Cornell Law dean returns home to lead Seattle University as its first Hispanic president

  • Written by Northwest Catholic
  • Published in Local
Eduardo Peñalver will be Seattle University’s first Latino president and the first lay president since Seattle U was founded in 1891. Photo: Courtesy Seattle University Eduardo Peñalver will be Seattle University’s first Latino president and the first lay president since Seattle U was founded in 1891. Photo: Courtesy Seattle University

SEATTLE – Eduardo Peñalver, who grew up attending All Saints Parish and School in Puyallup and went on to become the first Latino to serve as dean of an Ivy League law school, has been named the next president of Seattle University, the Board of Trustees announced October 22.

When Peñalver begins his official duties as the university’s 22nd president on July 1, 2021, he will be the first Latino president and the first lay president since Seattle U was founded in 1891.

The current president, Jesuit Father Stephen Sundborg, previously announced he will step down in June after 24 years leading the university.

Peñalver, 47, has been the dean of Cornell University’s Law School since 2014; he is also a Rhodes Scholar and a professor of law who clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, Seattle University said in a release.

“I am so grateful to join Seattle University, excited about its future and looking forward to working with all of the faculty, staff, students and alumni of Seattle University to bring that future into being,” Peñalver said.

He grew up in Puyallup in a deeply Catholic family. They moved there when he was 2 for his father’s pediatric residency at the University of Washington Medical School. He received his primary education at All Saints School before attending Henry Foss High School in Tacoma.

After receiving his bachelor’s degree from Cornell in 1994, Peñalver studied philosophy and theology as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford before attending Yale Law School. He joined the Cornell faculty in 2006 and the University of Chicago Law School faculty in 2013. He taught at Fordham Law School from 2003 to 2006 and has been a visiting professor at Harvard and Yale law schools.

“As a Jesuit Catholic university, Seattle University takes the foundational value of a liberal education and adds to it by embedding it within a value system rooted in the Jesuit commitment of caring for and educating the whole person, ‘mind, body and spirit,’” Peñalver said, adding that the university “aspires to imbue [students] with a sense of purpose and a desire to put their education to work in the service of others, especially the most vulnerable among us.”

Among the opportunities for the university to take on in the coming years, Peñalver said, it should bring its sense of mission and engagement to bear on the study of the so-called “fourth industrial revolution.”

“As our society digitizes and as the pace of technological change accelerates, we risk becoming — in the words of Pope Francis — a people characterized by ‘information without wisdom.’ Our efforts to counter this risk will benefit from Seattle University’s distinctive voice and from its Jesuit approach to providing an education that can bridge the gap between technology and humanity.”

Peñalver is considered a leading voice in the “progressive property” movement, deriving many of his insights from Catholic social teaching. His research explores how property law creates or reinforces communal bonds and how property rights mediate the relationship between individuals and communities.

He is married to Sital Kalantry, a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School. The two met as undergraduates at Cornell and have two sons.