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After Nearly Five Decades, Fordham Law Professor Ready for New Voyage


Joseph Sweeney Photo by Patrick Verel

Joseph Conrad Sweeney, the John D. Calamari Distinguished Professor of Law, has been around long enough to remember when the current law school building still had that fresh paint smell.

Now, after 47 years of teaching, he’s retiring at the end of August.

But even though he’s stepping down from a job he’s had since 1966, he isn’t leaving for good. Sweeney, a giant in the world of maritime and aviation law who recently celebrated his 80th birthday, plans to continue teaching a course on the history of the Supreme Court, as professor emeritus.

He’s also just completed a book about Arthur Browne, an American-born lawyer who moved to Ireland in the 18th century, became a professor and a member of Parliament, and authored what was the principal text book on maritime law and who was cited over 100 times by the U.S. Supreme Court. The book will be published through the Irish Legal History Association.

Even after all these years, maritime law still fascinates Sweeney, who has co-authored a leading treatise, The Law of Marine Collision, (Cornell Maritime Pr/Tidewater Pub, 1998) and who served as a JAG officer in the Navy before coming to Fordham.

“It’s just a intriguing area of law. It covers so many different problems in the maritime industry,” he said. While the book he co-wrote (with Nick Healey) is about collision law, there’s a lot more to maritime law than just disasters, he said.

“There are issues dealing with boundaries, salvage law, maritime liens, cargo carriage, personal injury, maritime bankruptcy—there’s just a host of issues to deal with.”

In the years since Sweeney first practiced, the reach of the laws that govern the seas has grown. Ship owners looking to skirt unions and environmental regulations can no longer simply register their ships in a country like Liberia and “call it a day.”

“The industry has become a lot more regulated than in the past,” he said.

Fordham Law has changed a lot in that time too. There were 600 students when Sweeney started; now there are 1,500. Interest in international affairs, which is integral to aviation and maritime law, has also risen dramatically.

Sweeney will, in fact, forever be linked to international issues at Fordham Law. When the law school moves into its new home next year, the Fordham International Law Journal will christen its office with his name. As he was a vocal champion of the

journal’s founding 36 years ago, and has served as its faculty advisor ever since, the honor means a great deal to him.
“The journal was something that was overdue back in 1977. I’d tried to encourage it in previous years, but it just didn’t catch on until some zealots—some eight students—decided to do it,” he said. “They’ve honored me more than I can ever say thank you.”

Sweeney said his fondest memory has been witnessing the growth of the law school. It has been his privilege to serve under five Fordham presidents and five law school deans. Over the years, he estimates that he’s taught approximately 15,000 students.

“Back in 1966, pretty much most of our students came from the immediate area. Now we have students from almost every state in the union, and, with our master’s and doctoral programs, we have students from 39 different countries,” he said.

“I think we have something to offer.”


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