April 15, 2012
As CUNY Law prepares for its historic move to Long Island City, three longtime staff members reflect on their time at the Law School and share some of their favorite memories.
From left: Debbie Rothenberg, Verleatha Hill, and Seth Goldstein
Back in 1982, CUNY School of Law consisted of a building that was under construction—scattered with leftover junior high school materials from its previous occupants—and a small staff charged with getting a new law school off the ground.
“There was electricity in the air, and it was so exciting to be a part of it,” said Seth Goldstein. Goldstein started working in the Engineering Department at CUNY Law part time when he was still a student at Queens College. Among other responsibilities, the department was charged with making sure there were desks in the classrooms, and tables, chairs, and filing cabinets in the offices.
Goldstein recalls not having enough money to buy what was needed. “There was a salvage center under the Brooklyn Bridge at the time. We found equipment there that we could use,” he said. “There are a few things [we got there] that we are still using to this day.”
Verleatha Hill, another staff member who has been at the Law School since the beginning, is now an administrative assistant working with the Criminal Defense Clinic and the Economic Justice Project. But in the nearly 30 years that she has been with the school, she has worked as a faculty secretary and been part of the Admissions Office, the library, and, for the past 10 years, the clinic.
Hill recalls that during the summer in the school’s early years, some people would sit in lawn chairs up on the roof just to look around. “It was one of the highlights of our day,” she said.
Another highlight was sharing a birthday with the Law School’s second dean, Haywood Burns. “He would call me upstairs for a cupcake to celebrate. One time, he had a mountain of bagels for us!”
Debbie Rothenberg, who has been with the Admissions Office since she joined CUNY Law, remembers working when the school didn’t yet have students. “It was exciting to come in on the ground level,” she said. “When you would tell people, ‘I work at CUNY Law School,’ their interest was piqued right away. It was so different and progressive, you found yourself recruiting without even meaning to, because people would want to know about it.”
Reflecting on their time at the Law School, Rothenberg, Hill, and Goldstein shared one sentiment: It was like a family.
“My kids would come here every day after school. The students would entertain my kids and play touch football with them. They looked out for my kids,” Hill said. “Where else could you work in such a place, where people are concerned about you and your family?”
Goldstein remembers the regular games of basketball that faculty, staff, and students played together. “It was a cohesive group of people,” he said.
That sense of cohesion and concern for all members of the Law School community is what, to Rothenberg, has always set CUNY Law apart from other law schools.
“This school has always reinforced the goodness and selflessness of people,” she said. “Our students could easily be making a lot more money in a different sector of law, but ‘Law in the Service of Human Needs’—that really was the foundation and premise of this law school.”