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UF Law professors remember Van Alstyne

Published: January 30th, 2012

Category: News

Although Emeritus Professor of Law W. Scott Van Alstyne Jr. had not taught at the University of Florida Levin College of Law since his retirement in 1991, his passing in December was still felt at the college.

A memorial service for Van Alstyne, who died at 89, was held Jan. 20 at Haven Hospice in Gainesville. And the occasion elicited kind words and fond memories from some of his former colleagues at UF Law.

Emeritus Professor Joseph Little formed a bond with Van Alstyne during their time together at UF Law and delivered a eulogy during his memorial service.

“I think it was because his attributes as a true — though imported — Midwesterner and mine as a true Southerner melded,” Little said during the eulogy. “Many true Midwesterners and true Southerners are imbued with a non-political conservatism that fosters a kindred spirit.”

The day before the service, Professor Winston Nagan, who met Van Alstyne in 1975, the year Nagan began teaching at UF Law, wrote an email to faculty and staff at the law school recounting some fond memories of Van Alstyne.

Nagan pointed out Van Alstyne’s persistent thirst for knowledge, which was evident in some of their first meetings.

“He was a gregarious and a very congenial colleague,” Nagan wrote. “He was also quite curious. In one of our lunchings he expressed an interest in some research that I was doing, and showed that he had a wide ranging level of intellectual curiosity. At this time I inquired about his current projects. As it turned out he had began working on an article on the idea of the private attorney general in the state administrative law system of Wisconsin.”

Nagan explained that he was able to offer some advice to Van Alstyne as he was writing the article, which was eventually published in the Wisconsin Law Review.

“Our communication on this cemented our friendship over the years,” he wrote.

Van Alstyne’s intellectual curiosity was also apparent in his life before UF Law.

After serving in World War II, Van Alstyne pursued his higher education, a goal which had been interrupted by the war. He earned his B.A. in history from the University of Buffalo in 1948. He then moved on to the University of Wisconsin where he would receive an M.A. in history, an LL.B. and S.J.D. While in law school he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Order of the Coif, and served as executive editor of the Wisconsin Law Review.

Van Alstyne went into private practice after law school before teaching law at the University of Nebraska. He returned to Wisconsin after two years and continued to teach law as an adjunct at the University of Wisconsin, while maintaining a private practice, advising government agencies, serving as a member of the Wisconsin Bar Board of Governors and authoring “numerous scholarly articles and two book-length studies,” according to his obituary in The Gainesville Sun.

Nagan pointed out that Van Alstyne was a popular teacher during his time at UF Law, basing his style of teaching on a combination of his experiences during his years in private practice with social scientists and historians who “sought to locate the dynamism of law within the context of historic and sociological forces.”

Both Nagan and Little, touched on how they believed his little-talked-about experiences in World War II helped shape his approach to his political beliefs and the legal profession throughout his life and also spoke of his deep knowledge of history.

“As time wore on Scott and I frequently discussed history, law and politics both in the law school and elsewhere,” Little said at the memorial service. “In the last few years, these sessions have been focused around box luncheons in his and Marion’s fine new home. In me, Scott found a good listener and sometime critic. In him, I found an ardent, erudite, earnest and always voluble teacher.”




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