An Open Letter to the ABA
Earlier today, New York Law School students received an e-mail from our administration telling us that the American Bar Association has decided not to waive any required class hours after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Instead, students will be attending regular and makeup classes nearly every day for the next three weeks, including weekends. Students of all the law schools in the tri-state area surely received similar notifications.
Boo hoo, right? Any complaints about the schedule will come from entitled law students who just need to suck it up and get down to work.
Well, actually, no.
Some of those people with no homes are the law students, or their families, or friends. Over the past long and terrible week, many, many law students headed to the Rockaways, Staten Island, and Long Beach to volunteer and help however we could. And if you’ve seen the devastation in these areas, you know that help is needed, desperately.
I am the first to defend New York Law School as a great institution. Our new dean, Dean Crowell, is a good man who cares about his students. Our professors reached out to their students to make sure we were all okay while our facilities were closed (we are located in TriBeCa and our building had no power). While I don’t know any ranking members of the ABA, I doubt they have anything but our best interests at heart.
I just think the ABA’s decision was shortsighted, and a bit tone deaf to what’s happened.
It’s rather like Mayor Bloomberg’s desire earlier in the week to go ahead with the New York Marathon. He initially believed that keeping the event on would show the resilience of our city and the spirit of its citizens, and would allow the world-class athletes, many of whom had already traveled here, to put on a performance that would make our city proud.
And normally he’d have been right. But before we can afford to make symbolic statements of how tough we are, our city had — and has — some practical matters to address.
Many people, in the hundreds of thousands, are still without food, power, heat, or running water, as temperatures dip into the 30s in the evenings. The faces of the folks living through this show a pain that I’ve never seen before up close. As my friend Christine said after dropping off another carful of donated goods to Staten Island, “This can’t be reality.”
But it is.
People who had normal lives one day have found themselves living in neighborhoods of rubble the next. People are homeless and frightened.
If this physical and spiritual wreckage is not enough to warrant ABA exemptions, what would? Why even tease us with the possibility?
Law students are the future leaders of our nation, and those of us who live, or have friends or family who live, in the areas that were hit hardest should roll our sleeves up and help the people who need it — now — and not be forced into a mind-numbing class schedule.
Just as Mayor Bloomberg cancelled the running of the New York Marathon, the ABA should cancel the marathon of classes it’s asking schools in areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy to run.
Restore our classes to their normal schedules– no less, but no more. Let us have the gift of time and energy to try to restore our homes.
I call on the ABA to rethink its decision not to grant class hour exemptions in the wake of this tragedy.
UPDATE, November 5: Due to growing interest, a Facebook group has been started where you can show your support. Please “like” this story, communicate respectfully, and join the Facebook group here : https://www.facebook.com/ABARethink