at Berkeley Law, Professor Emerita Eleanor Swift built a reputation on multiple pillars: A pathbreaking Evidence scholar, she garnered laurels as an outstanding teacher and a fierce advocate for clinical education.
As only the fifth woman on the school’s faculty, Swift also made it her mission to mentor women, both inside the classroom and in the larger field of Evidence law.
The entire scope of Swift’s career will be recognized early next month, when she accepts the 2022 John Henry Wigmore Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Evidence Section of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) at the organization’s annual meeting.
Penn Law Professor Jasmine E. Harris, who chairs the Evidence Section, says there was tremendous enthusiasm among its members for Swift. The section always receives multiple nominations for the award, she reports, in part because it’s a testament from colleagues and peers that a scholar has shaped not just the academic literature but legal education.
Swift taught Evidence to several current section members who were spurred by her scholarship and pedagogical commitment to teach and write in evidence law, Harris says.
“She has inspired generations of female law professors to ‘think big’ and enter an area of research that has historically been shaped by the work of male law professors,” Harris says. “In fact, Professor Swift is only the second female Evidence scholar to win this award, but I am certain that she will not be the last.”
Scholar, teacher, mentor
The award nominations also overflow with praise for Swift’s scholarship and advocacy for younger scholars, particularly women: “Professor Swift’s scholarly achievements are an inspiring model for a younger generation of evidence law scholars.” “Eleanor is precisely the type of life-long Evidence scholar, teacher, mentor, and role model who is deserving of the Wigmore Award.” “I have been a direct beneficiary of Professor Swift’s efforts to expand opportunities for female scholars, especially in the Evidence field.”
Another nomination lauded Swift’s 1987 California Law Review article, “A Foundation of Fact Approach to Hearsay,” as “a model of what I aspired to in my personal scholarship.”
Swift, who retired in 2014, says she is moved by the award.
“Of course it is very nice to be recognized individually, but what is most gratifying is what has happened to the field. When I started in 1979, women Evidence professors were scarce and undervalued,” she says. “Now there are many highly regarded women doing innovative teaching and scholarship that is deep and diverse. Everyone is better off as a result.”
She particularly credits her husband, Professor Emeritus Robert Cole, for his unfailing and effective support of her work. Swift and Cole met when she came to Berkeley Law in 1979. After graduating from Radcliffe College and Yale Law School — one of just eight women in the class of 1970 — she held two federal court clerkships and practiced for five years at a law firm in Houston.
Her quest for tenure became a years-long controversy and a major event in the history of the Law School and UC Berkeley. When Swift was initially denied tenure in 1987, students signed petitions and launched protests to pressure the School to promote Swift and colleague Marjorie Shultz ’76, who had also been denied the previous year.
Swift filed a grievance with the Academic Senate Privilege and Tenure Committee, which resulted in a review of Swift’s tenure file and those of the five men who had been granted tenure at the School just prior to her case. The review committee unanimously decided her work met the tenure standard for the men and she should receive tenure. Swift resumed her spot on the faculty in 1989; Shultz was also ultimately tenured.
Decades later, it is fitting that Swift’s extraordinary career is being recognized, Berkeley Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky says.
“I am thrilled that Eleanor Swift is receiving the 2022 John Henry Wigmore Award for Lifetime Achievement from the AALS Evidence Section,” says Chemerinsky, who will be the 2022 AALS president. “This is such a well-deserved honor for Eleanor’s decades of outstanding scholarship and teaching in the field.”