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Like most residents of downtown Manhattan who are picking up the pieces after the Sept. 11 attacks, New York Law School is determined to carry on despite the damage done to its neighborhood. While each of the city’s law schools were affected in some way by the terrorist attacks, the proximity of New York Law School to ground zero put the school directly in harm’s way. “We heard a low plane flying over our building and then we heard the crash,” said Dean Richard A. Matasar. “We had a lot of people in the street watching, and I tried to get them in. It was really horrifying. You could feel the heat.” Having decided to cancel classes shortly after the first plane hit, the faculty then turned the school into a temporary safe house where its students could stay until police indicated it was less dangerous to venture outside. “It was the smart thing to do because outside everything was covered with debris and papers and pieces of the plane,” said third-year student Edward Maggio, president of the Student Bar Association. “We opened the offices so students could make long-distance calls, but when the second tower came down, we lost phone service.” While many students who lived north of ground zero managed to make their way home, several of the school’s students from New Jersey and Brooklyn were stranded. The police were also encouraging people to stay off the streets for fear that the twin towers attack would not be the only terrorist activity that day. “We opened all our food services and served coffee and doughnuts,” said Dean Matasar. “At about 4:30 that day almost everyone was out of the building and we lost power.” Though the cloud of debris generated by the towers’ collapse came within a block of the school, the building was undamaged. However, a loss of power and tight security in the downtown area forced the school to remain closed for two weeks after the attacks. “Within the first day or two [the school] hooked up an electric generator and the power came back the day after the generators came on,” said Jethro Lieberman, associate dean of academic affairs. “We were concerned about having students walking through police barricades the rest of the semester, but that evaporated fairly quickly.” When classes resumed on Sept. 24, the school’s administration, knowing that several students had worked in the twin towers, used the opportunity to make sure all had returned safely. “I and most of our senior staff were there to greet the students,” said Dean Matasar. “We closed all but one entrance to check in students and give them a ‘frequently asked questions’ sheet,” which contained information on the condition of the school, telephone and Internet service, how the Sept. 11 attacks would affect the rest of the semester and other issues about which students were concerned. While the administration’s efforts to ease students minds were appreciated, some students found it difficult to return to a normal routine. “The mood was tense,” said third-year law student Ninowtzka Mier. “Everyone had a story. When you were walking down the halls there was always someone was explaining how they ran from the attack.” According to Dean Matasar, the entire student body was accounted for after several days. Only one of the school’s alumni, 1998 graduate Craig Lilore, a Cantor Fitzgerald employee, died in the attack. One student, fourth-year Gerald Simpkins, an accounting supervisor at the Port Authority, won admiration along with nine of his co-workers for hauling a 250-pound wheelchair-bound colleague, John Abruzzo, down from the 69th floor of One World Trade Center. Simpkins, Abruzzo and their co-workers escaped minutes before the tower collapsed. LOST TIME Having lost two weeks of the semester because of the disaster, the school administration addressed how to make up the lost time. “We made a deliberate decision that the term would remain the term,” said Associate Dean Lieberman about the school’s decision not to extend the semester. “It was originally proposed to have finals after Christmas, but we didn’t want to do that after all the students had been through.” To make up lost class time, the school added hours to classes or scheduled makeup classes on free days. Aware that its students’ academic lives have also been disrupted by the disaster, New York Law School has granted the students the opportunity to use a pass-fail option for one of their classes this semester. “It alleviates a lot of pressure that’s already inherent in law school,” said Mier of the pass-fail option. “Everyone’s carrying an extra load whether they know it or not.” Because commuting to the downtown area has also been difficult, and because of the countless lingering problems related to the disaster, Associate Dean Lieberman suspects that attendance policies are not as strictly enforced as before. “We are all aware that people are fragile,” he said. “We’re not holding any of this against the students.” A WORLD OUT OF JOINT In the weeks following the attack, psychologists were brought to handle grief counseling for any student who felt the need for it. Individual sessions are now handled off campus, but the school will bring the psychologists back on campus during the weeks in which finals will be held, according to Dean Matasar. “I think for a large number of students this is the first time they’ve experienced a loss of prosperity and invincibility,” said Associate Dean Lieberman. “Many grew up in the 1990s and only knew Bill Clinton. The market was booming. Everyone is shell-shocked, but especially them.” Despite its successful recovery from the physical disaster that struck its neighborhood, the proximity of the school to ground zero provides a constant reminder of how close disaster came. “It’s very hard on students when the air smells, and, when the wind is out of the south, it’s pretty bad,” said Dean Matasar. “It’s a reminder of what happened.”

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