Wednesday, September 8, 1976. It was a seasonably warm and sunny day in New York. WABC radio was playing and replaying "You Should Be Dancing," the Bee Gees' number one hit. The wire services were buzzing with the news that Mao Tse-tung had died. And a group of students and faculty was anxiously gathering in a nondescript building at 55 Fifth Avenue, making a little bit of history of its own. It was the very first day of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University's bold foray into legal education. In academic circles, people were asking why Yeshiva was starting a law school and what would it add to the legal community. More than a few were wondering whether Cardozo would even survive in a city plump with law schools, including some of the finest in the nation. But those who assembled at 55 Fifth, YU's Brookdale Center, that day had already decided that the promise of this academic venture outweighed the very real peril of careers derailed or delayed. And so the opening gavel came down. The Cardozo School of Law, the first law school under Jewish auspices outside the State of Israel, was in session.
(Above left) Cardozo's founding dean Monrad Paulsen Founding faculty member Telford Taylor (right)
In the BeginningThe origins of Cardozo date back to the 1960s, when the trustees of Yeshiva approved a resolution authorizing the University to take the steps necessary to create a law school. It had long been President Samuel Belkin's dream to transform Yeshiva from a college into a full-fledged university, a process started in earnest with the creation of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1955. The addition of a law school would largely complete his vision. Belkin believed that the University could "make a significant contribution to the field of law, and that a need exists for a law school shaped by tradition, yet able to blend precedent with the complex requirements of modern society, and free to explore all avenues leading to excellence in legal education."
The University's desire for a law school went even deeper. As President Norman Lamm, who succeeded Belkin one month before Cardozo opened, recently noted, "Law is very important to Judaism. The most revered personalities in Jewish history were jurists. And in the Jewish tradition, you cannot have law without spirit, nor can you have spirit without law. Because law without spirit becomes harsh and not very human, and spirit without law becomes anarchic, moody, formless, it is not fixed, it has no structure. So, law gives structure to the metaphysical quest that is fundamental to religion."
The First DeanPlanning for Cardozo began in earnest on April 26, 1974, when the New York State Board of Regents authorized Yeshiva University to establish a law school. (Pace's and CUNY's law schools were authorized the same day.) The man chosen to lead this effort was Morris B. Abram, YU's Board chairman, a former president of Brandeis University and a former counsel to the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.
Perhaps the most important decision made by Abram and his colleagues was to ask Monrad G. Paulsen, then dean of the University of Virginia School of Law, to run the new school. A respected scholar in the fields of juvenile, domestic relations, and poverty law, as well as criminal law and procedure, Paulsen gave the school instant legitimacy.
From the beginning, Paulsen made it clear that he did not intend to create another trade school. "He wanted Cardozo to emphasize the professional aspects of the law but also the law's cultural and intellectual worth, believing that a legal education should do more than just prepare people to make a living," says Lamm. "He wanted Cardozo to be a place of culture and scholarship."
(From left) Monrad Paulsen, Dr. Norman Lamm, John Trubin, Herbert Tenzer, Morris Abram, and Charles Ballon
Paulsen was deeply committed to the project. He would often gather faculty members to go out to dinner, rallying the troops with lines such as, "The school is a very delicate plant, and it has to be nourished," reports Eva Hanks, a member of the founding faculty and currently the Dr. Samuel Belkin Professor of Law and Society. "He created this sense of camaraderie among the faculty, and we all felt like pioneers."
Paulsen doted on students like a proud and anxious parent. On the School's first day, he stood watch in the lobby, nervously waiting for students to show up. "One evening, Dean Paulsen left the building at the same time I was leaving," one alumna remembers. "Noting the very heavy books I carried, he insisted upon carrying my books all the way to the front of my apartment building. For a 1L, that was an extraordinary moment." When Mark Yagerman '79 won the distinction of being the first Cardozo student to publish, Paulsen proudly posted the paper in a display case outside the library.
Charming, gregarious, lovable, and brilliant are among the adjectives used to describe the founding dean. Says Lamm, "We called him our 'Great Dane,' " a word play on Paulsen's outsized physique, lofty professional stature, and Nordic roots. According to Lamm, Paulsen "was an elder in the Lutheran Church and a man with very broad vision who understood the relation of a great law school to a great Jewish university."
The dean was also revered for his sense of humor, adding a welcome levity to the somber business of a law school. The student newspaper, tongue in cheek, once castigated Paulsen for his frivolity: "Doesn't he know that law school is serious business? Rather than waste his time with idle merriment, he could be doing something really useful, like reshelving books in the library."
The Founding FacultyOn the strength of his reputation, Paulsen recruited a faculty embodying the very best of American legal education, including many with an Ivy League pedigree. It would be his greatest legacy to Cardozo. Among the founding faculty were such established scholars as Lester Brickman, Leslie Ellen Gerwin, Edward de Grazia, Malvina Halberstam, Eva Hanks, John Hanks, Richard Hobert, Sybil Landau, Peter Lushing, Jonathan Silver, and Telford Taylor.
Without question, the star of the faculty was Taylor, former chief United States prosecutor at Nuremberg, an authority on the laws of war, and an early and vocal opponent of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. "For almost seven decades, from the days of FDR's New Deal through to the early 1990s, Taylor embodied the best of American legal liberalism," noted The New York Times.
Founding faculty member Eva Hanks (on right)
Lawrence A. Vogelman, former assistant director of clinical education (on left) with Prof. Barry Scheck, director of clinical education
The most striking characteristic of the early faculty was its scholarly diversity, with interests extending well beyond the normal legal discourse into the realms of economics, philosophy, history, political science, and literary theory. It was also extraordinary in that one-third were women. This eclectic mix would become the standard.
"We didn't hire somebody because they wanted to do tax or evidence or contracts, we hired people because we thought that they were interested in ideas and in intellectually pursuing those ideas," says Professor Halberstam. "Then we gave them freedom to do what they wanted and it worked."
"As a new school, we had to take chances. Again, Monrad was indispensable here. His instincts were superb. We made our share of mistakes, but we didn't make that many," adds Hanks.
The PioneersA handful of professors, Paulsen and Taylor in particular, came to Cardozo to play out the last act in their illustrious careers; they had little to lose in joining a new enterprise. It was a different story for the younger scholars, some of whom gave up tenured posts to come to the School and would have suffered serious career setbacks if Cardozo languished or folded.
Still, the biggest risk-takers a quarter-century ago were the students. Cardozo was a work in progress, with an untested, unaccredited curriculum. The Brookdale Center was still undergoing renovations, the library's collection was incomplete, and student housing was nonexistent. There was no placement office to speak of and no network of alumni to help students find internships or jobs. What were they thinking?
By and large, the first enrollees took the risk because of Yeshiva's reputation. "The University had proven itself with Einstein," says David Korzenik '79, a partner in the Manhattan firm of Miller & Korzenik. "It also had its own web of alumni, which was pretty supportive." In addition, he was impressed with the faculty, especially Paulsen, and their scholarly approach to the law. "I was not interested in going to a school with a straight practice approach," he says.
According to his classmate, Mark Yagerman, now a partner with Smith Mazure Director Wilkins Young Yagerman & Tarallo, "Everybody knew that YU had started Einstein and it was a great success. So in my mind it was a no-brainer. I knew it would have its rough spots to start, but I felt that ultimately I would get a good education." Yagerman insists, "I would have gone to Cardozo no matter where I had gotten into law school."
Applicants for the Class of '80 had a little more information to work with. "Much to my surprise," says Gary Galperin '80, "my pre-law advisor told me that he was already getting good feedback about Cardozo." He gave Cardozo a second look and in the end chose it over other area schools.
The First ClassesExactly 300 students - 137 women and 163 men - registered for classes at Cardozo in September 1976, beginning 85 semester hours of study leading to the Juris Doctor degree. Half of the student body hailed from New York City, 57 from Long Island, 30 from upstate, 28 from New Jersey, a handful from the rest of country, and two from Europe. Ninety-six colleges were represented. The tuition was $3,500 a year.
It was a diverse group in many respects. Forty-six percent of the class were women, twice the national average. The average age was 25, also higher than the norm. Both statistics reflected the fact that many Cardozo enrollees were pursuing graduate studies after starting families or switching careers, bringing to the School diverse life experiences. Adding to the mix, there were observant Jews straight out of the Yeshiva system, as expected, but also Catholics who had spent their childhoods in parochial schools.
Academically, the class was all over the curve, with mediocre students who couldn't get into more established schools, a handful of shining stars (including a future United States Supreme Court clerk and a future justice of the New York State Supreme Court), and many capable minds in between.
Ethnically, however, diversity was lacking - a situation not unique to Cardozo. There were few minorities on campus and none among the faculty. This would eventually become a source of conflict between students and administrators.
What's in a Name?
Other names for the School of Law must have been considered, but "Cardozo" was an obvious choice. Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870-1938) was appointed an associate justice of the US Supreme Court by Herbert Hoover in 1932, succeeding Oliver Wendell Holmes. Cardozo was a leading advocate of sociological jurisprudence, and his views on the relation of law to social change made him one of the most influential judges in America. A Sephardic Jew active in several Jewish movements, Cardozo was awarded an honorary doctorate by YU in 1935. "It is most fitting that Yeshiva's School of Law be named in tribute to a man who was the very expression of the Judaic commitment to the law," said Dr. Samuel Belkin, YU's president. "We will endeavor to create a school which might be equal to Justice Cardozo's integrity, wisdom, scholarship, and judicial responsibility."