President Rob Vischer commits to cultivating truth, beauty and goodness for the University of St. Thomas.
When a 10-year-old Robert K. Vischer moved with his mother and siblings from Muscatine, Iowa, to greater Chicago in 1980, his world expanded. At the same time, as he tells it, he still lived a rather sheltered life.
“I grew up in an overwhelmingly white suburb of Chicago and attended overwhelmingly white public schools,” he said. “I heard quite a bit about the Civil Rights Movement in Selma, Birmingham and Montgomery (but) I knew nothing about the history that gave rise to racial injustice in my own environment. I was an adult before I learned about the marches Martin Luther King Jr. led in Chicago, where he encountered what he described as the most hostile crowds of his life.”
Fast forward to 2017, four years into Vischer’s tenure as dean of the University of St. Thomas School of Law. That July, he was an inaugural recipient of the Minnesota Lawyer Diversity and Inclusion Award. The honor recognized his contributions to the advancement of diversity and inclusion in the practice of law.
“Our Catholic identity compels us to be anti-racist, which means that we’re not just passively avoiding racism, but are working proactively to tear down systemic inequities shaped by racism,” said Vischer, who grew up in a religious home and converted to Catholicism as an adult.
If our commitment to St. Thomas today can help ensure that future generations will experience these values (truth, beauty and goodness) tomorrow, I’m all in.
Inaugurated on May 12, 2023, as the 16th president of the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota, the Harvard Law School cum laude graduate stressed in his speech how important it is for the university to cultivate three values touted by its namesake, Thomas Aquinas: truth, beauty and goodness. These transcendental values align with St. Thomas being diverse, equitable and inclusive.
“We rightfully celebrate the growing diversity of our St. Thomas community,” he said. But also “that means faculty and staff must stand ready to have our own perspectives shaped by life experiences that are not our own.”
Vischer, who first became a dad in the year 2000 – three years after he married Maureen Keller – understands the value younger generations add to society. “I learn so much from our students,” he said. “When they open their lives to us, our own view of the world expands.”
As someone who, at age 15, started a band called the Raging Melons with his brothers, Vischer believes that relationships are at the center of everything we do. And to nurture that, he’s quick to say, is best done through a culture of encounter.
“I honestly believe that’s our most pressing priority,” he said.
“As we build a culture of encounter, we strive to help each of our students know that they matter to us, and that they have unique contributions to make to their communities.”
When in 2022 St. Thomas decided to celebrate Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day as official holidays, Vischer said it was not because our community needed more days off. “It was because our community has work to do.”
He acknowledges that although the diverse representation of the St. Thomas “student body, administrative leadership, faculty and staff is strong and growing, we need to redouble our efforts to ensure that every member of our community experiences a strong sense of belonging and the opportunity to thrive.”
He cites Jorge Mario Bergoglio as someone who “has shaped my own vision of leadership perhaps more than any other person.” Vischer often quotes the Argentinian-born Bergoglio, now known to most as Pope Francis. “He calls us to ‘shoulder responsibility for the world as it is’ – not as we wish it were, but as it is," Vischer said.
Vischer has long demonstrated that he’s a man determined to be on the right side of justice and equality.
“We are not trying to replicate what worked 50 years ago or even 10 years ago,” he said about Minnesota’s largest private university. “We are working to be the St. Thomas that the world needs now and into the future.”
As the new St. Thomas president said near the conclusion of his inauguration speech, “If our commitment to St. Thomas today can help ensure that future generations will experience these values (truth, beauty and goodness) tomorrow, I’m all in.”