Ed Butterfoss always returned to teaching.
During his time as a faculty member at Hamline University – and later Mitchell Hamline – schools of law, Butterfoss found himself elevated – sometimes drafted – for leadership positions, including several years as Hamline Law’s dean. But he always felt the pull of the classroom, eschewing a long career in administration to return to his faculty positions.
A well-known instructor of contracts, criminal law, and criminal procedure – which included several appearances in local media to comment on various news stories of the day – Butterfoss retired this month after nearly 40 years in legal education.
“Ed has given so much to the legal community in Minnesota and beyond,” said President and Dean Anthony Niedwiecki. “In addition to the many thousands of students he’s taught, Ed always stepped up to leadership positions when asked, and his ability to work with anyone made him successful each time.
“He helped Hamline Law grow, which in turn helped Mitchell Hamline be the law school it is today.”
Raised in New Jersey, Butterfoss earned an undergraduate accounting degree – and played on his university’s soccer team – before gravitating to law school. After graduating from Georgetown Law, he was in private practice for three years in Philadelphia before joining the faculty at Hamline Law in 1983 as an assistant professor.
“At that point, our school was barely 11 years old and not well known, so it was a leap of faith to come to Hamline,” said Professor Marie Failinger, who began at the law school the same day as Butterfoss. “As I remember it, it was sort of culture shock for him to come from the East Coast to Minnesota, which was overwhelmingly white. So, one of his first and longest-term efforts was to try to bring more racial diversity to Hamline.”
“I went to any event and talked to anyone I could,” said Butterfoss. “People were incredibly welcoming and eager to help. I think we did a lot of good work over the years, especially to diversify the student body.”
Much of Butterfoss’ efforts were in partnership with the Minnesota Minority Lawyers Association, which awarded the school and Butterfoss its Distinguished Service Award in 1989. “To me, that’s the most important work I’ve done,” he added.
Butterfoss was also a founding board member of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, a board member of the ACLU of Minnesota and Centro Legal of Minnesota, and a member of the ABA Accreditation Committee, which he chaired for three years.
In the 1990s, Butterfoss was tapped for a leadership role, serving as associate dean for academic affairs from 1995 to 1998, before being named dean of Hamline Law. He served for five years. During his tenure, Hamline Law began a program that allowed students to attend on weekends – an idea born from a conversation with a student, according to Butterfoss. At the time, it was only the second such program in the nation. Hamline Law also gained a national reputation for its alternative dispute resolution program during Butterfoss’ deanship.
But it was his personable leadership style that most of his colleagues from that time recall. “Hamline Law School had no finer dean than Ed,” said Professor Emerita Carol Swanson, who served as associate dean during his deanship. “I knew Ed to be a rare unicorn among law faculty and particularly deans, possessing endless humility and common sense. A peerless problem-solver, Ed most often cut to the chase with surgical precision.”
“When Professor Butterfoss became Dean Butterfoss I learned what true leadership is,” added Professor Emeritus Joe Daly.
“Ed was a thoughtful leader who treated everyone fairly when he served as our dean at Hamline,” said Professor David Larson, who began at Hamline the year Butterfoss became dean. “It’s no surprise that he always has been an effective and popular professor because, to put it simply, he is a genuinely good person.”
Butterfoss stepped down as dean after the 2002-2003 school year to return to teaching after what had been eight years in administrative positions. A group of alumni, faculty, and staff stablished a diversity scholarship in his name that’s still awarded annually to an incoming student.
But the calls to return to leadership never fully stopped.
When Lucinda Jesson, then the director of Hamline’s Health Law Institute, was named chair of the law school’s dean search committee in the late 2000s, the responses she heard most from faculty, staff, students, and alums were “Will Ed Butterfoss become dean again?” and “Hire someone like Ed.”
“During my five years at Hamline, I never met a student, staff member, faculty, or alum who did not have good things to say about Ed Butterfoss,” said Jesson, who is now a judge on the Minnesota Court of Appeals. “He arrived on campus with boundless optimism and energy every day, and that optimism shone through in every interaction with him.”
While Butterfoss did serve one later stint as associate dean – from 2010 to 2012 – he always considered himself a teacher first. He was known for often riding his bike to work and hosting Kentucky Derby parties. And Butterfoss coached more than 50 teams in local recreation leagues – once commenting there were few children in St. Paul’s Macalester-Groveland neighborhood he hadn’t coached in some sport.
“Ed Butterfoss was one of my favorite professors in law school because of his sincere enthusiasm for the law, and his way of making everyone in his class feel included and worthy of being a future lawyer,” said John Choi, a 1995 Hamline Law alum who is now Ramsey County Attorney and a Mitchell Hamline trustee.
“Above all, his service to the broader community and commitment to improving the quality of justice in our state is a legacy that all of us should seek to emulate in our professions.”