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Centennial History Describes Distinctive Mission & Impact of Rutgers Law School

The results of what began as a suggestion by Professor Paul L. Tractenberg about how to commemorate the first 100 years of Rutgers School of Law–Newark have been captured in A Centennial History of Rutgers Law School in Newark: Opening a Thousand Doors (The History Press, 2010). Writing with affection and candor informed by his four decades on the faculty, Tractenberg sketches the school’s crises, transformations and triumphs from its opening in 1908 as the New Jersey Law School through the present day. Many of the conclusions he draws about the achievements of the past century and the challenges that lay ahead will likely be of interest to others with a stake in the future of public legal education.

Centennial History   
Rutgers Law’s 2008-09 Centennial year inspired an effort to examine the school’s achievements and its influence on the legal profession. Tractenberg, who is Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor and Alfred C. Clapp Distinguished Public Service Professor of Law, sought to involve faculty, students and alumni in studying and celebrating the past, present and future of the law school. In a year-long Centennial Seminar, he proposed, students would explore the history of the school in the context of its impact on the law, legal education, and the legal profession. The idea and chapter drafts for A Centennial History of Rutgers Law School in Newark came from the 12 students in his 2008-09 Centennial Seminar.

The seminar, together with two major programs on which his students collaborated and which featured faculty and alumni, underscored Rutgers Law School’s significant role in the development of legal doctrine, its introduction of clinical legal education and other curricular innovations, and its deep and successful commitment to racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic diversity within the profession.

The book, says Elizabeth Warren ’76, Leo Gottlieb Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, “is a lively chronicle and thoughtful social history. What happens to Rutgers Law is an important question for all of us who love the People’s Electric Law School,” as it was known by many when Warren was a student, “and an equally important question for everyone who thinks seriously about the future of education in reshaping both lawyers and laws.” The book’s subtitle, Opening a Thousand Doors, is taken from an interview Warren, chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel for the $700 billion of TARP funding, gave to the Star-Ledger (June 21, 2009) in which she expressed her appreciation to Rutgers Law School which “took a poor kid from Oklahoma and kicked open a thousand doors for me.”


“This is a lively chronicle and thoughtful social history, but most of all, it is a great mystery whose next chapter is still in draft. What happens to Rutgers Law is an important question for all of us who love the People’s Electric Law School — and an equally important question for everyone who thinks seriously about the future of education in reshaping both lawyers and laws.”
— Elizabeth Warren ’ 76

A Centennial History of Rutgers Law School in Newark presents the history of the school in four chapters, each describing what Tractenberg characterizes as an “epoch.” A fifth chapter offers “the voices and visions” of some of the school’s most memorable personalities, a list that Tractenberg concedes is “highly selective and highly personal” and that includes Professors Arthur Kinoy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Saul Mendlovitz and Al Slocum, and the Class of 1977’s A.J. Smaldone, who became one of the country’s pioneer advocates for the disabled. In the final chapter, he expresses optimism that the law school, in the face of financial and other challenges, will find a way to continue its commitment to opportunity, excellence and impact.

In his foreword, Dean John J. Farmer, Jr. praises Tractenberg and his students for successfully capturing the distinctive nature of Rutgers Law School. “To read this book,” he writes, “is to understand the special place that Rutgers Law has occupied in New Jersey’s social, political and legal history. From the school’s earliest days, affording a largely immigrant population the opportunity for a legal education, through its recommitment to Newark in the wake of the riots of the 1960s and its pioneering of clinical legal education and opportunity for disadvantaged students, to the present day, Rutgers School of Law–Newark has upheld three principles: opportunity, excellence and impact. This book portrays in human terms the school’s commitment to those ideals and makes a persuasive case for the uniqueness of Rutgers Law’s historic mission.”

Professor Tractenberg earned his B.A. from Wesleyan and his J.D. from the University of Michigan. A member of the Rutgers faculty since 1970, he is the author of numerous publications on education law; a frequent lecturer; and consultant and adviser to many national, regional, and state organizations and agencies. In 1973, he established the Education Law Center, a public interest law project, and served as its director for three years. He is involved in several landmark constitutional cases about public education, especially Abbott v. Burke. In 2000, Tractenberg established and continues to serve as co-director of the Institute on Education Law and Policy (IELP), an interdisciplinary research project at Rutgers–Newark. He is also co-director of the Newark Schools Research Collaborative, a major project of IELP.

Later this year Tractenberg will welcome the publication by Rutgers University Press of New Jersey Goes A-Courting: 10 Legal Cases That Shook the Nation, his second book growing out of the Centennial celebration. Most of the cases have a major Rutgers Law School imprint.