NEWS RELEASE, 09/09/98
At age 90, UC Berkeley professor begins his 46th
fall semester teaching classes at campus's law school
By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
BERKELEY -- Most of the professors teaching in the United States - 99.3 percent of them, to be exact - are under the age of 71.
At age 90, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is a thriving exception.
Stefan Riesenfeld just began his 46th fall semester as a teacher at UC Berkeley's School of Law (Boalt Hall), and some of his current students are the grandchildren of his earliest pupils.
At UC Berkeley, Riesenfeld is teaching two classes - Modern Problems in Comparative Law and International Trade Law. He also carries a full teaching load at UC Hastings College of Law in San Francisco.
Los Angeles attorney David Hayden took several classes from Riesenfeld in the early 1960s. "I'm glad to see that young people have access to this knowledge that goes back to the turn of the century," he said. "They don't have to read about it in books; they can talk to their professor."
During his long and distinguished career, Riesenfeld has written or edited 32 books, 140 articles and 119 book reviews on topics including international, comparative, property, commercial and administrative law and legal history.
Through the years, his writings and advice have influenced international treaties and led to a complete overhaul of Hawaii's workers' compensation system.
Riesenfeld came to Berkeley in 1935 from the University of Milan, in Italy, to earn his law degree and to work as a research associate. He had moved to Italy in 1932 to escape the political climate in his native Germany. When he arrived at UC Berkeley, Riesenfeld had two European law degrees and spoke three languages.
English was not one of them.
Yet, despite the language barrier, he earned his law degree in two years, graduating second in his class.
Since 1935, Riesenfeld has been away from campus for only 14 years - 11 of them while teaching and studying at other universities and three while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
The work he did while teaching at Harvard University earned him a third law degree, and while teaching at the University of Minnesota, he found time to earn an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering.
Riesenfeld's advancing years haven't been able to stop his energy or his lifelong thirst for knowledge.
"At 90, Professor Riesenfeld lives in the present," said Riesenfeld's colleague, UC Berkeley Professor David Caron. "He will tell stories. He does so, however, not to drag his listeners into the past, but rather to inform the present."
Working 56 hours a week, he takes the bus to campus on weekdays from his Berkeley home. On weekends, a former student brings him to work at Boalt Hall.
Riesenfeld has never felt ready to retire. Since taking emeritus status at Boalt Hall in 1976, he has taught there virtually every semester on a recall appointment. UC Berkeley recall appointments last one year, at most, and must be renewed through an extensive review process.
In the five years immediately following his retirement, Riesenfeld taught four courses a year at both Boalt Hall and at Hastings and was the academic counselor in the Office of the Legal Advisor at the U.S. Department of States in Washington, D.C. This meant the professor had to commute midweek to the East Coast.
He has slowed down very little since then.
"Many emeriti are still very active in campus life," said Shelley Glazer, director of the UC Berkeley Retirement Center.
"They continue to teach, conduct research, participate on Academic Senate committees, donate money to campus programs and support campus athletics and arts," she said. "Professor Riesenfeld is a stellar example of emeriti who continue to serve the campus even in their retirement."
Riesenfeld said he keeps working because teaching guarantees him an office, access to thousands of books in campus libraries and contact with at least 50 new students each semester.
"You see how lucky I am," he said from behind the large, document- covered desk in his Boalt Hall office. "Next door is the entry to the library, and I have the key to that door. So I have no trouble getting what I want to read."
Bringing the librarians chocolate and his home-canned apples doesn't hurt, either.
"I feel a real affection for him, and I think I speak for the entire reference staff when I say that," said Alice Youmans, head of reference in the law library.
"He is one of our favorite patrons, " she said. "You know that when he comes in he'll have a real challenging question. He already knows all the obvious answers, so when he comes to us he's looking for something elusive, a puzzler. He makes us truly use our skills as reference librarians."
Riesenfeld said he is "painfully aware of the fact that the gap between what you know and what you ought to know widens with age...You can never know everything; what you have to know is how to find out."
It is this love of exploration, of looking for answers, that keeps his mind churning and brings his body to work daily.
"The analysis is fascinating," said Riesenfeld. "There
are other enjoyable things, but what really keeps you wired is the analysis,
the questions. It's what you think about nights and days."
Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org