Briefing Room
Philip C. Sorensen


College mourns loss of Emeritus Professor Sorensen

February 15, 2017 | Faculty

Philip C. Sorensen, professor emeritus at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, passed away on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. He was 83. Sorensen joined the faculty at Ohio State in 1973 where he taught until his retirement in 1995. His expertise lay in the area of tax law, but he also taught courses on business associations, torts, legislation, and nonprofits. He is the coauthor of Ascending Liability in Religious and Other Nonprofit Organizations.

During his tenure at Ohio State, Sorensen served not only as a professor, but as an associate dean and director of the Socio-Legal Center, now known as the Center for Interdisciplinary Law and Policy Studies. Under his leadership the Socio-Legal Center grew quickly, sponsoring special programs, developing joint interdisciplinary research projects, and fostering cooperative relationships with other programs.

Prior to joining the faculty at Ohio State, Sorensen served as lieutenant governor of Nebraska from 1965 to 1967. He also had experience working as a judicial clerk; partner in a Nebraska law firm; executive director of a foundation; chair of the Project on Corporate Responsibility, Washington, D.C.; and as a college trustee.

Outside of the classroom, Sorensen was a nationally ranked senior tennis player and an accomplished sculptor. His sculptures can be viewed at his website here.

Sorensen is survived by his wife of 58 years, Janice, as well as daughters Rebecca Bowers of Columbus, Karen Sorensen and Josephine Sorensen, both of Portland, Oregon; son Allan Sorensen of Columbus; and five grandchildren. The College offers condolences to his entire family at this time.


Professor Howard Fink

I was here when Phil came aboard.  He was a very effective teacher and wonderful faculty colleague.  After I began the Oxford pre-law program, he worked to expand the program to  law students and to build an enduring relationship between the University of Oxford and Ohio State that has lasted for more than 30 years. He was a very fair-minded and effective associate dean, and a grand colleague.

Professor Douglas Whaley

When I arrived at Ohio State in 1976, Phil Sorensen became one of my mentors and gave me all sorts of good advice much worth learning.  He came from a political family—his brother was Ted Sorenson, a major advisor to John F. Kennedy.  Phil was a tall man with a ready smile and a great wit.  Let me tell you a story that shows his impish side. In the 70s the law school required all students to take a course entitled “Introduction to Tax Law” in their first semester of law school.  One year, by happenstance, the first class the new students would attend was this very course, taught by Professor Phillip Sorensen, and he posted a notice that they should study section 61 of the Internal Revenue Code (the definition of “income”).  That same semester we had a visiting professor from the University of Moscow that semester, a young man in his 30s. On the day of the first class, with the students nervously waiting, the Russian professor walked into class, strode to the front of the room, wrote “Section 61” on the blackboard, and then turned to the class and began lecturing in Russian!  The students were flabbergasted.  A hand went up after a minute or so, but it was that of Professor John Quigley, a plant in the first row, and he asked a question in Russian, to which the professor made his only statement in English, “Good question!”  After a bit more of the incomprehensible lecture, Phil Sorensen, who had been sitting in the back of the room, got up, interrupted the proceedings, introduced himself and the two other professors, and confessed it was all a joke.  Much later, when I learned this had occurred, I asked Phil if it was true, and, with a guilty smile, he allowed that it was.  I asked Phil how the students reacted.  “Ah,” he said ruefully, “they never forgave me—not even as alums.”

Professor Gregory Travalio

Phil was always a man I looked up to and admired.  His integrity was unshakable, his sense of humor was impish, his outlook optimistic to the end, and a strong commitment to fairness and justice was at his core.  Phil was a fine athlete, a man of unsurpassed intelligence, and a remarkable artist.  For many years now, we have met Thursday afternoons to talk OSU and Nebraska athletics, NFL football, national and world politics, and even a bit of theology and moral philosophy, among many other topics.  Phil’s politics were a bit left of center, mine a bit right of center, but our discussions (especially Phil’s side of them) were always well-informed and friendly: Phil was a model of civil discourse.  To a great extent, Phil was a Renaissance man–he enjoyed the theater, opera, music, politics, philosophy, and history, and could speak with authority on any of them.  He will always be someone that I will try to pattern my life after.  He was a dear friend and I will miss him immensely.