Gozansky Makes a Difference
In Professor Nathaniel Gozansky’s ofﬁce, there’s a photograph of a group shooting the rapids of the Gauley River in West Virginia. He’s the one falling out of the boat.
The photo is a metaphor for Gozansky’s 45-year career at Emory Law. Although a serious scholar and administrator who is unafraid to take risks, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Gozansky retires in August.
Emory Law hired the 27-year-old Gozansky from Vanderbilt University. In 1966, Emory Professor George King took him to Hardee’s to discuss the deal.
“They recruited me with some zeal, if not with lavish meals,” Gozansky says.
“Emory Law and I grew up together,” he says. “I was the twelfth person hired, there were 14 of us on the faculty in 1967.” At the time, Emory Law had no international students and offered a part-time program.
“In a lot of ways, I think arguably what kept me here was, I was growing, so was everything around me,” Gozansky says. “The school was growing. The University was growing — the city was growing.”
His wife, Libby Johnson 82L, made her career at The Coca-Cola Co.; so Atlanta is where they stayed.
Beyond teaching, Gozansky will be remembered for his contribution to Pre-Start, a program begun in 1966 to help integrate the school after Emory v. Nash paved the way for the integration of private schools in Georgia.
“It was for minority applicants who were not, on paper, readily admissible to law school,” Gozansky says. Soon after, the Council on Legal Education Opportunity launched a similar national summer institute modeled on Pre-Start.
Gozansky says Pre-Start and CLEO changed the world, not just the profession.
“Lawyers are social engineers,” he says. “Both programs were based on the idea that, ‘If we’re ever going to see social change, we need to move quickly to create a community of lawyers who have a sensitivity to the issues that are at stake here.’ And we ultimately succeeded.”
In the 1970s, Gozansky helped CLEO during the Nixon administration’s push to dismantle the Office of Economic Opportunity, which provided funding. He and others successfully moved CLEO under the Department of Education.
Otherwise, “CLEO would have been over,” Gozansky says.
In 1968, as the Office of Economic Opportunity’s interim regional director of legal services, Gozansky riled Mississippi’s governor by moving “the very effective Mississippi Legal Rural Services,” from the University of Mississippi to Mary Holmes Junior College, a small predominantly black institution. The move prevented the governor from killing the program.
“I thus became persona non grata to the governor,” Gozansky recalls.
To many students, though, he was a professor out of central casting.
“Nat’s a mensch,” says Carolyn Bregman 82L, who knew Gozansky as a student and as a boss. Now director of Emory University’s Alumni Career Services, Bregman describes a workday near the end of term years ago.
She and a colleague visited Gozansky and announced, “We are exhausted, we are tired, we are cranky, and we’re not having any fun.”
Within a few hours, Gozansky sent an email to senior staff declaring the ﬁrst-ever “Mandatory Fun Day” detailing where, when and how they were going to have fun as a team and celebrate what they’d done that year.
David Soloway 82L recalls a conversation from the early ’90s when he and Gozansky were volunteering at a couples night shelter in Atlanta. Soloway told his former professor he had a case with a good shot at being granted certiorari. “He was kind of excited about this, and he said if the Supremes — and I thought that was kind of entertaining that he called them the Supremes — granted cert, that he would arrange for a practice bench for me with the law school faculty.”
The case, Ardestani v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, did reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
“The two practice benches that Nat arranged made a difference, and I’ll always be grateful,” Soloway says.
While he did not prevail, “We were part of a very well- informed dissent.”
Since 2002, Gozansky has directed Emory Law’s international programs. He began the LLM program with Central European University in Budapest and established several exchange and study-abroad programs for students. Although an adopted Southerner, Gozansky is a ﬁrst- generation American on his paternal side. His father’s family immigrated from Russia to Montreal and later Chicago, where Gozansky was born.
While he says he’s proud of what he accomplished at Emory Law, Gozansky says his proudest accomplishments are his three children. Eldest Michelle is a Douglas County juvenile judge. Elliott 89OX 91C 91G, “my rocket scientist,” earned a PhD at Purdue University and his MD from the University of Michigan. Shana, the baby, earned her MFA in theater direction from Brown University this summer. Gozansky and Johnson have three grandsons.
Lisa Ashmore is a freelance writer based in Washington, D.C.