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Remembering Alex Geisinger, 1964–2024

Alex Geisinger Alex Geisinger

March 05, 2024

In a February 2024 New York Times interview, the highly esteemed and influential author and teacher Marilynne Robinson considered legacies. “One thing I think about,” she told interviewer David Marchese, “is what have you done that actually outlives you? One of the things that you could do would be to enable other people. That’s probably the immortality that anyone can hope for.”

If we use the empowerment of others as a yardstick, then Alex Geisinger indeed achieved a kind of immortality. In his teaching, his mentorships, his research, his advocacy and through his friendships, Geisinger, according to many of those who knew him best, was singularly effective at empowering people.

A founding member of the Drexel University Kline School of Law faculty, Geisinger died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep at the age of 59 on February 27 in Malaysia, where he was spending several weeks visiting at the University of Kuala Lumpur.

At Kline, Geisinger taught primarily environmental, commercial, and tort law, and focused his research on law and social norms, torts and environmental justice. His scholarship was wide-ranging. He published in more than 18 law reviews at last count, with more articles in process at the time of his death. He explored topics ranging from which parties benefit from large development projects to bias in profiling to the role of concepts of nature in the development of international law.

He was also a hugely popular professor and received Kline’s Rosato Teaching Award twice, in 2014 and 2018. He served as Associate Dean for Faculty Development and Research from 2018 to 2022.

On the Drexel Kline campus, news of his death prompted an outpouring of grief and appreciation, with current students and alumni alike reporting that Geis, as he was known to many students, fellow faculty and friends, was their favorite professor ever, while more than one faculty member called him their “best friend on the faculty.”

When they heard the sad news, Codi Royall, JD ’25, and several of her classmates convened a small gathering to mourn and remember one of their favorite professors. “Geis,” she wrote later, “struck the perfect balance of being the smartest person in the room and showcasing it, while being the coolest person in the room, too. He had a unique ability to spark curiosity and inspire a desire to learn more about everything. Even though you knew you might never reach the level of intellectual prowess he effortlessly displayed, he managed to instill a sense of aspiration in you.”

Alex Geisinger lecturing

Word of his passing also spread quickly among Kline alumni, with several reaching out to Dean Daniel Filler to convey Geisinger’s influence on their lives and careers. Mica Iddings, JD ’16, wrote, “I am heartbroken over this news. I could write paragraphs about the difference Geis made in my legal education and career, but suffice it to say that he was funny, brilliant, undyingly committed to the student body, and just such a mensch. He was instrumental in my decision to attend Drexel for law school and his unyielding support of me on my journey to practicing environmental law helped bring me to where I am now; I will carry that gift with me forever.”

And, on a Facebook thread announcing his death, two different students from different years reported that they were ready to drop out of law school because the work was just too difficult when Geisinger saw they were struggling and took each one aside to assure them that he knew they really understood the material, that they were indeed talented enough to do it and that they would graduate. In both cases, this encouragement did the trick: Both graduated and have gone on to fulfilling careers.

Geisinger grew up in the New York City area and graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, where he majored in history. He worked for a few years in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and for Cambridge University Press before getting his JD from the University of Connecticut and his LLM from Harvard. He worked for three years as a litigator with a Hartford law firm and as an instructor at UConn. In 1996, he joined the faculty at the Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana and came to Drexel in 2007.

Geisinger was fluent in both Spanish and Italian, and had strong interests in art and home renovation and a passion for good coffee. He enjoyed telling stories about his youthful days in New York City, where he was a patron of music venues like the legendary CBGB.

To Filler, what stood out most about Geisinger was his commitment to community, whether that community comprised his students, his colleagues, his family or the victims of pollution and other environmental injustices. He called him “a critical player in building the community we now have at Kline.”

“He was always finding different communities where he could make a difference,” Filler said, “whether that was environmental communities or helping draft provisions at the American Law Institute. For him, it was all about how he could activate communities.”

Kline Professor and Associate Dean Deborah Gordon, who joined the faculty a year after Geisinger, counted him as a good friend. They were neighbors and often walked back together from the Drexel campus to their South Philly homes. “One thing that comes across from strikingly different voices,” she said, “was that Alex always had time for people. He had extraordinary empathy and generosity. He was always himself, but he could meet everyone where they were—that made everyone feel special.”

Royall echoed Gordon in her praise. “Hearing everyone share stories of their interactions with Geis,” she wrote, “was fascinating; we each thought it was only us who had such a special relationship with him. However, being in a room full of people who all felt the same way made it clear: It wasn’t us who made our relationships so special, it was him.”

Alex Geisinger is survived by his wife, Jane Scarpellino, and his son, Michael Geisinger, and legions of grateful students, colleagues, clients and friends.