Emeritus law professor James O'Fallon passes at age 72

James O'Fallon

James M. O’Fallon, a University of Oregon Professor Emeritus of law, passed away Tuesday, July 11, at age 72. Service arrangements are pending.

O’Fallon spent more than 30 years on the Oregon Law faculty. He was considered a leading scholar of the Constitution, and upon his retirement he was described as the “titan of Oregon’s constitutional law faculty.”

His decision to pursue a career in law was shaped by his experiences as a boy growing up in the Midwest during the era of school segregation and the landmark court decision that declared the practice unconstitutional. He became well known for his work on the history of the Constitution, constitutional theory and legal philosophy.

“He was a scholar,” said Lorraine Davis, a UO colleague, former vice president for academic affairs and acting provost. “He had a passion for the law.”

O’Fallon’s scholarly work included important articles on the defining Marbury v. Madison U.S. Supreme Court decision and the Missouri Controversy. His book “Nature's Justice: Writings of William O. Douglas” captures the environmental advocacy of the longest-serving justice in the history of the nation’s highest court.

O’Fallon also spent 25 years as the university’s faculty athletics representative, whose job is ensuring that student-athletes have the support they need to balance scholarship and athletics. As part of that work, he served on the NCAA’s Division I Committee on Infractions and on the Pac-12 Conference’s faculty athletics representatives council.

Through his academic work and his position with the NCAA, O’Fallon also created graduate opportunities for student-athletes of color to pursue law degrees.

"The UO lost a great man and leader,” said athletics director Rob Mullens. “Jim's many contributions to Oregon athletics, the Pac-12 and the NCAA have made a lasting impact. Jim was a supportive mentor and I will miss his wonderful sense of humor. Our thoughts are with the O'Fallon family during this difficult time."

Davis called O’Fallon “a rule-interpreter extraordinaire” and said he was an advocate for student-athletes, “but not at the expense of the integrity and standards of the institution.”

Beyond the teaching and practice of law, O’Fallon also was known for his quiet decorum, kind manner and thoughtful consideration of colleagues and students. Fellow faculty member Ibrahim Gassama called him a “brilliant scholar, beloved teacher, committed citizen and kind colleague.”

“Jim was a beautiful man, a gentleman in all the senses of that word, the sort of person who, without uttering a word, demands of you the best sort of behavior,” he said.

Born in Gunnison, Colorado, O’Fallon spent his formative years in Manhattan, Kansas, near the start of the civil rights era. The Supreme Court’s historic 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision came at a pivotal time in his life.

O’Fallon joined the UO School of Law in 1981, served as associate dean for several years and was the Frank Nash Professor of Law.

“As an administrator, he ably led our school through a number of challenging and exciting transitions,” fellow law professor and former dean Michael Moffit wrote in a message to faculty. “Among other things, every year, he provided his students with personal, professional, and profound observations about his experiences in Kansas during the Brown v. Board of Education era.”

O’Fallon graduated from Kansas State University and earned his law degree from Stanford University in 1972. Prior to joining the faculty at the UO, he served as a law clerk with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and served on the law faculties at the University of Richmond and the University of Detroit. He also was a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at Harvard University.

O’Fallon is survived by his wife, Ellen Thomas; and two sons, Dylan and Cheyney. A community memorial service will be held from 3-5 p.m. on Aug. 4 in the Ford Alumni Center's Guistina Ballroom.