It is with a heavy heart that I must report the tragic news that Professor Greg Lastowka has died. He died late last night, surrounded by his wife Carol and their sons Adam and Daniel, following a courageous year-long battle against a rare and aggressive form of throat cancer. I will pass along details about the memorial service when they are available. The Law School will plan a memorial for the fall. For anyone — students, staff, and faculty — who would like to gather as a community, we will be in the faculty lounge at 4pm today.
Greg’s death is a grievous loss to all of us at Rutgers, and for so many reasons. As a member of the faculty since 2004, he was a leading scholar of intellectual property and cyberlaw, a field which he helped to create, authoring Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds, published in 2010 by Yale University Press, as well as numerous articles. He was widely recognized for his path-breaking research, earning a Rutgers Board of Trustees Research Fellowship for Scholarly Excellence as well as a National Science Foundation grant to study online user-generated content. And he shared his knowledge widely, lecturing around the world, and serving as a visiting professor at Columbia Law School and the University of Graz in Austria. Despite the academic acclaim he earned, Greg neither highlighted it nor expected anyone else to care about it — not the keynote addresses he gave in Asia, Europe, and the US; not the breakneck speed with which he was promoted to Full Professor; and not the fact that Rutgers was lucky to be holding on to him. Greg was that rarest of elite legal scholar, humble and unassuming.
Greg was also a stellar professor — truly one of the Law School’s finest. His evaluations are replete with superlatives like “amazing” and “fantastic,” and lines like, “I have enjoyed most of my professors here at Rutgers, but Professor Lastowka is by far the best.” In response to the question, “Things you most liked about the course?”, one student responded simply, “The professor. I would take any other class he offered.” But Greg was far more than an effective teacher to his students. This much became evident to me after informing Greg's students of his move to hospice care. Many of them wrote, deeply sad, recounting ways that Greg had patiently helped them learn. As one put it, Greg “really cared about the subject and his students.”
Less visible but no less important to the Law School was Greg’s service. He was a steady, fair, ultra-reliable institutional citizen, whose judgement was excellent and whose credibility was beyond doubt. Greg never sought out influential committee assignments or otherwise drew attention to his work on behalf of the Law School, yet he gained influence and attention for precisely those reasons. I don’t ever recall anyone arguing or even quibbling with a point Greg made in a faculty meeting, and when the faculty is composed of independent-minded lawyers, that’s saying something.
It is perhaps not too difficult to triangulate the nature of Greg’s character based on these facets of his professional life, but any doubt about who Greg was as a person was dispelled by witnessing both the way that he faced his diagnosis of Stage IV throat cancer one year ago and how he fought to defy his prognosis. It was at this point that we also learned that Greg had a secret weapon in his fight against cancer — his amazing wife, Carol. Over the course of the year, Greg and Carol shared their journey online (of course) with the widest circle of concerned friends and family. In the course of updating all of us about the surgeries, the experimental treatments, and the small victories and growing setbacks, both Greg and Carol taught us about life, how to live it, and what is precious in and about it. And what also emerged from those beautiful, sweet, occasionally funny, and often heartbreaking posts was a portrait of Greg the person — and he was an extraordinary person. He was entirely self-possessed, caring, perceptive, and generous, even after cancer had ravaged him. That just was Greg. He never broke character, even when facing his own certain death, because he was never acting. As exceptional a scholar, teacher, and colleague as he was, losing Greg the person is without question our community’s most grievous loss.
Of course no one feels Greg's loss more acutely than Carol, Adam, and Daniel. Our hearts go out to them. The incredible equanimity that Greg maintained while he battled cancer must have come from a source deep within him, but it is hard to imagine how he could have stayed on top of his illness as heroically as he did without his family's comfort — especially Carol’s care, perspective, and encompassing love. In one of their final posts, Carol wrote,
“It’s as if cancer, in destroying Greg’s body and our hope in a set future together, has exposed the titanium beauty and the real essence of what it means to be human: Love. Cancer cannot kill love. In the face of cancer, love springs up in unexpected places, grows, and thrives.”
We are a community in mourning. But we are eternally grateful to have been taught by Greg Lastowka — we have all become his students. And I hope that you will share the unexpected love that you have for Greg with Carol, Adam, and Daniel, at this most difficult time for them.