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James Acker

From Practicing Law to Educating Students in Criminal Justice


Nearly 30 years ago, James Acker left a thriving law practice in North Carolina to pursue a Ph.D. and a career in academia. Since then, Acker has earned a reputation at the University at Albany as an exceptional teacher, sought-after mentor and productive scholar, leading to recognition as Distinguished Professor in the School of Criminal Justice in 2004, and now, as a Collins Fellow.

The fellowship, named for former UAlbany President Evan Revere Collins, recognizes senior teaching faculty who have shown "extraordinary devotion to the University and the people in it over a sustained period of time." Collins was president from 1949 to 1969. The Collins Medallion was presented to Acker at the UAlbany Graduate Commencement Ceremony on May 15, 2010.

“James Acker is known University-wide as a model of dedication to students and to the academic enterprise. With no concern for praise or advancement, he has selflessly participated in an astonishing range of service activities that have benefitted his students, University and field in countless ways,” said School of Criminal Justice Dean Alan Lizotte.

Acker is largely responsible for putting UAlbany on the national map for American Collegiate Moot Court Association competitions. Starting with his Innovations in Teaching grant from the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning in 2004, he worked many hours outside of class with his students, helping them earn “Best New Team” nationally. Since then, 12 UAlbany teams have made it to the national competition, with three students earning national moot court all-America.

"I have gained immeasurably more than I have contributed over the years at UAlbany," Acker said, "while having the opportunity to get to know and collaborate with a number of deeply committed, thoughtful, and talented individuals.  I am extraordinarily lucky."

Acker was among the first faculty to introduce and teach a new course — “Justice, Law, and Morality” — under a UAlbany initiative to enhance the first-year student experience. He has led a number of students in research projects, and involved several students in the Capital Punishment Research Initiative, which he co-directs, and the University’s National Death Penalty Archive. He played critical roles in the creation of both the undergraduate Albany Criminal Justice Association and the campus chapter of Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society.

Considered a champion of students, Acker has been recognized for his outstanding teaching through both the University and the Chancellor’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching. He consistently receives the highest student evaluations and receives praise for always being available to them.

Widely respected for his ability to address controversial issues with fairness and integrity, Acker is regularly called on to serve on University task forces and committees, including the Strategic Planning Committee, Budget Advisory Groups and the Graduate Student Support Doctoral Review Panel.

Christopher Onuorah, '12
UAlbany Student

University at Albany sophomore Christopher Onuorah abides by one personal rule: Be content but never complacent.

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