Commencement Speaker Profile

Norma V. Cantu

Norma V. Cantu

Norma V. Cantu (BA '73 English & Government) grew up in Brownsville and began her professional career at the age of 19 as an English teacher with the Brownsville school district. She graduated from Harvard Law School at the age of 22, served as a member of the Texas Attorney General’s Office from 1977 to 1978, and developed her legal skills at the non-profit public interest law firm Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. from 1979 to 1993. After suing the State of Texas as co-counsel in Edgewood v. Kirby (school finance) and LULAC v. Richards (access to higher education), Norma gained skills as a supervisor of attorneys and investigators in defense of low-income students in Texas, California, Illinois, Colorado and Idaho.

She was nominated in March 1993 by President Clinton and confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate in May 1993 as the first Hispanic female Assistant Secretary to head up the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) at the U.S. Department of Education. As chief adviser to the Secretary of Education on civil rights matters from 1993 to 2001, she lists among her accomplishments the modernizing and streamlining of the management of the OCR office, significant improvements in timely investigation and resolution of cases, and the publication of federal policies on racial, gender and disability harassment.

After nearly eight years in Washington, D.C., Norma joined the University of Texas at Austin, where she became a full professor of law and education in 2002. She has a joint appointment with the law school and the College of Education. She holds the Ken McIntyre Chair in Educational Excellence and is a Sid Richardson Fellow for Community College Leadership Programs.

Norma’s legal expertise extends to many areas of public law: including litigation, appellate advocacy, administrative law, school law, employment law, gender discrimination, disability law, school desegregation, higher education law and school finance.

In 2012, Norma was recognized for her personal and career success when she was selected as one of UT Pan American's Pillars of Success to serve as a role model for current and future Broncs. Read more about Norma.