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Michael O. Sawyer — esteemed Syracuse University faculty member and administrator for 42 years — dies at age 83
Michael O. Sawyer — esteemed Syracuse University faculty member and administrator for 42 years — dies at age 83December 27, 2002Kevin Morrowkdmorrow@syr.edu
Michael O. Sawyer, a beloved teacher, administrator and scholar of constitutional law at Syracuse University, died Dec. 24 in Liverpool, N.Y., due to complications from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 83.
Sawyer retired from the Maxwell School in 1990 at the conclusion of his 42nd year of teaching there. At the end of his final lecture in historic Maxwell Auditorium that April, before an overflow crowd of students, colleagues and other well-wishers, Sawyer was presented a special gift: a plaque bearing the original brass handles of the auditorium’s doors and the inscription “1948-1990, Professor Michael O. Sawyer, The Maxwell School, A part of the place forever.” It was fitting that a fixture of the Maxwell School would receive a fixture from the Maxwell School.
Sawyer was known for his keen intellect, sharp wit, and the great care he showed his students. His legacy is the thousands of students he helped become learned citizens and achievers.
“Mike was the consummate faculty member,” says Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw. “He took pride in teaching, mentored his students, and cared fervently about his discipline. He was a role model for both students and faculty.”
“Mike was one of the most beloved teachers in the history of Maxwell,” says Dean John L. Palmer. “I have more alumni who speak to me about Mike and how he touched their lives and made a difference to them than anyone else.”
“I’ve known Mike ever since I came here for graduate school in 1951,” says Ralph Ketcham, Maxwell Professor Emeritus of Citizenship and Public Affairs and himself a longtime SU faculty member. “It started then, and has been true ever since, that he was so serious and wise about the craft of teaching. He was a wonderful colleague. I worked with him on many courses. Having him involved raised both the quality of the course and the number of students who wanted to take it. His student following was the greatest of anyone I know.”
“Mike will rank forever as a Maxwell and Syracuse legend, who with a gentle hand and warm humor touched and shaped literally thousands upon thousands of Syracuse undergraduates,” says Maxwell Senior Associate Dean Robert McClure. “I have never known and will surely never know a teacher with a greater love for students and a greater impact on their lives.”
“Michael was a dear, longtime friend of mine,” says Eleanor A. “Ellie” Ludwig, former director of alumni programs at SU. “He was one of the brightest, best faculty members I ever knew.”
Sawyer taught countless courses at the Maxwell School in such topical areas as constitutional law, jurisprudence, administrative law and party politics. He spent nearly all of his educational career as a student and teacher at Syracuse University, earning bachelor’s (1941), master’s (1947) and doctoral degrees (1957) at SU. He received a juris doctorate (1962) from George Washington University and a Ford Foundation post-doctoral fellowship, and was a scholar in residence for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
He became an instructor at SU in 1948 and was later promoted to assistant professor (1952), associate professor (1957) and professor (1965).
Sawyer authored numerous publications about public law and American studies and held visiting lectureships at the universities of Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oregon, among other institutions.
While continuing to teach, Sawyer joined the University administration as interim vice chancellor for student programs in 1972. He was named special assistant to then-Chancellor Melvin A. Eggers in 1973 and vice chancellor for university relations in 1975. He was named vice chancellor and executive assistant to the chancellor in 1979.
Sawyer was also director of the Syracuse University American Assembly on the New York State Legislature, director of the Chautauqua Center of Syracuse University and a member of the Maxwell Graduate School Executive Committee.
Among his local community service, Sawyer served on the boards of Cazenovia College, Catholic Social Services, Loretto, the Urban League, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Republican Citizens Committee and the Criminal Justice Action Committee Inc. He was also a vice chairman of the Onondaga County Republican Committee and a member of the Onondaga County Charter Commission and the advisory committee of the state Joint Legislative Committee on Election Law.
He received SU’s highest alumni honor, the George Arents Pioneer Medal, in 1986 and the St. Thomas More Award in 1987. Students voted him the Outstanding Professor of Syracuse University in 1986.
In 1990, Maxwell alumni and his colleagues at the school established The Michael O. Sawyer Chair of Constitutional Law and Politics to carry on in perpetuity his legacy as a teacher and scholar of constitutional law. Keith Bybee, associate professor of political science and senior research associate in the Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute, is the current holder of the endowed chair.
Another lasting tribute: Each year, SU’s Office of Greek Life and Experiential Learning presents the Michael O. Sawyer Awards to the outstanding male and female student leaders who best exemplify Sawyer’s characteristics of dedication, leadership and unity. It is among the most prestigious awards an SU student may receive.
Contributions may be made to The Michael Sawyer Fund, c/o The Maxwell School at Syracuse University, 200 Eggers Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244-1020.
A memorial service will be held at SU’s Hendricks Chapel on a future date to be announced.