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MSU College of Law

You Never Know Where You’re Going To Wind Up

“I never thought I’d wind up here.”

Professor Mario A. Ceresa, Director of the Law Library of Detroit College of Law, could have gone in different directions at so many points during his lifetime that he sometimes is surprised that he made the choices – or had the choices thrust upon him – which led to a happy and fulfilling life at DCL. And yet, with perfect hindsight, one can see the path leading directly here.

His home, Puerto Padre, in eastern Cuba, was visited by Columbus 500 years ago. During his first 12 years, when he was raised by his grandparents, and the next six when he attended a Jesuit boarding school in Havana, his future was bound up in his homeland. When, as a freshman, he saw a senior by the name of Fidel Castro graduate from his school, it never occurred to him that Castro would be one of the catalysts through which Mario Ceresa would wind up at the Detroit College of Law.

Professor Ceresa attended the University of Havana Law School for five years. The pre-law course during the first two years and the three years of law school were of European orientation; there was little emphasis on case law; instead, studies emphasized the codified law, which Cuba adopted from the European system. Classes were lectures and did not employ the Socratic Method, although there was a brief brush with common law when American professors from Miami occasionally taught a few courses.

The hope of winning a national award, which entitled students to employment as public defenders in the Court of Appeals, necessitated extended summer studying for special exams, which would increase the averages of the students. There was much competition for this award; Mario Ceresa, finishing sixth in his class after five years, received one of the coveted awards.

Fate stepped in again and, within two weeks of the date of his graduation, the University was closed by the Batista government because it was viewed as a focus of rebellion and protest. Had this action taken place a few weeks earlier, Mario Ceresa’s entrance into the practice of law would have been delayed for several years until the University reopened and he received the necessary legal degree.

Professor Ceresa became a Public Defender in his home province, 100 miles from home. “It was a two-year position,” he says, “but I was successful and was offered a further appointment. I still was allowed to have my own clients, but as the years passed, it became more and more difficult, as a practicing attorney, to stay out of the revolution.”

The only other possibility was to leave the country, but as soon as he applied for a visa, he was fired. After a year and a half, when his visa finally came through, he had to leave everything but his wife and children behind.

With only a small knowledge of the English language, Mario Ceresa chose to live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, because he had relatives there. After Professor Ceresa worked for six months at the Willow Run Assembly plant, Fred Smith, Assistant Director of the University of Michigan Law Library, offered him a job at that facility on the condition that he enter a master’s program in library science. He received that degree in June, 1970.

Professor Ceresa’s intention was to become a Latin American Reference Librarian, and to that end he sent resumes to many libraries throughout the country. A quick response came from Charles King, Dean of the Detroit College of Law, who was looking for a head librarian who was qualified also to be a law professor. Again, this was an unexpected step, the one which brought him to Detroit College of Law.

The first aim, before teaching, was to put the library in order, which took two years. Only then did Mario Ceresa enter the classroom to teach a course in Comparative Law, and later, the basic International Law course. Now, he also teaches International Human Rights, International Civil Litigation in the U.S. Courts and International Criminal Law.

In the library, which is now 18,000 square feet, Mario Ceresa seems to have found his own special home. He speaks revealingly about the importance of this library:

“The law is a living entity. There are new decisions, new areas of the law, which must be part of the collection. Traditional areas change with the times, and cases and statutes also are modified. That is why there are always new volumes, which we will need – and new space in which to put them.

“It is a fact accepted by the Board and the administration that we will need 50,000 square feet to serve us for the next 20 years. We must house the collection, handle the computer lab and add space for computer facilities, conference rooms for study groups and adequate room for the staff.”

Professor Ceresa was an early advocate of computerizing the law library. DCL’s library is probably one of the first, if not the first, law school library in the country to subscribe to InfoTrac on CD-ROM disc. This index to legal periodicals allows students to search, on a computer, a single index, which cumulates eight years of indices, and to print search results on the computer’s attached printer. The library also subscribes to CALI (Computer Assisted Legal Instruction), a complete series of tutorials on all major curricular topics of law.

DCL’s library also had an early Westlaw learning center and access to Lexis, with many terminals online for student use in the computer lab.

He fervently believes that the library must expand. “The only way I’m sure a book is not going to be read is if we don’t have it. We take some risks buying books, but we must. The ABA Standards ask us to be a responsive and active force within the educational life of the law school.”

Mario Ceresa affirms that, while it is important to serve the alumni and the legal community, the students and the faculty can be served properly only if the library meets these standards.

When he began his DCL career, the staff was himself and one assistant. The expenditures for books and other materials in the library were $50,000 per year. Today, the expenditures are close to $500,000 per year; four professional librarians, two with law degrees, serve the library, and there are three support staff and many student assistants.

As absorbed as he is with the DCL Law Library, there are other facets to the life of Professor Mario Ceresa. He has raised eight children. His daughter, Patricia, graduated from DCL in 1986 and works in the office of the Prosecuting Attorney of Berien County. His son, John, graduated from Indiana University Law School and works for a Cuban lawyer while preparing to take the Florida Bar. He is busy all the all the time – he loves the water and the bounty of activities associated with it. He is constantly reading, steeping himself in American culture, and enjoying where and what he is.

“My life has been challenging, rewarding, interesting. I like my job and what I do. If I could put together two more lives, I’d never be bored. There are so many things I find interesting.

“As I tell my children,” he says, “you can plan as much as you want, but you never know where you’re going to wind up.”

Amicus magazine: Faculty Feature (Fall 1991, pp. 22-23) PDF »

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