The First Annual NYU Law Pasta Commemoration

“Over the past generation, the New York University School of Law derived a substantial portion of its income from the sale of spaghetti, macaroni, egg noodles, and related products….[An administrator once explained to a new colleague] ‘You may think you’re working for a law school, but you’re really working for a noodle factory.'”

– John Brooks, “The Marts of Trade,” New Yorker
(December 26, 1977)

Noodles are the official food of NYU School of Law. How could things be otherwise? It is primarily thanks to the school’s monumental success at noodle production during its 29-year stint as sole owner of the Mueller noodle factory that it built its beautiful campus and established the foundation (literally, the Law School Foundation) that gave it the financial resources to reach the national stature it holds today.

The details of the noodle factory—its purchase, on easy credit, in 1947; its management under a deliciously (aha) complex tax structure befitting the nation’s best school for tax law; its sale, for a whopping $115 million in 1977 ($463 million in 2015 dollars)—are covered pretty well in a 1977 New Yorker article (paywall). The point is pretty simple: noodles have played at least as great a role in NYU’s success as any person or thing has in the last century. Had it not been for New York’s insatiable appetite for low-cost noodle products in the third quarter of the 20th century, neither I nor many of my peers could afford to be here.

Yet it’s hard to find much concrete evidence of NYU’s noodly past. There is no mention in the “About Us” section about our long history of quality complex carbohydrate production. The dean has yet, as far as I am aware, to appear at any of the annual meetings of the National Pasta Association. Where our past dependence on pasta is mentioned at all, it is usually as a joke, made at our expense, by some visiting professor.

I’m not sure quite why this is so. NYU’s pasta story is the American story: one of risky investment leavened with entrepreneurial flair, identifying just the product that would rocket into prominence as the country took off post-war, and doing so under a corporate structure that remitted hilariously small quantities of tax to the Federal Reserve. And all to support an institution whose job is to produce more lawyers!

Honoring NYU Law’s pasta past.

Inspired by pasta, and also quite hungry, the nine editors-in-chief of the student journals at NYU and I (collectively representing about 800 of our peers, all 2L and 3L) decided it was past time to commemorate NYU history, and the essential role therein of things that can be twirled around forks. Accordingly, I am pleased to report back from the First Annual NYU Law Pasta Commemoration, a joint event of all of the NYU Law journals on the anniversary of the day, back in 1977, that the Law School sold the noodle factory for a monumental profit.

Each journal brought its own tray of pasta, drawing inspiration from the original NYU-Mueller Noodle Company charter, created in the delightful age when corporate charters actually said what the corporation would make: “macaroni, spaghetti, vermicelli, alphabets, fancy pastas, noodles, egg noodles, biscuits, crackers, cakes, pastry, confections, and all like and kindred food products.” More than 300 2Ls and 3Ls attended the event, held in the journal basement in D’Agostino Hall. Reviews were uniformly optimistic: “I never knew,” said Monica Smith ’16, editor-in-chief of the NYU Law Review, “that pasta could be this fun.”

The journals can only hope that with this event we can break the taboo on noodles at NYU Law and invite further commemorative activities from all parts of the Law School. Perhaps one day we’ll even recognize the house that noodles built by giving our main building the name it richly deserves: the Arthur T. Vanderbilt Noodle Hall. Juridical tone be damned.