Remembering Richard E. Morgan ’59, Bowdoin’s William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Constitutional Law

Richard E. Morgan ’59, Bowdoin’s William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Constitutional Law and an esteemed and active member of the faculty for 45 years, died November 13, at the age of 77. Morgan was the husband of Jean Yarbrough, Bowdoin’s Gary M. Pendy Sr. Professor of Social Sciences, in the Department of Government and Legal Studies.

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“A noted scholar of the Constitution, the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court, Dick was known on campus as a generous colleague and a dedicated teacher who valued the quality of an intellectual argument, regardless of the political perspective from which it arose,” wrote Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd in a letter to the Bowdoin community.

“When describing him, Bowdoin faculty and former students invariably pointed to his gentlemanly demeanor, his wry sense of humor, the clarity of his reasoning, and the precision and accessibility of his writings. An ‘old school’ professor, he did not use voice-mail or e-mail; students could write him a note, speak with him after class, or climb to the top of the Hubbard Hall tower to see him during office hours.”

Morgan enjoyed confounding expectations and preconceptions. This distinguished professor of constitutional law was also a Registered Maine Guide for twenty years, equally at home hunting moose or fishing the waters between The Forks and Jackman as he was engaging colleagues and students in debates over fundamental issues of law. Although he would describe himself as consistently conservative in his personal political views, there was no political orthodoxy imposed on the students in his classes. He had a nuanced perspective that came from a deep understanding of history, legal precedents, and possible “real-world” consequences of judicial decisions. In a world of thirty-second news stories and sound bites, Morgan’s scholarly work is a powerful reminder for us to take the time to develop carefully crafted arguments and to appreciate the well-thought-out arguments of others.

Morgan was born on May 17, 1937, in Philipsburg, Penn., and was a graduate of Hempstead High School in New York. As a senior at Bowdoin, he received the Sewall Greek Prize and the Senior American History Prize, and he was presented with the Pershing-Presnell Sword as the cadet colonel and commander of the Bowdoin ROTC unit. He was a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity. He graduated cum laude and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 1959.

He held Woodrow Wilson and U.S. Steel Fellowships in American Government while earning his M.A. (1961) and Ph.D. (1967) in the Department of Public Law and Government at Columbia University. He was offered a Brookings Institution Research Fellowship in 1962, but he declined it to complete his military service; he served on active duty as a first lieutenant in the Army Reserve in 1963-64. He then returned to Columbia to complete a Ph.D. in 1967, followed by two years as fellow in law and government at Harvard Law School.

Morgan taught at Columbia as an instructor of government in 1962-63 and from 1965 to 1967 and as an assistant professor from 1968 to 1969. He joined the faculty at Bowdoin in 1969 as an associate professor of government, and he was named William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Constitutional Law in 1975, succeeding his mentor and friend Athern Daggett in that post. He served three terms as chair of the government department (1969-75, 1983-85, and 1992-94), and he was for a number of years secretary-treasurer of Bowdoin’s Phi Beta Kappa chapter.

A prolific writer of books, articles, and commentary, Morgan was the author of The Politics of Religious Conflict (1968), The Supreme Court and Religion (1972), Domestic Intelligence: Monitoring Dissent in America (1980), Disabling America: The “Rights Industry” in Our Time (1984), and The Law and Politics of Civil Rights and Liberties (1985). He co-authored two books with Chris Potholm and the late John Donovan:  American Politics: Direction of Change, Dynamics of Choice in 1979 and People, Power and Politics in 1980. He and Chris also co-edited Focus on Police in 1976.  Morgan wrote articles for The New LeaderThe Political Science Quarterly, Commentary, and the Claremont Review of Books, and for many years he was a contributing editor to City Journal.

In 1985 he was appointed to a two-year term as chair of the Maine Advisory Committee of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He was the research director of a study by the Twentieth Century Fund to examine spying by the CIA and FBI on American citizens from 1975-79. In 2008 he was invited to address the Supreme Court Historical Society in the U.S. Supreme Court chambers in Washington, D.C., followed by a dinner at the White House. Morgan’s response? “If I can say something that will raise some eyebrows, I will consider that my time has been well spent.” He was introduced by Chief Justice John Roberts, and I’m sure that Morgan raised his fair share of eyebrows that evening.

In addition to his wife, Jean, whom he married in 1996, he is survived by two stepsons, James Yarbrough Stern (Hilary) and John Francis Sutherlin Stern (Elisa); and by three grandchildren, Henry (7), William (5), and Alexandra (2 months). He is also survived by his first wife, Eva C. Morgan of Brunswick.

Memorial arrangements are pending, with a service planned in the Bowdoin Chapel at 11 a.m., Thursday, November 20. Further details about arrangements and remembrances will be conveyed to the Bowdoin community as soon as they become available.

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