William Banks is arguably one of the most prominent professors at SU's College of Law. One-on-one, however, his quiet, unassuming demeanor belies his renown as a legal scholar. "Still waters run deep," College of Law Dean Daan Braveman says of his good friend and colleague, whom he has known since Banks came to SU 20 years ago from his hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. "Despite his accomplishments, he's the most understated person you're going to meet."
Those accomplishments are many. Banks lectures around the world on his specialties of constitutional, national security, and administrative law. He co-wrote several books that are widely used in law and graduate schools throughout the United States. In 1994 he served as special counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee during confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Stephen G. Breyer. In April he was named a Meredith Professor at SU; part of his duties are to establish a campus-wide graduate legal studies program. And he currently teaches in the high-profile National Security Studies program, which the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs sponsors for high-ranking military and civilian Department of Defense officials.
"Constitutional law has been an interest of mine since high school and college," Banks says. "I've always been interested in how government works, what makes it effective, how government operates according to the rule of law." Banks's specialty in national security law grew out of an interest in civil liberties and individual rights. "Being a child of the Vietnam era, I remember going through that period wondering whether the government was playing by its own rules."
He has traveled to China three times to speak on administrative law as part of a joint Maxwell-College of Law effort called the Rule of Law initiative. Along with College of Law professor Richard Goldsmith, Banks is working with government officials and academics from leading universities in China. "What's going on there now is quite striking," Banks says. "This whole idea of moving toward a government based on the rule of law in the People's Republic of Chinait's probably one of the most important developments in the world today. It's a symbol of the Chinese determination to join the larger world communityto play by rules that are similar at least in form to those that the rest of us play by.
"Because of the country's size, population, and recent history of party-based government, it's a task staggering in its magnitude. To see this transformation happen is really quite impressive. Syracuse University has a key role to playwe are among the leaders at working with the Chinese to develop the administrative structures and processes needed to have a rule-of-law-based system."
Banks took a sabbatical last spring to work on a writing project, but at a friend's request he ended up teaching at the five-year-old University of Asmara in the East African nation of Eritrea. "It was a fascinating experience," he says. "The country is only seven years old, having fought a 30-year civil war for independence from Ethiopia."
College of Law professor William Banks lectures around the world on constitutional, national security, and administrative law.
Banks's other international travels are sponsored by organizations ranging from the Fulbright Foundation to the U.S. State Department. Most of his lectures center on comparative constitutional systems. "For the most part it's an easy assignment because the U.S. Constitution is widely respected around the world," he says. "People in many other nations question our policies or our politics, our values in some key areas, but few would question the integrity and strength of our Constitution."
Braveman says Banks is one of the law school's finest professors. "He takes his teaching very seriously. He's very focused on our students, making sure they succeed. Through his writing and presentations, he brings a lot to the classroom."
Banks encourages his students to deal actively with real problems in their communities, society, and around the world. "I believe that teaching theory is very important and that theory is a useful part of a student's background for years to come," he says. "But at the end of the day, the critical thing is to teach students how to help other people solve problems. Legal theory is not doing anyone very much good unless you are effective at putting it into practice and solving problems. You can't just sit back and thinkyou have to do something."