Dear Tulane Law Family,
I taught my first remote class today. At 8:30 a.m., on our first day back in class after a week of transitioning entirely to remote teaching, I met with 40 of my Family Law students to plumb the law governing property distribution at divorce. After a dizzying span of 10 days that have presented so many new and unprecedented questions, it was somehow comforting to be able to focus with students on problems that were, even if not much less confounding, at least more familiar: what do spouses owe one another when the basic expectations that brought them together are foiled, and what role should society play in defining and enforcing expectations of fair play, mutuality, or other values in a setting as intimate and variable as family life. Though these questions of legal policy and social organization are as old as time, they took on new dimensions in the uncharted circumstances in which we find ourselves. And it was deeply refreshing to reengage with students and to see their undimmed inquiry and their steely spirit of adaptability.
A crisis of such scale, suddenness, and unpredictability as we are now experiencing is a true test of character for any community. As is true for every community across the nation and around the world, ours has confronted innumerable, diverse, and still unfolding challenges. Faculty and staff are learning new technologies and new ways of teaching. And students are juggling the usual challenges of being a law student with a welter of new and unexpected ones: finding and settling into new quarters, disrupted child-care arrangements, economic or food insecurity caused by job loss within their family, quarantines, anxiety, and illness.
Yet, I am humbled and deeply heartened to see the way our community has responded. Students, faculty, and staff are looking out for each other, as we would expect any family members to do in times of crisis. A first-year student volunteered to yield back his scholarship so that the funds could be made available to help other students facing personal emergencies or hardships. A faculty member offered spare guest quarters at his home for displaced students. Others are using their networks or expertise to address the broader crisis. Professor Elizabeth Townsend Gard, whose recent work has explored the influence of intellectual property norms in the creative community of craft, helped mobilize her “quilting army” in a nationwide effort to make protective gear for medical providers. Professor Joel Friedman is partnering with alumna Sarah Robertson (L ’89), a veteran employment lawyer now working from her home in San Francisco, to create a series of “pop up” webinars addressing the legal rights of workers affected by the pandemic and the vast and abrupt shift to remote work. And our clinical faculty are racing to retool the way Tulane’s clinics can continue to serve and protect vulnerable clients despite new barriers of access to justice, from court closures to quarantines.
So, in wishing you and your family well wherever you are, I am buoyed by the resilient and public-spirited response of the Tulane Law family and profoundly confident that we will emerge from this an even stronger community than before. I was not at Tulane during Hurricane Katrina, but I have always been intensely proud of the heroic and selfless way our students, faculty, staff, and alumni rallied to meet that challenge, overcoming enormous odds and hardships. I now see that very same grit, creativity, and resolve in the way the Tulane Law family is pulling together to support one another and to serve others. As we are all grappling to comprehend and adapt to the “new normal” that lies ahead in these uncertain times, I hope that you can find some profound comfort, as I do, in seeing this very “old normal” of our community’s character rising to the occasion.
Be well and stay in touch,