Norma Cantu

Norma V. Cantú

University of Texas at Austin

Outstanding Service Award

2023 Recipient

Professor Norma V. Cantú, a civil rights litigator, was the lead or co-lead on cases such as Edgewood v. Texas Education Agency and Gomez v. Illinois Board of Education

She started her first teaching job in Brownsville, TX at the age of 19 and graduated Harvard Law School at age 22.  At the Texas Attorney General’s Office, she was a part of small but mighty investigation team on nursing home abuses of the elderly. She worked 13 years for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF).  Licensed by the Texas and California bars, she served in various legal capacities, from litigator to regional administrator to national director of educational programs.

In 1993, she was nominated by President Clinton– and unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate –as Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights in the Department of Education

From 2002 to present, she has been a full professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Texas at Austin where she also teaches disability law at the School of Law.   Professor Norma Cantú has been a department chair twice. She has chaired numerous dissertation committees, and has volunteered with numerous academic, legal, and community organizations.  She loves teaching and has taught in-person through the Pandemic, with accommodations online for safety of the students.

In November 2020, Professor Cantú took a partial leave of absence from UT to serve on the Biden-Harris Transition Team.  In January 2021, she returned to her faculty position, only to take a partial leave of absence again from February 2021 to December 2022 to accept a part-time White House appointment –as the first Latina to serve as Chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.  In 2022, the eight Commissioners celebrated the 65th anniversary as an independent, bi-partisan, fact-finding federal agency.