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Edward V. Sparer Symposium

The Sparer Symposium commemorates the life and work of the late Edward V. Sparer, Professor of Law and Social Policy.


Registration for the 38th Annual Edward V. Sparer Symposium is Now Open!



Please Click Here to Register! 

This year’s symposium will examine the systems that contribute to and reinforce the carceral state. State systems and institutions external to prisons use the same mechanisms of control, surveillance, and punishment in order to maintain racial hierarchy. How does policing, public housing and benefit access, school policies and the child welfare system reproduce systems of control and racial dominance? We will examine how these systems, which purportedly increase public welfare and provide social benefits, often instead oppress and punish poor communities of color. Ultimately, we hope to convey that abolitionist movements must seek not only to dismantle the prison system but also to decriminalize the social safety net. Join us in re-imagining the state’s role in meeting people’s needs.


8:30 a.m.         Continental breakfast and registration

9:00 a.m.         Opening Remarks

9:30 a.m.         First Panel: “Policing in Everyday Lives: Routine Surveillance and Punishment in Poor Communities” (1.5 ethics)

  • Derecka Purnell, Attorney at the Advancement Project
  • Andrea Ritchie, Organizer and Author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color
  • Priscilla Ocen, Professor of Law at Loyola Law School and Co-Author of Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected

11 a.m.            Second Panel: “The Misedu(carceration) of Our Youth: Disrupting School-to-Confinement Pathways”  (1.5 ethics)

  • Morgan Craven, Director of School-to-Prison Pipeline Project at Texas Appleseed
  • Maura McInerney, Legal Director of the Education Law Center
  • Monique Morris, Author of Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools, Founder and President of the National Black Women’s Justice Institute 
  • Anahi Figueroa, Youth Advocate, Juveniles for Justice

12:30 p.m.       Lunch

1:15 p.m.         Third Panel: “Presumed Guilty: Parents of Color and The Child Welfare System” (1.5 ethics)

  • Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • Vivek Sankaran, Child Advocacy Law Clinic Professor, University of Michigan Law School
  • Dinah Ortiz-Adames, Parent Advocate Supervisor, Bronx Defenders Family Defense Practice
  • Maggie Potter, Social Worker at Community Legal Services, Family Advocacy Unit

3:00 p.m.         Keynote Address: Elizabeth Hinton (1 ethics)

Associate Professor in the Department History and the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and award winning author of From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America.

4:00 p.m.         Closing Remarks and Reception


This program has been approved for 5.5 ethics CLE credits for Pennsylvania lawyers. CLE credit may be available in other jurisdictions as well. Attendees seeking CLE credit should bring separate payment in the amount of $220.00 ($55.00 public interest/non-profit attorneys) cash or check made payable to The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania


At the heart of TPIC’s public interest program is the annual Sparer Symposium planned by the Toll Public Interest Scholars each year. The Symposium brings together legal academics and practitioners to provide insight into the dynamic relationship between scholarship and practice in the area of poverty law, merging theory and practice. Students and alumni attend panels and meet with speakers, delving deeply into important issues of our time.


Sparer’s work combined a passionate concern about the poor with intellectual rigor and a profound conviction that the problems of poverty are solvable.           

In 1983, he founded Mobilization for Youth Services, the first neighborhood legal services program and then the Columbia Center on Social Welfare and Policy and Law, the first national support center for legal services. In 1984, the first Sparer Symposium was organized.

Past Sparer Symposia:

(Click on the image to see details of event)


2017-2018: “Reparations. NOW.”

Keynote: Nkechi Taifa
Founder, The Taifa Group LLC

2016-2017: “A Country Divided: The 2016 Presidential Election and the Future of American Democracy”

Keynote: Beth Donovan
Senior Washington Editor for NPR News



2015-2016: “Buying Justice: How Big Money Defines Our Rights and Solutions that Level the Playing Field”

Keynote:  Brenda Wright, Vice President, Policy and Legal Strategies, Demos

  2014-2015: “Law 2.0: Progress and Challenges for Justice in the Digital Age

Keynote: Mark O’BrienCo-Founder and Executive Director of Pro Bono Net “Gender and Social Inequality: Why Women’s Rights Still Matter”

Keynote: Marcia Greenberger, Esq., L’70, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center, Washington, DC


 2012-2013: “Repairing the Broken Door:  Strategies for Immigration Advocacy and Reform”

Keynote: Jose Antonio Vargas, Founder of Define American, Pullitzer Prize Winning Journalist

2011-2012: “Overcoming the Odds: Strategies for Facilitating the Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood

Keynote: Rachel Lloyd, GEMS: Girls Educational & Mentoring Services


2010-2011: Partnering Against Poverty: Examining Cross-Disciplinary Approaches to Public Interest Lawyering”

Keynote: Sister Mary Scullion, Co-Founder, Executive Director and President of Project H.O.M.E.


2009-2010: “Now More Than Ever: Expanding Access to Justice in Times of Crisis”

Keynote: Peter Edelman, Georgetown University Law Center

Special guest remarks from Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez

  2008-2009: “Crime in the City: Current Policies & Alternative Approaches”

Keynote: Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice

  2007-2008:“Redefining Aggregate Welfare: Revitalizing a City in Pursuit of Economic Justice”

Keynote: Mary Houghton,
President of ShoreBank Corporation


2006-2007:   “War: International Judicial Responses to Violence”

Keynote: Juan Mendez, United Nations Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide

2005-2006: “Civil Gideon: Creating a Constitutional Right to Counsel in the Civil Context”

Keynote: Michael Greco, President, ABA 

2004-2005: “Drug Policy Reform:  In the Courts and in the Streets”

2003-2004: “Unknown

2002-2003: “Terrorism and the Constitution:  Civil Liberties in a New America”

2001-2002: “Public Interest Litigation”

2000-2001: “Social Movements & Legal Reform”

1999-2000: “Unlock America:  Prisons and Policing in the 21st Century”

Keynote:  Angela Y. Davis, Professor, University of California at Santa Cruz

1998-1999: “Welfare Reform:  A War on Poverty or the Poor?”

Keynote:  Lucy A. Williams, Professor, Northeastern Law School, “Welfare and Legal Entitlements: The Social Roots of Poverty”

1997-1998:  “Civil Rights in the 21st Century:  Resurrection or Requiem?”

Keynote:  Andre Dennis, Esquire

1996-1997: “Unknown

1995-1996: “Unknown

1994-1995: “Crime and Punishment:  The Criminal Justice System in the 1990’s”

Keynote Dialogue:  Alvin J. Bronstein, Executive Director, National Prison Project of the ACLU Foundation and Joseph McGettigan, Chief Deputy Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Criminal Investigation and Prosecution Section

1993-1994: “Human Rights in Urban America”

1992-1993: “Legal Services: Confronting New Realities”

Keynote: Honorable Patricia M. Wald

1991-1992: “Visions Confronts Reality: Issues in Housing & Homelessness in the 90’s”

1990-1991: “Kids in Crisis:  Opportunities for Change”

1989-1990: “Brave New Workplace:  Exploring the Legal Landscape”

Keynote:  Ralph Neas, “Civil Rights:  Where We Are, Where We Are Going”

1988-1989: “Unknown

Keynote: Peter Hearn ’61, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association

1987-1988: “Privacy and the Public Interest”

Keynote: Professor Rhonda Copelon, City University of New York

1986-1987: “Unknown”

1985-1986: “Law, The Family, and Social Change”

Keynote:  Kitty Kolbert, attorney/ lobbyist for the Women’s Law Project of Philadelphia

1984-1985: “Health Care and Justice! Practicing in the Public Interest”

Keynote:  Arnold Relman, Editor of the The New England Journal of Medicine

1983-1984: “Community Empowerment Through Public Interest Law”

Keynote:  Shirley Chisholm, former New York Congresswoman 

*1982-1983: “New Approaches to Law in the Public Interest”

Keynote:  Father Robert F. Drinan, former member of US House of Representatives

*1981-1982: “The Future of Public Interest Law and Practice”

Keynote:  Charles Halpern, Dean-designate of Queens (NY) Law School


 *The Sparer Symposium was originally titled ‘The Public Interest Law Conference.’ In 1984 it was renamed to commemorate the life and work of late professor and tireless advocate for the poor, Edward V. Sparer.