Collage of historical photos of Judge Selya, at left as a judge and at right as Chair of the Board at Bryant
At left: The Honorable Bruce M. Selya ’96H, former Chair of Bryant University’s Board of Trustees, pictured in 1992. A revered American jurist, Selya was instrumental in recruiting more women, people of color, and alumni to Bryant’s Board in the 80s and 90s. At right: The Honorable Bruce M. Selya prepares to receive his Honorary Degree from Bryant University on May 18, 1996.
The Honorable Bruce M. Selya ’96H: Former Bryant Board Chair on legal career, legacy
Jul 28, 2023, by Danny Lamere
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In 1982, when President Ronald Reagan appointed The Honorable Bruce M. Selya ’96H to the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, John Renza, Jr. ’70, P’06MBA, a “client and a friend” of Selya’s, approached him about joining Bryant University’s Board of Trustees. Selya accepted the invitation, and within two years, he became Chair.

Noticing a lack of alumni and diverse voices on the Board, Selya set about establishing a comprehensive database of alumni and using it to recruit alumni as Trustees. “We changed the character of the Board,” says Selya. “We assembled a Board that would invest itself in Bryant.” Notable additions to the Board of Trustees in this era, Selya says, included more women and people of color, as well as some of Bryant’s most iconic figures, like George E. Bello ’58, ’96H, donor of the George E. Bello Center for Information and Technology, and John D. “Jack” Callahan ’56, ’05H, who lent his name to the Callahan House, Bryant’s presidential residence.

In a legal career spanning more than six decades, Selya has cemented a reputation as one of America’s preeminent jurists and legal writers. He says he drew inspiration for his style of writing, which is famous for its extensive vocabulary and, at times, playful irony, from his education in Latin at Classical High School in Providence, R.I. “It got me interested in words,” he says. As he began reading legal opinions in the early stages of his career, he says, though he respected many jurists’ well-reasoned and convincing logic, he found their style “turgid” – that is, excessively embellished and tedious. “I thought there was no reason why judicial opinions can’t also be interesting prose.” One compliment he received has stuck with him: “Most opinions are written in gray. Yours are written in pastels.”

Now 89 years of age and a Senior Judge on the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals, Selya has mentored generations of legal professionals, many of whom have gone on to highly successful careers of their own. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, a former legal clerk of Selya’s, ranks among the most prominent – Selya says Jackson, as a clerk, was “very bright, pleasant, and eager to learn. She asked the right questions; she listened well. You could tell, unless you were completely blind, that she was going somewhere.” Selya says he keeps in touch with Jackson to this day, exchanging handwritten notes regularly. “[The Supreme Court] hasn’t changed her a bit,” he says. “She’s still Ketanji.”

“Bryant is on the move, looking for new challenges.”

Though his tenure as a Trustee ended in the early 1990s, Selya says he continues to stay involved in the life of the university. He offered guidance and advice to former President Ronald Machtley throughout his tenure and has met with current President Ross Gittell, Ph.D.

In his private chambers in downtown Providence, among innumerable professional awards, certificates, degrees, legal journals, and artworks, Selya hangs prominently the honorary degree he received from Bryant in 1996, as well as an illustration of beloved Bryant landmarks. He says he admires the progress the university has made since he first joined its community in the early 1980s. “Bryant is on the move, looking for new challenges,” he says. “Once you get on the right track, good things happen.”

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