Rob Vischer

At UST School of Law, Our Mission Compels Boldness

Dean Vischer calls for boldness in putting the School of Law's mission into action.

Our School of Law’s founders proclaimed a mission to integrate “faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.” This is not a fuzzy, feel-good mantra; it is a call to action. If we take this mission seriously, we will regularly find ourselves out of our comfort zones, called to explore the relationship between our deepest values and our professional identities. That exploration will have profound implications for the communities in which we work.

This issue of St. Thomas Lawyer explores boldness through the stories being lived by members of our community.

Our alumni are creating new law firm models that maximize flexibility and the opportunity for public service (“Fortune Favors the Bold”), stepping outside the comfort zone of a large metropolitan area to serve unmet legal needs in small towns (“Finding Success in a Small Town”), bringing a whole- person focus to societal reform efforts (“Alumna Profile: J. Ryann Peyton”), and leveraging technology to make consumer class actions economically sustainable (“Crowd Suits”).

Our faculty continue to blaze bold new trails through their scholarship, as exemplified by Professor Michael Stokes Paulsen’s new book, co-written with his son, Luke, The Constitution: An Introduction (“Introducing The Constitution to Students, Lawyers ... and Real People”). Despite tackling a topic that is the object of countless scholarly inquiries every year, Paulsen managed to shed important new light, prompting glowing reviews from many legal luminaries, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

Boldness tends not to bring universal acclaim, of course. More often than not, boldness brings controversy. I was reminded of this when I received several complaints – amid an outpouring of praise and expressions of gratitude – from members of the public after Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds was criminally charged for helping lead a Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America. How, I was asked, could a law school tolerate a professor who would deliberately violate the law? My response began with a recognition that Professor Levy-Pounds is a gifted teacher who invests countless hours in the lives of her students and in bringing attention to racial disparities in the Twin Cities. Her efforts have gained more attention since last year’s events in Ferguson, Missouri (this issue’s cover story), but she has been fighting this fight for many years alongside students in our Community Justice Project. As far as breaking the law, Martin Luther King Jr. explained it more eloquently than I ever could in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” – a letter assigned to our 1L students as part of our Foundations of Justice course. We have, Dr. King wrote, “a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws,” and even a law that is just on its face can be unjust in its application. It is deep respect for the rule of law that motivates members of our community to bring attention to racial disparities in our legal system.

This will not be the first or last time that I receive an angry email or phone call about the activities of our faculty. UST School of Law professors champion controversial ideas regarding the laws of war, abortion, marriage, the death penalty, immigration, religious liberty and many other hot-button issues. Given our mission, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We will continue to work hard to build an academic community through which faculty and students are empowered to bring their deeply held values and priorities to bear on efforts to make the world a better place. In short, we will continue to celebrate boldness.

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