The Intersection of the First Amendment and Education Inspires Professor Ronna Schneider
Professor of Law Ronna Greff Schneider is a Cincinnatian through and through. Born and raised here, she attended Cincinnati Public School’s Walnut Hills High School, meeting her future husband there. They left to attend the University of Michigan, where she majored in Russian studies. While there, Schneider married her high school sweetheart—to whom she is still married after 39 years.
After college, Schneider planned to attend graduate school to get her doctorate in Russian studies. She moved to Boston with her husband who was in medical school at the time; meanwhile, Schneider commuted to and from New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University, for about a month of graduate school. “I thought at the time that it would be isolating to continue on that path,” says Schneider. “I know now that I was wrong, but that’s what I thought at the time.” Although she did not pursue Russian studies further, Schneider says that she has made sure that every member of her family knows how to say “I love you” in Russian!
While living in Boston, Schneider worked at a school for juvenile and adult offenders called New Perspectives. She was at the school before the development, passing, and implementation of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act. However, at that time Massachusetts’ state law required many of the same standards the IDEA would later require, especially ensuring an education for all children. As a result, public school districts would send students to New Perspectives, which received state funding, to help them complete their high school education. “Many of the students were in their twenties,” explained Schneider. “They were people who decided they wanted to go back to school and get a high school education.” Schneider described the students as being from all walks of life—from children of professors to gang bangers and people receiving welfare assistance.
Her experiences at New Perspectives ultimately inspired her to go to law school. She entered Boston College Law School with the expectation that she would practice juvenile law. While she was in school, however, she “fell in love with the First Amendment.” Her interest in the area has continued to today as she focuses on constitutional law in the context of civil rights issues in education, integrating her interests in juvenile and education law.
Law and Friendships
One of the most important things that Schneider got out of law school was friendships. She was a part of a very close study group; and, the people in that group continue to be her best friends today, even though they are all in various parts of the country doing different things. One of Schneider’s closest friends from that group was former presidential candidate Senator John Kerry, with whom she remains close.
After finishing law school, Schneider clerked for several years for the Honorable Frank H. Freedman of the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts. She also worked as an attorney in Boston and taught at her law school alma mater before joining UC Law. Then, she and her husband returned to Cincinnati to be closer to their families. “We knew from experience it is a wonderful place to live and raise kids,” said Schneider, “and it was really great to be close to my family again. My parents were a tremendous help to us and it was wonderful to be close to them.”
The Uniqueness of UC Law
Schneider has remained in Cincinnati since the move from Boston. But before she joined the UC Law faculty, she had to determine whether this would be a good fit for her. It was then her dean at Boston College told her that UC was a great place to become a young faculty member because it was a “school on the move.” She did, indeed, join the faculty and has found that the school really is superb, getting better every year. “The College of Law has developed in a wonderful way, and has maintained the aspects that make it unique—the small size, the friendly environment, and the ability of students to be close with faculty. The environment fosters education, both among students and between students and faculty members.”
Schneider commented that the College of Law is a great place to be a professor, too, in addition to the benefits it offers students. “The small faculty gives professors the opportunity to really know their colleagues; there’s a lot of collegiality among the faculty.” Schneider said that it is especially true with respect to professors’ work, because they enjoy bouncing ideas off of one another and helping each other where possible. Overall, there is no better job than being a law professor. “Students, especially students at the College of Law, are always challenging what you say, so everyone is constantly learning. And every year there’s a new class, so it’s like a new adventure!”
Schneider’s work, in particular, focuses on the first amendment and education. She has developed a treatise on civil rights issues in education that she updates every year, and its focus is on constitutional law and civil rights issues in public education. She is on sabbatical for the 2010/2011 academic year and will be working on a book that examines comparative law related to religion in state-supported education. The book will address the issues that arise between the intersection of compulsory education laws and school procedures or policies that somehow integrate religion into the curriculum. Schneider expressed a true love for the area she focuses on and the work she is able to do. “You can find something about education in the news every day. It’s an area of law that’s never boring.”
Schneider and her husband have three children—none of whom became lawyers. “My kids already feel like they went through law school,” joked Schneider, “so they went into different fields.” Schneider said that she loves spending time with her family, and one of her favorite things to do is travel with her family. She also enjoys finding out about her family’s history and individual family members’ stories.
Although she lived in Boston for many years, Schneider, a huge sports fan, remains loyal to Cincinnati teams. “The Red Sox are my second favorite baseball team,” she said. “I’ll root for them as long as they’re not playing the Reds!” Schneider was actually able to witness her two teams colliding in the 1975 World Series at Fenway Park, which the Reds ended up winning.