Karst Scholarship Honors Legacy of Beloved UCLA Law Professor

November 29, 2021
Ken Karst speaking with law students
Ken Karst speaking with UCLA Law students.

The incredible legacy of UCLA School of Law Professor Kenneth L. Karst will be recognized through a new scholarship that supports students who are committed to racial equity and who embody Karst’s spirit of collegiality. The Kenneth L. Karst Scholarship in Law was established through the generosity of Karst’s family and the newly formed Kenneth L. Karst Racial Equity Foundation. A number of Karst’s students and colleagues have also made contributions in support of the scholarship.

The scholarship will go to one student in each entering class, covering a portion of tuition for all three years of law school. Over time, the number of recipients is expected to grow as funding for the scholarship increases. UCLA Law alumni and friends who remember Professor Karst with affection are encouraged to consider donating to help grow this scholarship fund. Karst Scholars will become part of a community of future lawyers and practicing lawyers who are dedicated to promoting social justice in their personal and professional endeavors.

“This was his passion,” says Karst’s daughter Leslie. “Dad truly believed that every resident of the United States, no matter their social class, race, caste, sexual orientation, whatever, should be treated as an equal citizen and have a true sense of belonging to the country. We focused this scholarship on racial equity because it's an area where so much progress still needs to be made. If you read Dad's 1989 book Belonging to America, he was quite optimistic about racial equality. But if he wrote the book today, he would be very disappointed and say, ‘There’s more work that has to be done.’”

Karst was an influential constitutional law scholar, teacher, and longtime faculty member who had a profound effect in shaping UCLA Law. He joined the law school in 1965 and was an active member of the faculty for 40 years, during which he earned the UCLA Distinguished Teaching Award and the Rutter Award for Excellence in Teaching. A prolific and celebrated author in a wide range of fields, he was cited at least 12 times by the Supreme Court and another 77 times by other federal courts. He was a favorite of students, colleagues, and peers, and his efforts to address inequities in access to justice and legal education helped develop early minority outreach programs by the law school and shaped broader debates on access and equality. He died in 2019 at age 89.

“This scholarship is a wonderful tribute to the outstanding legacy of our former colleague Ken Karst, a first-rate scholar and lovely person, who devoted his career to supporting equality, social justice, and broadening access to legal education,” says UCLA Law Dean Jennifer L. Mnookin. “I’m immensely grateful to his family for their thoughtful support in founding this scholarship, and I look forward to awarding support to amazing UCLA Law students who will further advance Ken’s passionate commitment to racial equality.”

UCLA Law held a celebration of Karst’s life on June 26, 2019, which would have been his 90th birthday. The event was attended by more than 100 members of the UCLA Law family and generations of law school leaders, including six current or former deans or interim deans of the law school. It featured an array of personal reflections from Karst’s family, friends, and colleagues. “Ken Karst was a prince of man, a prolific legal scholar, gifted teacher, acclaimed expositor of constitutional law, and a sympathique human, revered for his wit and wisdom, kindness, and caring about all of the people law exists, or should exist, to serve,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Karst’s longtime friend and colleague, said in a video that she recorded for the occasion.

“Ken believed rules and doctrines shaped people’s lives, influenced people’s opportunities, and impacted people’s conceptions of their self-worth and their dignity. Thinking small meant remembering that scholarship should pay attention to how decisions impact the lives of actual people, especially the most vulnerable among us,” said Professor Adam Winkler, whom Karst mentored and held as a trusted collaborator over many years.

“Ken sought not to mold students to his view. He sought to open them up to the views of others,” Winkler continued. “As a mentor, Ken changed the lives of those like me whom he took under his wing. As a teacher, Ken opened the minds of students and taught them not just how to be good lawyers, but how to be tolerant, respectful human beings. And as a scholar, Ken reshaped American constitutional law. Thanks to Ken today, there are thousands of former students and colleagues who are better people.”

Donate to the Kenneth L. Karst Scholarship in Law here.

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