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Classes have resumed at New York Law School, an institution that for more than a century has been an integral part of a community that was deeply shaken by the events of Sept. 11. As educators at a campus in lower Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, mere blocks from the devastation, we know that business is not “as usual” but that we must nonetheless create a new normalcy. Although much has changed in our lives, and too many vivid memories of that fateful day endure, we are now back at work. Although our school was evacuated, closed for nearly a week without power, telephone, Internet access or even running water, we must look forward. We owe that to our students who worked at the World Trade Center, to those in externships directly related to their academic program and to the many other students (and their kin) who are firefighters, police officers and construction workers at Ground Zero. We have been affected profoundly, but the stories of our students give us the inspiration to pick up where we left off and strive to reach even greater heights. The example of one student, Gerald Simpkins, who helped carry a wheelchair-bound co-worker to safety from the 69th floor of Tower One and went back to the site in the following days to help with relief efforts makes it plain: We must return to our jobs. Thankfully, no students, faculty members or staff were lost, and we were able to return to a physical plant that was remarkably unscathed. As we move forward, we are taking steps to come to terms with the emotional trauma that terrorism has wrought in our lives and our neighborhood. We will have town meetings to share our painful experiences and strengthen our resolve to heal and rebound. We have brought in grief and trauma counselors to help us recover our sense of security. We will participate in memorial services, relief efforts and community activities to take back what has been taken from us. A PERPLEXING QUESTION But soon, we must face a much more perplexing, and unique, question: What do the events of the last week mean to us as legal educators? The very concept of legal education is under strain. We teach that there is a rule of law that provides civilized nations with methods to resolve disputes, to achieve stability in commercial relations, to permit citizens to file grievances against their government, to protect minorities from oppression by majorities, to preserve freedom of speech, travel and religion, to allow governments to negotiate with each other and to give the world assurance that it will not destroy itself in blind aggression. Yet all of our commitments to these cherished principles inevitably will be challenged because our faith in the rule of law has been shaken. In short, what are we to do about the rule of law when there are no rules? Law schools revel in questioning all of our beliefs and assumptions. Law teachers force their students to ask why a rule exists, whether it can be improved and sometimes whether rules matter at all. After peeling away our students’ blind adherence to rules, we hope to instill in them a respect for the flexibility of law and its extraordinary ability to adjust as times change. We never back off from exposing weakness in existing law but return to the same theme: Without law, and a commitment to civilized resolution of our problems, we will surely sink to the lowest level of behavior. So, since returning to classes on Sept. 24, our mission has been clear. We will explore how to bring terrorists lawfully to justice. We will continue our debates about the death penalty, the contours of due process and the line between privacy and security. We will push for an understanding of how to use international law to deal with individuals across borders, how to share information, form coalitions and unify those with dramatically different cultures and traditions. We will look to our Constitution as a bulwark to protect us against our worst instincts, to remind ourselves of the need for tolerance and for the sure, swift and lawful punishment that may be exacted under due process of law. Our government may seek to curtail some civil liberties of our citizens and our guests, but we cannot cross the line to lawlessness and also hope to continue to be a world leader in the expansion of democratic principles. Through the rule of law we will survive this crisis, overcome those who create chaos and assure ourselves that the world will commit to laws that can be applied with force against transgressors. My colleagues and I join with law faculties across the country in our commitment, through teaching, scholarship and advocacy, to bolstering the nation’s confidence in the rule of law. Richard A. Matasar is Dean of New York Law School.

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