An Interview with David Rudenstine

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In June 2009, David Rudenstine will step down as Cardozo’s fifth dean, a position he will have held for nearly eight years. With one year to go, Dean Rudenstine spoke at length with Cardozo Life editor Susan Davis about his deanship, his plans for the future, and his career trajectory from civil rights activist and Peace Corps volunteer to legal services lawyer, professor, and dean.

DAVIS: What do you think you will miss most when you step down as dean?

RUDENSTINE: I’ll miss the excitement of being able to make decisions that have a fairly immediate impact on individual lives.

DAVIS: What won’t you miss at all?

RUDENSTINE: There are a lot of headaches that come with being dean, and there is much isolation. But overall, I will miss the job.

DAVIS: The job of dean seems to be part cheerleader, part fundraiser, part administrator; these tasks are not seemingly similar to what you previously loved to do—writing, teaching, being a Peace Corps volunteer. Is there one aspect of your current job that you were particularly surprised to enjoy?

RUDENSTINE: In the early years, I spent a lot of time administering the Law School in the most detailed way. As things got organized, there were more times that I was called upon to be, as you say, a cheerleader. And to my surprise, I found that exciting. My taking on that role was a sign of the many changes that were taking place.

I actually was shocked to find that fundraising was challenging and fun. I met interesting people with whom I had engaging and fascinating exchanges.

The nitty-gritty of planning the Law School’s capital improvements was gratifying because it represented all the efforts that so many of us had expended to make the facilities attractive.

DAVIS: So it’s been a fabulous experience?

RUDENSTINE: In short, yes. We’ve changed the profile of the admissions class; the professional opportunities of our graduating class have mushroomed; and we’ve renovated the facilities. The morale of the students, the faculty, and the administrators is pretty high. We’ve hired more faculty. We’ve added new clinics and new academic programs. Our scholarship program is much stronger. We have a new, vib - rant public service law program—one of the best in the country—with public service law scholars, summer stipends, and postgraduate fellowships, and, now, our Loan Repay -ment Assistance Program is stronger. It’s quite remarkable.

DAVIS: When you meet with our alumni, what do you hear from them regarding Cardozo and their experiences here?

RUDENSTINE: The vitalization of the alumni and their involvement in the Law School have helped transform Cardozo. I am talking here not about financial giving, but about the time commitment made by our alums to different endeavors at the Law School: mentoring, helping our students get full-time employment, participating in social and networking events. These are specific, tangible contributions that immeasurably improve the quality of student life and enhance our students’ professional development opportunities.

When I started as dean, there was no chart telling me how to get things done. It was obvious that we had to raise money, that admissions and career services needed attention, and that we had to hire new faculty. But that our alumni and alumnae were going to assist our students day in andday out, year after year, in so many tangible ways was not something I knew in advance. It happened incrementally, and it’s been transformative.

So what do I hear as I meet them in New York and around the country? First, many are struck by the growing strength of Cardozo’s reputation and by the success of our graduates. People continually tell me that there is a buzz out in the public about Cardozo that didn’t previously exist. Second, those who are involved with the School are impressed by the way it functions today. How it looks—the renovations— and how it feels, and how welcomed and supported they are by the administration when they try to help us accomplish things.

Many tell me what a wonderful education they had here. And they often remark about how satisfying it is to reconnect with us, their former classmates, and other Cardozo grads.

DAVIS: We just had graduation and sent another 350 or so new J.D. degree holders out into the workforce. What advice do you offer students as they go out to explore the legal landscape?

RUDENSTINE: The most important thing in shaping a career is to do work that excites you. That has to be balanced against the practicalities of your life, your debt, and your family circumstances. I think it’s important to come to terms with who you are and what kind of life you want to construct, and in doing so, find work that you find meaningful and challenging. I also believe most people will be gratified if they do something that makes a contribution to their communities. To do something for others can make you proud of yourself, and make friends and family proud of you. And it can be very enriching.

DAVIS: When a prospective student says, “I’d like to attend Cardozo, but I’m not really sure about being a lawyer,” how do you respond?

RUDENSTINE: There is a long tradition of people going to law school who have minimal interest in the long-term practice of law. Some people choose law school because they don’t know what else to do, and then find out that it is a far more meaningful choice than they ever anticipated. So if somebody comes to me and says, “I’m not sure if I want to practice, but I think I want to go to law school,” my answer is, “A legal education helps you get a profound understanding of how we organize our society, what the legal structures are, and how you can change them. You will emerge from law school with enormous tools and capabilities to implement and shape policy and to have an impact on society. These capacities will serve you well in many professions.”

There are also prospective students who come to me and say, “I think I want to become a lawyer, but I have no idea what kind of law I want to practice.” My response is, “I wouldn’t worry that you don’t know now what you want to do in three years. You will figure that out and we will help you, because finding out about different professional tracks is part of the educational process. You will become familiar with different professional directions so that you can make a good choice."

DAVIS: Why did you decide to become a lawyer?

RUDENSTINE: When I was young, I was stymied. I thought I wanted to get a Ph.D. in history, be a history teacher, or possibly get a law degree. There were no lawyers in my family, and the idea of becoming a lawyer seemed like a real stretch.

I was active in the civil rights movement and went south in ’62 to Prince Edward County, Virginia, to teach summer school to African American children. Prince Edward County was the only county in America where public schools were closed for five or six years in the face of a court order to desegregate. That summer, I saw and understood for the first time the important role lawyers play in political and social change, and it captivated me. After that experience I got a master’s degree in history from Yale, and then I went into the Peace Corps. And while I was teaching in the Peace Corps, I decided I wanted to find a way to be directly involved with contemporary and social events and to use law as the vehicle. After graduating from NYU Law School, I fashioned my career in the mold of a conventional civil rights and civil liberties leader, without any expectation of becoming a law professor.

Then, after three years as a legal services lawyer and twoyears doing a study on New York parole, I joined the staff of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Four years later I became the acting director. I thought I had the job of my dreams. After running the organization for about three weeks, I went home and said to my wife, Zina, “You know, I’m spending all of my time putting out fires on personnel matters, arguing with the union, raising money, and relating to my board of directors. I spend zero time as a lawyer, and I think I am too young to give up my interest in the law.”

Cardozo was then in its third year. I was already teaching as an adjunct professor and had met Eva Hanks, who was academic dean. I asked her one day, “Would you be interested in my joining the faculty full time?” Within a short time I had an offer and joined the faculty in the fall of 1979. It was an experiment—and here we are 30 years later.

DAVIS: But what about making the transition from teacher to dean?

RUDENSTINE: There came a point where I found myself intrigued by the idea of being dean, but I had watched previous deans up close and I knew the job brings with it notable frustrations. So I was ambivalent about accepting the position if given the opportunity. But 9/11 really changed everything. Cardozo was below the Green Line, and therefore closed. The morale of the student body was low. People were worried. And I thought if I was offered the job of dean, I would do it no matter what the frustrations were because Cardozo was my professional home and I thought that I could make a difference.

DAVIS: What did you think you could contribute to the law school after 9/11?

RUDENSTINE: That event was a real kick in the gut for all of us. I thought I could get some things done that would be important, and I was willing to give it a try.

I always had good relationships with students, and I felt I could strengthen and bolster their morale. I thought I would be reasonably good at recruiting new faculty even in the face of 9/11. And although my track record in raising money had previously been limited mainly to foundations, I believed I had an instinct for it. I hoped I could get everyone to work together at this time of concern for the Law School and our city.

DAVIS: And now, seven years later, how is New York?

RUDENSTINE: New York is a deeply resilient city of enormous strength in financial and human capital, so I am optimistic. I think Cardozo’s location in lower Manhattan, in one of the globe’s great educational centers, is out of this world. Our students have an opportunity to study and live and socialize in an exceptional environment, and that’s just wonderful.

DAVIS: Let’s fast-forward a few months. Imagine that the search committee has identified a candidate for dean with whom you meet. How will you respond when he or she asks about your view of Cardozo?

RUDENSTINE: I think the opportunity to be dean of this Law School is a fabulous one. Cardozo is full of aspirations and ambition; they run through the faculty, the administration, the board, and the alumni body. I think that’s a remarkable asset, one on which you can build a really dynamic institution.

DAVIS: Do you think that’s one of the advantages of being a younger law school?

RUDENSTINE: It certainly helps because we don’t have any of the baggage known as tradition. We don’t have to unpackage the past to design the future. Because so much is in motion, we can take what we value about ourselves and just go with it. We can promise anybody who wants to be involved that he or she can be a stakeholder.

DAVIS: What project do you think a new dean can undertake to make an immediate impact?

RUDENSTINE: We need to continue to find ways to strengthen and expand global initiatives. The more we do to enhance international opportunities for our faculty and students, the richer and more important the educational experience will be.

Second, I think Cardozo’s clinical programs, which have been strengthened in recent years, need to be expanded. We probably could use another 30 to 50 spots for students. I think our model, which involves real clients, lawyers, and cases, unlike the simulation model, is right for providing clinical education, but such programs are expensive to run, so new funding must be found.

Third, our faculty needs to be increased in size and continually supported with research money and research centers. And the Law School is going to need more space. That’s going to be a big challenge given our location on lower Fifth Avenue, where real estate is expensive.

After that, it’s what I would call the staples: New ways to think about admissions, so you get a stronger student body, not in terms of statistics but across all the factors you consider when deciding whom to admit. We’ve had great success in expanding professional opportunities offered to our students. We need to do more. Our LL.M. program is a remarkable resource for everyone because of the number of international students who enroll. Growing that program, so the total LL.M. population is 100, versus the 75 we havetoday, with 50 or 60 non-US students, would be a really positive thing.

"Cardozo is full of aspirations and ambition; they run through the faculty, the administration, the board, and the alumni body. I think that’s a remarkable asset, one on which you can build a really dynamic institution.

That our alumni and alumnae were going to assist our students day in and day out, in so many tangible ways was not something I knew in advance. It happened incrementally, and it’s been transformative.

DAVIS: You are at a party a year from now and you overhear someone talking about Cardozo’s former dean. What would you most like to hear said about you?

RUDENSTINE: I’d like to hear that I’ve had a transformative impact on the Law School while emphasizing the importance of public service.

DAVIS: How did you accomplish the transformation that has taken place at Cardozo over the course of your time as dean?

RUDENSTINE: It’s hard to say what fully explains the changes that have taken place. I see it like a tipping point. If you change enough things even by a small amount, the overall change is much larger than the sum of the parts.

To get done what we have has taken the energy and enthusiasm of many. I have been lucky to have the daily assistance of two exceptional vice deans, Michael Herz and Laura Cunningham. We have had a lot of support and strong leadership from the members of the Board of Directors, who over the years have contributed a lot of money and made it possible to transform the physical plant. Earle Mack, who was Chair of the Board when I became dean, was committed, generous, and helped set high goals. What we have accomplished while Kathy Green berg has been chair would not have been possible but for her commitment. The renovations of the third and the fourth floors and the expansion of our public service program depended entirely on her leadership and generosity. She is supportive, determined, and dynamic.

The success of our graduates has really helped transform the Law School. Our graduates are at a point where they are becoming partners in larger firms. They are beginning to play bigger roles on the public stage. As a result, Cardozo has a much brighter and more powerful and influential identity than it has ever had. This has helped lift the Law School’s reputation among judges and in the practice, which in turn has had an impact on admissions, career services, and donors.

I think the faculty has come into its own in the last 8 or 10 years, especially as seen in the quality and quantity of its publications. The number of articles and books produced by the senior faculty is impressive, and contributions by the junior faculty are really noteworthy. Their impact on legal scholarship and public debate is an important part of the great change we have experienced.

We have had remarkable financial support from members of our Board of Directors, from parents and friends. It has made a huge difference.

Finally, I think that the support the Law School has had from Yeshiva University over the years has made a critical difference to our success. When I became dean, the Uni versity, under the leadership of Rabbi Norman Lamm, had already secured monies that made possible the renovation of the lobby and Jacob Burns Moot Court Room. When Richard Joel became president, he gave us the green light to renovate the third, fourth, and fifth floors of the Law School. President Joel always speaks about Cardozo as one of the jewels in the University’s crown, and by doing so he has changed the Law School’s status among the University’s constituents. This has given us energy and self-confidence.

DAVIS: see many intangibles that I believe you can be credited with. The atmosphere at Cardozo has changed dramatically. There seems to be a camaraderie and collegiality that didn’t exist previously.

RUDENSTINE: Thank you. I think the intangibles, in the end, are much more important than the tangibles, both in terms of our assets and in terms of our accomplishments. It’s hard to get to the heart and soul of an institution when you only talk about tangibles. So I agree with you. The intangibles—the mood, the feeling—constitute an asset that helps make the Law School much stronger than it ever was. Makes it exciting.

DAVIS: On July 1, 2009, what is the first thing you are going to do?

RUDENSTINE: As of now, I can tell you my plan is to have a plan. Here’s one thought I have had: I was in Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1966, and when I left, I thought I would return every year or two, but I never did. Maybe I will use this opportunity to return to Uganda and to Rwanda, which I visited last January.

The other thing I have thought about doing is to fulfill a youthful, romantic hope to take a long hike up Mt. Kilimanjaro. Now that I am 60-something, maybe it’s time.

DAVIS: Do you still have friends in Uganda?

RUDENSTINE: I don’t think so. A lot of the people I knew were killed during the reign of Idi Amin.

DAVIS: You’ve said that you are looking forward to returning to the classroom and to your writing projects, especially writing about public affairs. What specific area of public affairs?

RUDENSTINE: In addition to spending more time in the classroom, my writing interests run all over, like oil on a wood floor.

Here are some of the things I have been working on and may be my starting points. I want to return to my book on the dispute between Greece and England over the Par the non marbles Lord Elgin took to the British Museum. I was reasonably far along with that book, but since I became dean, it has just sat there.

I have done a lot of work recently on the power of the presidency and the role of Congress and the courts in facilitating the concentration of authority in the presidency during the last 60 years. I think we could all make a hefty bet that neither candidate is going to surrender much authority that is now concentrated in the presidency. Until Congress and the courts face up to their responsibilities to curb the president’s power, the dangerous pattern will continue. A study that focuses on presidential authority, its encroachment on the prerogatives of Congress or the courts, and the way it has curtailed individual liberties is one I may want to write.

I also have long been interested in free speech, free thought, and press rights. This summer I am doing some research on hate speech and reporter privileges, something I may want to expand into a small book. But I have a lot more work to do before I can decide that.

DAVIS: Do you want to add anything else?

RUDENSTINE: Yes. I have had a great run.

Being dean has been special in ways I never anticipated. And what made it truly possible was the extraordinary effort made by our entire community, which pulled together. This was a great gift. end story

Passing the Baton: Dean David Rudenstine’s Advice to His Successor

1. Set your aspirations so they are slightly out of reach but not so far that people feel discouraged, then go after them. Top-down leadership is anabsolute necessity; bottom-up initiative and inventiveness invites greatness.

2. Ignore anybody who tells you that you can’t achieve something because you are shooting too high. Don’t let people with conventional expectations stand in your way. Kick ’em in the shins.

3. Keep the students at the heart of your attention.

4. Embrace and love your faculty, because no law school is going to be better than its faculty.

5. Try to say yes instead of no. Conventional wisdom has it that you earn your bread by saying no; my experience is that you really earn it by saying yes.

6. Work diligently with the University to make it and the Law School better than they both are today.

7. Support your administrators, because you can’t do a darn thing if you don’t have wonderful people throughout the Law School. Remember, the secret to good hiring is good hiring.

8. The future of the Law School requires funds that tuition income alone cannot provide, and the heart of your donor base will be your alums. Nourish them. Their daily involvement with Cardozo is essential, and their financial support is absolutely critical.

9. Be imaginative and courageous in your aspirations and pragmatic in your strategy.

10. Prepare to work damn hard. You will get a lot done. You will be deeply gratified, and you will have some fun along the way.