Faculty Hall of Fame: Celia Sgroi ’70
In 1980, SUNY Oswego established the Public Justice (now Criminal Justice) department and struggled to find a qualified candidate to be the department’s first full-time professor. Meanwhile, Celia Sgroi ’70, who had earned a Ph.D. in German languages at The Ohio State University and literature and a juris doctorate at SUNY University at Buffalo, was working as a lawyer at her father’s private practice in Fulton, clerking for family court judge in Oswego and not feeling completely fulfilled by either role.
“We were so desperate that Lou (Iorizzo) called Judge Bob Hurlbutt who suggested we approach Celia who hadn’t been aware of the opening,” recalled Emeritus Professor of Political Science Dr. Bruce Altschuler, who was a member of the search committee. “We interviewed her and were very impressed. She was very comfortable with the proposed format of the program living within the liberal arts rather than as vocational arts. She was hired, and that was one of the best decisions Lou and I made during our many years at Oswego.”
For the next 32 years, Celia—who was initially the sole full-time professor in the program—worked to build the program into a highly respected department within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and she established student recognition programs and an honor society, expanded student practica, recruited students to the program
and hired more faculty.
She contributed to the field by educating the future professionals, improving the interdisciplinary curriculum, creating new courses such as the Right to Die and even co-authoring with Bruce a new textbook, Understanding Law in a Changing Society, which was released in three editions.
“Celia was an incredibly hard worker with a diverse set of responsibilities,” Bruce said. “She led the department through tremendous growth and hired some strong faculty members, and she was a very vocal advocate for students and always made herself accessible to them.”
“Celia was always available for questions and conversations inside and outside the classroom,” said Judith Whelan, who studied with Celia in 2000 as an international student in public justice. “She was knowledgeable and easy to understand, and helped me with a letter of recommendation for law school.”
During her tenure at Oswego, Celia also served as the assistant to College President Dr. Virginia Radley and learned a lot about how the college worked. When she returned to teaching, she said that knowledge helped her be a better department chair and advisor to students.
“I knew who to call to get something done,” said Celia, who retired in 2012. She loved the diversity of students in the public justice courses.
“Some were young, some had been in the military, some were single parents, some were first-generation to college and this country,” she said. “Some wanted to be social workers, some police officers. Others were interested in the law or public policy.”
Successful criminal justice programs need to educate and develop good human beings with a knowledge of social problems and how to respond to de-escalate a situation, Celia said.
“Our students need to know about the legal system and criminal justice skills but they also need to know the history of the country, psychology, sociology and how complex the world is and how difficult their jobs will be,” she said.
As she thinks about the Future Landscape of criminal justice in the country and at SUNY Oswego, she said that the current faculty and students need to be the ones who shape that.
“The content needs to be multidisciplinary, and it needs to change as society changes,” she said. “But it does need to change.”
As for Celia, she said she is spending her retirement playing lots of tennis, reading and gardening. Most recently, she ventured into fictional writing, with her first novel, Merchant of Lies, now available as an eBook on Amazon.
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