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Kathy Purnell, J.D., Ph.D. is the Director and Managing Attorney of the Human/Civil Rights Law Center.  It was founded as a social enterprise to serve the public and enhance democracy through public legal training, low bono representation and strategic nonprofit partnerships to advance the public good.  She has over two decades of combined experience as a professor, attorney and nonprofit administrator.  She is also a certified professional coach; her philosophical coaching programs aim to help advocates to thrive and to build their capacity to engage, reimagine and transform our world. 



After initially exploring a possible career as a scientist while a student at Stuyvesant High School in New York City, she subsequently fell in love with political philosophy and public policy studies, deciding to both complete a pre-med track and earn a degree in Government from Harvard University (A.B. 1991). After studying abroad in Korea (Korea University) and then a brief stint working on American Disabilities Act compliance and constituent issues for the Manhattan Borough President's office, she continued her studies to earn a Ph.D. from Cornell University (Ph.D. 1999 - Political Theory/Government), and then a law degree from DePaul University College of Law (J.D. 2008).   


Highlights from Professional Experience


Teaching and Scholarship

Eight years (combined full and part-time) of university-level teaching experience primarily in the fields of political philosophy and public administration.   She has taught at the following institutions: Cornell University, Albion College, the University of Vermont, DePaul University and Western Michigan University.  Formats have included online/hybrid, and traditional formats for undergraduate and graduate students.


2 years as Course Director and political philosophy instructor for the Humanities for Everybody Program, a community based, free, open enrollment program to provide nontraditional adult learners with access to college-level humanities courses. 


Author of numerous conference papers and presentations delivered to advocacy groups, nonprofit organizations, universities, and professional conferences including the Atlanta chapter of Amnesty International,  Emory University College of Law, the University of Mississippi College of Law, the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association, among others.


Nonprofit Administration highlights

12 years in nonprofit administration includes:


5 years at The University of Chicago serving as its Director of External Funding and Program Development (Physical Sciences Divisional Dean's Office) and as an Associate Director of Foundation Relations (University Development).  Service also included committee work advancing and developing diversity, faculty mentoring, and graduate student support initiatives.


7 years as an administrator in the fields of experiential learning and research administration at Western Michigan University.  Service also included university-level committee work in strategic planning, tactical action committees, and as a member of campus team that developed WMU's successful 2010 application for the Carnegie Classification in Community Engagement. Major initiatives included the creation of the Michigan Service Scholars Program (see WMU News article here), the creation of service-learning partnerships such as the Pre-Law for the Public Interest Program, and the development of programs to support university-industry collaboration. 


She has also served as an Advisory Board Member, WMU Center for the Study of Ethics in Society (2013-present), as an Advisory Board member, WMU Center for the Humanities (2011-present), and as a member of the Board of Directors for the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center (2011-2012; organization renamed to "OutFront Kalamazoo").


Legal Advocacy and Training highlights


One decade as a licensed attorney primarily in the fields of immigration law, civil/human rights investigation, eviction diversion, research law and sponsored research compliance, contract negotiation and review, intellectual property protection, and transactional law/compliance issues for nonprofits. She has also completed 40 hour SCAO training program in civil mediation. 


Continuing legal education and other training modules have been delivered in the areas of immigration detention, contract review, housing law, diversity and inclusion in nonprofit governance, legal and regulatory concerns for nonprofit boards, entity formation and other legal concerns for social entrepreneurs. 


Her legal skills have also been developed through employment and/or service for the following organizations and firms: DePaul International Human Rights Law Institute (served as a Sullivan Human Rights Fellow), Illinois Appellate Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, DePaul University Asylum & Immigration Clinic, Legal Aid of Western Michigan (served as an Equal Justice America and Equal Justice Works Fellow), National Immigrant Justice Center,  Carpenter & Capt, an ACLU Immigrant Detention fellowship, Western Michigan University and  the Student Hurricane Network (a Hurricane Katrina service project).


Creative Endeavors & Projects


Co-Chair and Creator, Courage to Create Poetry Competition (Grades 7-12)/Martin Luther King, Jr. Annual Celebration, Kalamazoo, Michigan. This annual poetry competition was developed in collaboration with Kalamazoo Public Schools.  See video describing the 4th annual (2018) competition


Playwright and Production Advisor, Divorce (Professional). This play was written to explore the topic of racial marginalization and sexual harassment in academic contexts. It was first performed in its entirety as part of the 30th anniversary celebration year for the WMU Center for the Study of Ethics in Society. A press release describing the production is available here;  an article on the production is available here.  If interested in performing the play at your institution, please visit the "(En)Courage/Difficult Conversations" section of this website. 


Associate Producer of numerous films for Phoenix Reborn Films, including Zero, Grin, and the Adoring Masses.  This film was screened in festivals including the North by Midwest festival in 2015. It is available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.


Co-producer, the Poets' Cafe, television show featuring interviews and readings by poets based in Ithaca, NY (public access station, PEGASYS).  Ran for 3 seasons in the mid-1990s and featured guests included Nikki Giovanni , A.R. Ammons and David Lehman .


Professional memberships


In addition to membership in the State Bar of Michigan

as an attorney (2008-present), her current professional

memberships also include American Philosophical Association

(APA), American Practical Philosophers Association (APPA),

Association for Political Theory (APT),

American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), 

Critical Mixed Race Studies Group (CMRS), and SOPHIA.

Her past professional memberships have also included

membership in the National Association of

College and University Attorneys (NACUA),

the Society for Research Administrators International (SRA), 

Council for the Advancement and Support of Education



A curriculum vitae for our founder is available here


An Mlive article describing some of Dr. Purnell's

accomplishments may be accessed here .


Her State Bar of Michigan profile may be accessed here.


Her profile page for the American Philosophical Practitioners Association is available here.


Her profile page for the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA) is available here


It was a pleasure to return to Harvard University to participate in the very inspirational 2018

Public Interested conference.  To review the program, please click on the icon to the right.  


For more on Dr. Purnell's personal story (among other topics), please see her blog

"Living Hybrid: An Opportunity Chronicle" (launching soon!)

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