Vermont Law School Mourns Professor Emeritus Gil Kujovich, Civil Rights Leader and Legal Scholar
SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt., Jan. 2, 2018––With great sadness we announce the death of Gil Kujovich, Professor Emeritus of Vermont Law School. Professor Kujovich, 71, passed away after a long illness in the company of his loving wife, Joni Chenoweth, and family on Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017, in Boston, Mass.
“Our hearts are heavy as we share the news of the passing of Professor Gil Kujovich,” said President and Dean Thomas McHenry. “He and Joni are friends and mentors to many Vermont Law School alumni, faculty, and staff. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Kujovich family.”
Professor Kujovich joined the Vermont Law School faculty in 1981 and made many lasting contributions to the VLS community during nearly 35 years of service before retiring in 2014. Deeply respected by former students, faculty, and staff members, Professor Kujovich was as admired for his warmth, generosity of spirit, and sense of humor as he was for his intellect, academic scholarship, and leadership on affirmative action and equality in education.
Professor Kujovich was born in 1946 in Chicago, Ill. A U.S. Army veteran, he graduated cum laude from Middlebury College in 1969 and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1975. He worked in the U. S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit for Judge Shirley Hufstedler and went on to clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Potter Stewart and Byron White. He also worked as special assistant to the general counsel in the U.S. Department of Defense, chief counsel to the White House Intelligence Oversight Board, and assistant to the United States Secretary of Education.
He drew on his professional experience to teach at VLS, specializing in Constitutional Law, Civil Rights Law, and Administrative Law. In addition to his courses in these areas, he taught Federal Courts, Race and the Law, and Civil Rights Seminar. He served as faculty advisor to countless students on their Advanced Writing Requirement and Independent Research Projects. He also served as VLS vice dean for academic affairs and as the school’s first interim associate dean for student affairs and diversity.
He published numerous articles on affirmative action, desegregation, and diversity, and his important work in these areas contributed to bringing long-overdue diversity to legal education and to the legal profession. “Past and continuing inequality at every level of the separate system of black public education created a self-perpetuating cycle of deprivation,” Professor Kujovich wrote in “Equal Opportunity in Higher Education and the Black Public College: The Era of Separate But Equal,” published by Minnesota Law Review in 1987.
“Gil Kujovich made sure that we put into place the resources to support students like me in law school,” said VLS Associate Dean Shirley Jefferson JD’86, a former student who has modeled much of her work in the Office of Student Affairs and Diversity on Professor Kujovich’s example, referring to the educational deprivation she experienced in her youth in the still-segregated public school system of Selma, Ala. That deprivation left her ill-prepared for law school, and she struggled at VLS until Professor Kujovich intervened. He identified the shortcomings in her former education and took responsibility for rectifying them—for not only Shirley Jefferson, the second black woman to attend VLS, but for all students of color at the law school.
“I am a living example,” Jefferson said. “He was trying to make right what had happened in this country. His dedication is a prime example of what this country can do to correct past discriminations.”
In addition to his commitment to diversity and equality in education and the legal profession, Professor Kujovich was a leading advocate for civil unions, or same-sex marriage. Seventeen years ago, in 2000, he explained to our nation—through his informed, objective, and otherwise compelling testimony to the Vermont legislature, the first in the nation to allow civil unions—the constitutional requirements for legally recognizing these unions. He testified numerous times before House and Senate judiciary committees, responding to federal and state constitutional concerns.
“Professor Kujovich’s erudite, disinterested—but not uninterested—testimony on the constitutional requirements of equal protection and due process helped convince many wavering members of the legislature that the state and federal constitutions required a law mandating full equality for same-sex couples,” said Professor Greg Johnson, an expert in sexual orientation and the law and constitutional law. “The legislature kept calling Professor Kujovich back to testify because of his unparalleled command of complex constitutional subjects. He educated the Vermont legislature on what the Constitution requires and in this way was instrumental in advancing the cause of LGBT marriage equality.”
Professor Kujovich is survived by his beloved wife of 21 years, Joni Chenoweth, of Indianapolis, Ind.; loving family, including his sister, Jody Kujovich, and brother-in-law, Ken Strothkamp, of Portland, Ore.; his brother, Larry Kujovich, and sister-in-law, Susie Kujovich, of Chicago, Ill.; his brother, Ray Kujovich, and sister-in-law, Rose Kujovich; his sister, Elaine Haller, and her daughter, Heather; his brother-in-law, Michael Chenoweth, and sister-in-law, Pamela Pierce, of Coral Gables, Fla.; his sister-in-law, Maria Sinkford, and brother-in-law, Bill Sinkford, of Portland, Ore.; his sister-in-law, Sara Chenoweth, of Greensboro, N.C.; his brother-in-law, John Chenoweth, and sister-in-law, Claudia Chenoweth, of Portland, Ore.; his beloved cousin, Donna Djujic, of Torrance, Calif.; his nieces, Sheri, Natasha, Zoe, and Josie; his nephews, Nate, Rob, and Frederic; his great-niece, Emily; his great-nephews, Joshua and Jonah; and his dear friends, Tish Thompson, Robert Dietz and Tina Hoffmann, Shirley Jefferson, Anna Saxman, Clara Gimenez, Michael Hill, Heide Scheurer, Rory and Nancy Fairman, and many others.
A memorial service for Professor Kujovich will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 27, at Vermont Law School. A reception will follow. His family asks that any gifts in Professor Kujovich’s memory be sent to the World Wildlife Fund, 1250 24th Street, N.W., Washington, D.C., 20037. Cards of condolence may be sent to Joni Chenoweth, P.O. Box 418, East Barre, VT, 05649.
A tribute page has been established on the Vermont Law School website, at vermontlaw.edu/blog/tribute/gil-kujovich, where members of the greater VLS community can share their thoughts and memories of Professor Kujovich.