Law School receives $500,000 grant from Rapoport Foundation to create human rights initiative

June 7, 2004

AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin School of Law announced Monday it has received a $100,000 grant per year for the next five years from the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation to create a Human Rights Initiative, which will include a Transnational Worker Rights Clinic.

The Human Rights Initiative will make the Law School a meeting ground for interdisciplinary critical discussion and policy analysis of pressing contemporary human rights issues, and will support human rights activism both locally and internationally, said Law Professor Karen Engle, who will direct the initiative. The Rapoport funds will be used primarily to support student service-learning opportunities relating to human rights, including the establishment of the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic, and summer internships. In addition, the school will provide three scholarships next year for students committed to working in the human rights field. The Rapoport funds will also support workshops and conferences.

The initiative’s official launch will be at a conference this fall on labor, immigration and globalization, but it will begin its work immediately. This summer, the Rapoport Foundation and the initiative will host, with the Equal Justice Center of Austin, a training workshop on providing legal and social services to immigrant communities for social service groups in Waco.

“B Rapoport has been a leading advocate for social justice, and particularly the rights of workers and immigrants, for the better part of a century,” said School of Law Dean Bill Powers. “We are extremely grateful for his support. Even more, we are honored to work with such a great man.”

Clinical Opportunities

Students in the new Transnational Worker Rights Clinic will represent low-income immigrant workers in the Austin area in cases recovering unpaid wages for work performed, as well as engage in other advocacy projects asserting the international labor rights of workers here and abroad.

“The clinic is an extremely exciting and unique opportunity for both students and the law school,” said Law Professor Sarah Cleveland, the faculty coordinator for the clinic. “The clinic will be the first in the country to allow students to explore the linkages between the rights of workers here and abroad and place their advocacy efforts in a global human rights context, while helping to fill a very pressing need for immigrant workers here in Texas.”

The clinic will operate in conjunction with the Equal Justice Center (EJC) of Austin.

“Employment of immigrant workers who are not paid for their work is a pressing problem in Austin,” said Bill Beardall, the executive director of the Equal Justice Center who will be teaching the new clinic. “The clinic will significantly expand the access of immigrant workers in central Texas to legal representation.”

Providing clinical opportunities for students is one of the primary missions of the Human Rights Initiative. In addition to the current clinic on immigration law, taught by Law Professor Barbara Hines, and the new worker rights clinic, the law school plans to offer a clinic on international human rights advocacy in future years.

Scholarships and Fellowships

The Rapoport gift also will be used to fund internships for students committed to working in the human rights field. The funding will expand the Law School’s existing international internship programs through the creation of fellowships to support students pursuing human rights work during the summer. The Law School will also provide three scholarships next year for upper-level law students with strong backgrounds and career interests in human rights.

“The UT Human Rights Initiative differs from other international human rights programs because it seeks to understand the interaction between human rights at the local and global levels,” said Engle. “Through faculty and student engagement with human rights needs in our own backyard and abroad, the initiative aims to honor the life-long work of Bernard Rapoport, and of his father, David Rapoport.”

Bernard Rapoport, a 1939 graduate of the university, is the founder and former chairman and chief executive officer of American Income Life Insurance Company in Waco. A former University of Texas System regent and major contributor to the university, Rapoport is widely known for his philanthropy and dedication to social justice, education and other causes. He and his wife established the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation in 1989 to support educational, social, cultural and public service entities throughout Texas and around the world. The foundation supports programs that have the broadest possible impact in meeting important human needs and aspirations, with an emphasis on the needs of the most marginalized members of society.

The son of Jewish Russian immigrants, Rapoport’s vision is tied to his past and the past of his father, David, who was exiled in 1905 to a labor camp in Siberia for distributing propaganda against the czar. He was ultimately condemned to death, but escaped in 1910 by walking 600 miles to Belgium. It was only through the help of strangers that he survived and gained his freedom as a political refugee to settle in the United States, landing in San Antonio. There he made a living selling blankets out of a pushcart, and became politically active.

Bernard Rapoport has credited much of his own success to his father’s advice to always have a sense of outrage at injustice. With regard to the foundation’s grant to the Human Rights Initiative, Bernard Rapoport said, “Coming from immigrant parents, I know first-hand the alienation that they feel. It is in that spirit that we want our foundation committed to recognizing the problems that immigrants face, and doing something about it.”

In addition to Cleveland and Engle, Professors Barbara Hines and Gerald Torres from the School of Law and Professors Charles Hale and Shannon Speed from the Department of Anthropology have helped in shaping the initiative’s mission, and are participating in the coordination of the initiative’s events.

For more information contact: Laura Castro, School of Law, 512-232-1229. Human Rights Initiative contacts: Professor Karen Engle, 512-232-7066, or Professor Sarah Cleveland, 512-232-1720.