Boston University School of Law

March 21, 2007


William Ryckman, Jr., BU Law Professor of 46 years, announces his retirement

BU Law professor of 46 years, William Ryckman, Jr., has announced his retirement at the end of this year. A Property Law expert, Ryckman has taught courses in land use and zoning, and his first-year property course is legendary.

Ryckman’s dedication and skills as a teacher were recognized in 2000 with the School’s Michael W. Melton Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence. His professional specialties include Real Property, Equity, Land Use, and Federal Courts, and his articles have been published in such journals as the California Law Review and Michigan Law Review.

“Our professors are nationally acclaimed for their teaching quality,” says BU Law Dean Maureen O’Rourke. “Yet even among this group, Bill Ryckman stands out as a superb teacher. His knowledge of property law is unparalleled and his impact on the generations of students he has taught is immeasurable. He has made a wonderful contribution to the School and to the many alumni who have learned from him. We wish him health and happiness in his well-earned retirement and will miss him greatly.”

Looking Back:
Professor Ryckman reflects upon his career path and the changes he has seen at the School

Prior to his career at BU Law, Ryckman received a B.S. in Business and LL.B. from Indiana University. As a student, he served as editor-in-chief of the Indiana Law Journal, was elected to the Order of the Coif, and received the Weymouth-Kirkland Foundation Scholarship.

“When I got out of law school in 1958, I was immediately drafted and went into the service. Everybody got drafted. I got my draft notice literally the day I graduated. I spent a year going through basic training and was assigned to the combat engineers and later the JAG corps …and I ended up getting assigned to the general counsel of the army’s office,” says Ryckman.

After working as a special assistant to the Army’s general counsel, Ryckman was offered a clerkship by Judge Hastings, chief justice in the seventh circuit. “But just a couple of months before I was supposed to start, I got a call from the dean of Indiana Law School, who wanted to offer me a job teaching, and since that was my ultimate goal, I decided to do that,” says Ryckman. “So Judge Hastings kindly excused me from my obligation, and I taught at Indiana for a year.”

A year later Ryckman began what was to become a brilliant career spanning more than four decades of teaching at BU Law, serving from 1962-65 as assistant professor, and as associate professor the following year. He was made full professor in 1966 and given the distinguished title of Philip S. Beck Professor of Law in 2005.

“I didn’t think I would start teaching right away,” recalls Ryckman. “My game plan was to clerk for maybe three years. When I came here, every single person on this faculty had practiced law, and most of them were still continuing a limited practice. That was the model, that’s what you did. When I came into this, nobody had ever published an article before they came to law school… in that respect the nature of the faculty has changed dramatically.”

While teaching at BU Law, Ryckman continued to build upon his professional skills. “When I first came here one of my mentors was Paul Liacos. He was a colleague of mine who went on to become chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. One of the first things he told me was, ‘Bill, you’ve got to pass the Mass Bar. I’ll introduce you to some people. I know you’re interested in land use; I’ll get you some work.’ And he got me a job as counsel to the governor’s commission to revise the zoning and subdivision control laws.”

Serving as principal consultant to the Special Advisory Committee, Ryckman was responsible for the comprehensive revision of chapter 40A (The Zoning Act). He also authored their report and drafted House Bill 5009 (1973) which formed the basis for the Act of 1975. In addition, Ryckman worked as legal consultant to the Massachusetts Department of Community Affairs, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Relations Service, and as special counsel to the town of Nantucket on issues involving land use. In this capacity, he was of counsel for all land-use trial and appellate litigation and authored a number of winning appellate briefs.

The time in which Ryckman joined BU Law was one of great change—both within the School and the world around it. “When I first came here, the School was downtown at Ashburton Place; this building [law tower] was just getting built, actually. When we switched buildings, we were integrated into the greater university community. During the Vietnam War…early in the 70’s, there were a lot of student protests. I ended up being the chairman of a disciplinary committee, which pejoratively became know as the ‘Ryckman Commission’ by the students. The committee tried to internally handle the problems of violent student disruptions… so that part of being integrated into the greater university community wasn’t all that hot.”

After its move to the BU campus, Ryckman observed the School’s physical transformations. “We’ve gone through several different transformations in terms of the size of the law school. When we came here, we only had the bottom nine floors. The University was receptive to having us take over the whole building…because the law school was getting bigger. The University later let us substantially cut back on the size of our classes…that was a big change—the return to having much smaller classes—and it’s been all to the good.”

He noticed, too, a shift in its inhabitants. “The other big academic event was the influx of women in the 70’s,” says Ryckman. “This law school has always been hospitable to women. We’ve had women students forever…while other law schools didn’t have any. They went from being maybe 10 to 15 percent to over half the class in a very relatively short period of time.”

Of the law school course structure, Ryckman notes: “We’ve gone from an almost completely mandatory required curriculum to an elective curriculum in the second and third years… it didn’t happen overnight. We gradually whittled away to get to where we are now."

Despite the School’s many transformations, to Ryckman, two things have remained constant. “As far as the quality of the students themselves, we’ve never had any shortage of really, really smart law students,” he says. And of his dedication to teaching: “I love being in a classroom. I have the best job in the world. I’ve always said that.”

Reported by Caitlin McCartan


Professor Ryckman's Guestbook


"Our professors are nationally acclaimed for their teaching quality. Yet even among this group, Bill Ryckman stands out as a superb teacher. His knowledge of property law is unparalleled and his impact on the generations of students he has taught is immeasurable. He has made a wonderful contribution to the School and to the many alumni who have learned from him. We wish him health and happiness in his well-earned retirement and will miss him greatly."


Maureen O'Rourke, Dean, BU Law


"Professor Ryckman-I have been practicing commercial real estate law for almost 30 years due, in large part to your teaching (and I did not even have you first year). I wish you as much success with retirement as you enjoyed in your professional career! All the best."


Rick Kaitz, Class of 1979


"While many other aspects of having been a member of the famed Section E were less than positive, I count having been in Professor Ryckman's Property class (not to mention his Land Use class) as the most challenging and fulfilling experience I had at law school. But what I remember best was Professor Ryckman's response when someone questioned why we were using a casebook last updated in 1958: "Nothing has changed in property law for a hundred years, except in New Jersey and who knows what the hell they are doing." Professor Ryckman, having practiced law in New Jersey for the last 20 years, I can attest to the wisdom of those words. Good luck and enjoy your retirement."


Hans G. Polak, Class of 1984


"I must confess that I enjoyed playing basketball with you at 7AM during my second and third years a lot more than my first-year property class, even though you were as tough and and no-nonsense on the court as you were in class. You lived up to your reputation for being tough and demanding, but I respected you for that, and it made my property grade (the highest I received first year) that much more gratifying. (When I am sure you are really retired, I will clue you in on the trick I used on my final exam to get a higher grade from you.) The Law School will miss you and will not be the same without you. Thanks for your decades of dedication, and I hope you enjoy many years of well-earned retirement."


Richard F. Collier, Jr., J.D. 1975


"Celtics win, Hoosiers win: good day. Celtics lose, Hoosiers lose: pray you're not on the hot seat. If Bird and McHale are in a fact pattern, they'd better come out ahead. Sampson, Magic et al = the bad guys. Viets? Hats off to him always. I'd invoke the beloved Rule in Shelley's Case and offer our collective admiration and appreciation to Professor Ryckman for the term of his life, and then to his heirs, but there really isn't anyone who can step into his shoes and fill the gap he'll leave upon his retirement. Best wishes to you Professor...and you may have another Celtics championship yet."


Eric Kaplan, Class of 1993


"Every day when I pick up the phone and a client is asking hard questions, I silently thank Professor Ryckman for the fabulous preparation. The days I spent answering his questions in property and land use were the most practical and beneficial skills that I learned at BUSL. Professor Ryckman made a lasting impression on me and helped mold me into a better, fearless counselor. Thank you and all the best."


Marla Kirsh Bergman, BU Law '88


"I had both the luck and misfortune of not being called on by Professor Ryckman until the last week of the term. For that reason, I diligently prepared for Property every day, primarily out of fear of being called on, being unprepared, soiling myself or throwing up in front of 90 or so other students, and of course, flunking the course (which one poor soul did that year). As I'm guessing he did every year, Professor Ryckman included an issue on the final exam that focused on the material that we had learned the last week of the term - prescriptive easements, as I recall. Thank god I was prepared for it. The experience of being in that class, and learning in the pure Socratic method for which he is famous, is one that I will never forget and which has undoubtedly made me a better lawyer."


Robert Lillienstein, Class of 1983


"Professor Ryckman - Congratulations on your retirement. Despite the fact that I often broke out in hives before your class (the "Ryckman Rash"), I learned more than just property law from you. Thank you for teaching me to be prepared, to think critically and to try to see all sides of any given story. Although I no longer practice law, those skills have been invaluable in both my professional and personal life."


Terry Zickefoose Lucas, Class of 1989


"I believe great teachers both educate and inspire. In the Property course during my first year, Professor Ryckman so adeptly trained me on legal analysis that those analytical skills have proven extremely beneficial throughout my entire career at the law school. In addition to the remarkable training on law, Professor Ryckman demonstrated how the law of property reflects, and constantly challenges, intricate considerations of society, economy, and equity in a way that's truly inspirational. The training and inspiration I've inherited from Professor Ryckman will forever live inside of me to make my life more worthwhile. I thank Professor Ryckman for everything and wish him well and happiness for a long time to come."


Moowi Kim, Class of 2008


"Professor Ryckman - You are a living legend."


Kevin Rollins, Class of 2009


"Your first-year property class impressed upon me 1) the need for attorneys to respect the law, and  2) the law's strict demands upon attorneys of diligence and attention to detail. Had I not sat in your class, I know I would have missed one of my best experiences at--and rewards from--BU Law. God bless you in your retirement."


Robert Boudreau, Class of 2008


"Although we self-taught property, you taught us life's greatest lesson of all: love."


Section C, BU Law, 2007


"Best of luck in your retirement, Professor. I don't believe I became fully recognized in your eyes as worthy of speaking to until I entered my second year in law school, at which time you addressed me as Mr. Sherman. I appreciated your courtesy and teaching and wish you a pleasant retirement, Sir."


Ralph M. Sherman, Class of 1983


"The preparation you required of your students set a standard for the rest of my career. You asked of us nothing less than to wrestle thoroughly with the material and to come prepared with a superb understanding of the facts and a readiness to discuss the issues. No class ever terrified me more! As a result, when you were pleased with my work, it felt like a true accomplishment. Thank you for your outstanding teaching."


Cheryl Coon (Coodley), Class of 1977


"I did not have Professor Ryckman for property, but I was encouraged to take his equity class by the outgoing law review board members, who all said you really hadn't proved yourself until you got through his class. His class was very rigorous, but I don't remember Professor Ryckman being harsh with anyone. And I still use the information I learned there. Finally, my reminiscence would not be complete without a mention to the Legal Folies of '85 or '86, where Dan Adamian in top hat and tails sang "I got Ryckman." It was a fine number...."


Margaret Jenkins, Class of 1986


"Beyond property law, you taught us to think and act like lawyers - to meticulously read through each line of a case, to analyze problems under pressure, to articulate ideas and concepts with precision, and to respect the law and its role in society. As a first year, your classes were like boot camp - we all dreaded them as we endured the uncertainty of the potential cold-call three days a week and the constant state of alertness required throughout each class. But when all was said and done, I think most of us were incredibly grateful to have been on the receiving end of what clearly was the constant effort of a dedicated teacher to bring the best out of his students. I wish you a happy and peaceful (well-deserved) retirement Professor Ryckman!"


Bridget Mary Bourque, Class of 2007


"Let another satisfied, if still recovering, student add his praise: The foundation you gave me on the subject of remedies in your course on Equity was central to my understanding of the larger fabric of the law. I stand on that foundation every day in my practice as a litigator, and thank you for it."


Kevin J. Leichter, Class of 1988


"Congratulations and many thanks to a professor who terrified us yet gave us the ability to think critically, and not be intimidated-valuable,life long lessons that I have treasured."


Karen J. Laufer, Class of 1989


"Your seminar on Land Use Planning gave me a respect for what the law can do to treat fairly the use of land for the benefit of all, owners, abutters, and the public alike. Now if I could only master how to deal with Equitable Servitudes I would be all set. With all best wishes for a fruitful future."


Virgil J. Aiello, Class of 1966


"Congratulations on a well deserved retirement. You deserve all of the accolades that you receive. You were my councelor, my father-confessor, my biggest fan, and my mentor. I have nothing but fond memories of you and your classes. At a time when BU was struggling to determine how it should treat Black law students, you led the way in showing the administration and professors that we were just like any other student, that we shouldn't all be bunched together under the umbrella of "needing special consideration," which we never got, anyway. You showed me in so many ways that my confidence in myself and my ability to become a fine attorney was justified. When I graduated, I was the only Black female in my class. I owe a lot to you. Finally, do you realize that Cos d'Estournel now sells for anywhere from forty-five to one hundred twenty dollars ($45 - 120) per bottle. That's a long way from the three ninety-nine to four ninety-nine dollars ($3.99 - 4.99) per bottle when you brought it to one of my dinner parties. But I knew all along that you had an eye for class. Bon Chance et Sante, Sante."


Janice Orr, Class of 1972


"Professor Ryckman remains in my mind one of the best things about my time at BU. No one who ever took his property class will forget "From A to B for life, remainder to the heirs of B. By the doctrine of merger, B takes a fee simple absolute." Bill Ryckman may never fully understood how important he was and remains to me."


Mary L. Marbach, Class of 2000


"I have often said that there was no pressure in law school that like the pressure of making payroll when running my own business. It is no disrespect to my other professors to say that Bill Ryckman was the only professor who might make me reconsider that statement. As a "mature (?)" student (now beginning to contemplate retirement myself), Bill Ryckman was the sole professor who always caused me to prepare for his class as my first priority. I think the highest praise for his teaching was a fellow student telling me that the day she was called on it felt as though Bill was "massaging her brain." Although I have not practised real estate law, I was always stimulated by my Property class and I learned much about how to think and argue that I have tried to use in my corporate practice. Enjoy your retirement."


Mike Balfe, Class of 1991


"I wish you well in your retirement. I've enjoyed mine since Oct 2005; there is no one asking tough questions during class. It is of note that you didn't flee to another law school, like the fierce Monahan or the gentle Kent. For that, and your dedication to teaching, you are the subject of tribute, which is one better than "bibute." Congratulations. You would enjoy reading an opinion of the Vermont Supreme Court, which was filed last Friday, Raynes v. Rogers, about domestic violence. The lady picked up the gentleman's small dog and tried to convert it to her own use. Although not involving real estate, it is a "real" property case, where conversion meets assault. He punched her out. She was awarded a relief from abuse order and he appealed citing the defense of protection of property, and it was his dog for heaven's sake! The court split 3 to 2."


Jim Morse, Class of 1969


"Congratulations on your retirement. I very much enjoyed your land use class. Today I practice a great deal in that area on behalf of several New Hampshire municipalities and other clients. Thank you!"


Brenda E. Keith, Class of 1997


"Professor Ryckman -- Congratulations on your retirement. What I took from your classes was less about property laws or standards equity as it was about legal thinking and framework. I hope that other professors carry on your legacy of critical thinking and socratic method. (And that the Celtics provide you with a retirement gift of thier own.)"


Jerald Korn, Class of 2003


"Professor Ryckman had the single most profound impact on my education to date and I have three degrees, two of them professional. He taught me to be a "critical thinker" and he helped me to develop an appreciation for researching and reading the law carefully and attending to details in my quest for knowledge. After studying under Professor Ryckman, in my legal practice and in my life, I learned to meet fear and intimidation with confidence, competence and the sure knowledge that I was one who had been trained and educated by one of the best legal scholars ever, William E. Ryckman. I will be forever grateful to Professor Ryckman for these gifts; they have and will continue to serve me all my life long."


Linda F. Lanton, Esq., Class of 1993
Vice President,
Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts


"Professor Ryckman- Congratulations on your unmitigated success as a Professor at BUSL! Your high standards and warm professionalism in the classroom made a lasting positive impact upon so many students and I am grateful to be counted among them. Best wishes to you for an equally fulfilling experience in whatever you choose to do next. Thank you for teaching and good luck! Best Regards."


Beth Masterman, Class of 1983


"More than any other professor at B.U. Law, you trained us to be patient, to find our own answers, and to value the least-understood rules of real property law over the more commonplace issues we might otherwise encounter in practice. Thank you for our year in the school of hard knocks. Enjoy a lengthy and leisurely retirement!"


Anonymous, Class of 2007


"You made me realize I really did want to be a lawyer, after all! Real estate law is one of many disciplines for a General Counsel's practice, and your imprint remains evident in my career. Thank you for this, and good luck in your retirement."


Stacey Cannon, Class of 1979


"As you can see from the comments on this page, a lot of us alumnae have been profoundly influenced by your first year property class. Your class was one of the most challenging and rewarding educational experiences of my lifetime, the benefits of which I continue to enjoy every day in my practice as corporate lawyer. Thank you Professor Ryckman for teaching so many of us what it takes to be a good lawyer. Enjoy your retirement."


Joshua Robinson, Class of 1999


"Almost everything I learned in law school I could just as well have learned on the job, but the critical thinking, attention to detail, and the close analysis of every aspect of an issue that have been invaluable throughout my career have a sole source--your treatment of the Rule in Shelly's Case. You did an amazing job."


Andrew Dreier, Class of 1996


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