Statement on Religious Identity and Mission

V-1. Statement on Religious Identity and Mission

General Principles

UST Law School has a mission and vision that it seeks to use as guideposts for its range of programs. UST Law rests within and is inspired by the tradition of Catholic higher education, whose objective is “to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture.”[1] UST Law seeks to be a Christian presence in the worlds of legal education and the legal profession.

The apostolic constitution on Catholic higher education, Ex corde Ecclesiae, describes in general the challenge we take up as a Catholic law school: “to unite...two orders of reality that too frequently tend to be placed in opposition as though they were antithetical: the search for truth, and the certainty of already knowing the fount of truth.”[2] Our Mission Statement shares this emphasis, stating that UST, “as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth,” in particular “through a focus on morality and social justice.” The Vision Statement expands upon and repeats the theme of integration–“integration of faith and deepest ethical principles” with the discipline of law–in three major areas, including “professional preparation,” “scholarly engagement,” and “service and community.”

In the first area, professional preparation, UST Law begins from the premise that there are certain religious, spiritual, and other deep ethical truths that undergird the law as a body of knowledge and a professional calling–but that legal education and law practice are too often dismissive of, and at best disconnected from, those truths. The truths of the Christian gospel of particular relevance to the law include “the meaning of the human person, his or her liberty, dignity, sense of responsibility, and openness to the transcendent.”[3] But we also recognize that such “spiritual values”–such “authentically human contributions”–can be present in many different religions and belief systems,[4] and that many students of varying traditions enter law school with some such set of deep ethical principles that guide them. A crucial aspect of UST’s mission is to assist students, as much as possible, to integrate these religious and deep ethical beliefs with their lives as lawyers, rather than have the two moral worlds remain disconnected or in conflict. We recognize and teach students that lawyers play distinctive moral roles in society and have distinctive duties. But our mission of integration means helping students to see how lawyers’ work can promote the deepest principles of human dignity; equipping them to challenge those aspects of current legal culture that contradict those principles; and preparing them to respond appropriately to the moral challenges and tensions posed by the lawyer’s role.

In the area of “scholarly engagement”, our particular mission–beyond becoming a place of high-quality scholarship and intellectual life in general–is “to explore the intellectual integration of faith into the study of law” (Vision Statement). This includes both descriptive scholarship, studying the role that traditional religions and other deep ethical systems have played and do play in the development of law; and normative scholarship, advocating various positions or reforms in the light of the social teachings of the Catholic Church, of other religious faiths, or of other deep ethical traditions.

In the area of service and community, UST Law embraces the Pope’s call to universities to manifest a “Christian spirit of service to others for the promotion of social justice”–and to “be particularly attentive to the poorest and to those who suffer economic, social, cultural or religious injustice.”[5] In the field of law this means, as our Vision Statement puts it, “promot[ing] and participat[ing] in service programs designed [for] the disadvantaged and [legally] underserved.”

Consideration of Mission in UST Law Decisions

Realizing UST Law’s mission and vision also requires building a community of persons committed to the mission and vision. A law school’s mission emphasis cannot be imposed by the Dean, or created by instituting programs; the emphasis and priorities must originate from the personalities and priorities of the faculty, students, administrators, and staff themselves. Therefore we give consideration, both in hiring personnel and in admitting students, to “mission fit”–a shorthand for the question whether a prospective employee or student will support and advance UST Law’s mission. And in considering faculty promotion and tenure, we consider whether a candidate has demonstrated “commitment to the mission and vision of the [s]chool” (Promotion and Tenure Policy).

As was emphasized in part I, the religious mission of UST Law contains several facets. There are many different ways in which a member of the faculty, administration, or staff can contribute to the mission, and many ways in which a student can be the sort of lawyer or professional that is consistent with our mission. As explained below, these criteria should leave a good deal of room for diverse contributions by different members of the community. But since UST Law has set particular priorities–has defined certain distinctive contributions that it is trying to make to legal education–it makes perfect sense to seek people who have similar interests and priorities.

A.        Faculty Hiring and Promotion/Tenure

1.    Means of Showing Mission Fit

At the stage of faculty hiring, we look for indications in a candidate’s background that the candidate will contribute in some way to the distinctive mission of UST Law. We also speak straightforwardly with candidates at interviews, telling them of the school’s mission and asking each how he or she would be able to support and advance that mission.[6]

At the stage of promotion or tenure, our policy provides that a candidate “must demonstrate commitment to the mission and vision of the [s]chool.” The candidate must show “that he or she has undertaken ongoing efforts, individually and in concert with others, to advance the mission and vision.”

The promotion and tenure policy makes clear that a candidate may demonstrate commitment to the mission and vision “in a wide variety of ways.” The same wide variety of contributions to the mission applies to our consideration of faculty candidates for initial hiring. Examples of commitment to the mission include:

a.         “encouraging students to integrate their faith and values into their professional lives”;
b.         “publishing scholarship that integrates faith and ethics into the study of law”; or
c.         “providing service to the disadvantaged.”

2.    Academic Freedom

UST Law follows the Universityof St. Thomas’s established policy on academic freedom. The University’s policy is strong, reflecting the American Association of University Professors’ statements on academic freedom. A commitment to “freedom in research and teaching...according to the principles and methods of each individual discipline”[7] is fully consistent with the mission of Catholic higher education: in the words of Ex corde Ecclesiae, “[i]t is the honor and responsibility of a Catholic university to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth.... It does this without fear but rather with enthusiasm, dedicating itself to every path of knowledge, aware of being preceded by him who is ‘the Way, the Truth, and the Life.’”[8]

In particular, we understand UST Law’s mission as expanding the scope and freedom of intellectual inquiry. Our faculty and students will pursue knowledge about the law by means of all the skills and methods common to the legal academy and profession–textual analysis, common-law reasoning from precedent, historical and other interdisciplinary inquiry, appeal to society’s moral standards. But to these skills, we hope and expect, our faculty and students will add a further dimension, a special concern to inquire into and explore the spiritual aspects of the law and of professional calling–the extent to which law rests on and implicates the fullest view of the human person.[9]

A commitment to academic freedom is also fully consistent with the requirement in our promotion and tenure policy that faculty support and advance the mission of UST Law. As we already noted, the policy emphasizes that “[a] candidate may demonstrate commitment to the mission and vision of the School of Law in a wide variety of ways, such as by encouraging students to integrate their faith and values into their professional lives, publishing scholarship that integrates faith and ethics into the study of law, or providing service to the disadvantaged.” There is no requirement of, or favoritism for, any particular theological or ideological perspective in relating faith or ethics to law or in serving the disadvantaged. We hope and expect that different faculty, coming from a variety of faith traditions and philosophical perspectives, will bring to UST a wide range of perspectives on faith, ethics, and law. Only such a diverse faculty can assist our students in integrating their deep beliefs with their professional lives, since we hope and expect that the range of deep beliefs among our students will be similarly wide. We plan to hire faculty who are committed to our broad vision–pursuing the integration of faith and deep beliefs with scholarship and with service to the needy–and then to let those faculty follow their conscience and intellect.

3.    “Conduct Inimical to the Mission”

The promotion and tenure policy also provides that “[c]onduct that is inimical to the mission and vision of the School of Law is grounds for denial of promotion or tenure.” This provision merits elaboration in three respects:

First, it may be helpful to state what the provision does not cover. “Conduct inimical to the mission and vision” does not include good-faith disagreements over priorities within our broadly stated mission and vision; debate over such priorities and directions is essential, not detrimental, to realizing the mission. It is not intended to limit academic freedom, which as noted above is a firm commitment of both UST Law and the University. “Conduct inimical” does not include taking a position at odds with the position of the Catholic Church on some issue, unless the faculty member’s position is independently inimical to UST Law’s mission in some other affirmative way, such as those listed below. “Conduct inimical” does not include personal conduct unless that conduct in some way causes the faculty member to fail in his or her duties of teaching, scholarly engagement, service, and community-building.

Second, a good deal of guidance on the meaning of “conduct inimical to the mission and vision” can be found–as the phrase itself indicates–in the text of UST Law’s mission and vision statements and the specific purposes laid out in them. Thus, although the following list is illustrative and not exhaustive, “conduct inimical to the mission and vision” may include conduct that is a significant impediment to:

a.         “preparing students to become accomplished servant leaders”;

b.        “supporting and encouraging students’ integration of their faith and deepest ethical principles into their professional character and identity”;

c.        “expand[ing] knowledge about law and society and participat[ing] in the improvement of legal institutions”;

d.       “explor[ing] the intellectual integration of religious faith into the study of law”;

e.        “establish[ing] a diverse community...dedicated to supporting each other, the law school’s mission, and [external] communities”; or

f.        “promot[ing] and participat[ing] in service programs, “striv[ing] to enhance social justice,” and “assist[ing] students in integrating their commitments to serve society into the personal and professional lives.”

Third, “conduct inimical to the mission and vision” may include conduct that violates University policies or federal or state law. University policies are found at http://www.stthomas.edu/facultyhandbook.

B.        Student Admissions 

In student admissions, we look for “mission fit” by considering a student’s entire application file and not merely academic numbers such as LSAT score and undergraduate GPA. Prospective mission fit is a consideration both in admitting students and in awarding scholarships.

As with faculty hiring and promotion, an applicant for admission to the student body may evidence mission fit in a wide variety of ways. One applicant may express a desire to ensure that her professional career harmonizes with her strong religious faith. Another may have an academic background in theology or moral philosophy and a desire to explore the intellectual foundations of law and the relationship between faith, or more generally morality, and law. Another applicant, with no religious affiliation, may have a demonstrated record of service to the needy and express an eagerness to use his legal training to continue that service.

C.        Religious Affiliation and “Mission Fit”

A distinct and important question is how the religious affiliation of a candidate–whether for a faculty position or a place in the student body–relates to the candidate’s mission fit. We ask prospective faculty, staff, administrators, and students about how they could make a contribution to UST Law’s mission. We do not ask faculty applicants their religious affiliation, and we ask student applicants only an optional question about their religious preference, for informational purposes.[10] This approach is consistent with the University’s nondiscrimination rule, which states that the University “does not discriminate on the basis of [among other things] creed [or] religion...in the employment of faculty or staff, the admission or treatment of students, or in the operation of its educational programs and activities.” The question for us is not simple religious affiliation, but whether a candidate–say, a candidate for a faculty position–is personally interested in the project of integrating religious and other deep moral beliefs into teaching, scholarship, or service. Such an interest is crucial because one aspect of our mission is to help students with religious faith or other deep moral and ethical beliefs to integrate those with their professional lives, and obviously it is important to have faculty who understand the challenge of that first-hand, can therefore sympathize with it, and can serve as models for students.

We emphasize our belief that it is valuable to have a wide range of religious and ethical beliefs in the UST Law community. As a Catholic law school, we are also “catholic” in the sense that we affirm elements of truth and value in many different religious traditions, and we aim to serve students with many different religious commitments and other deep moral and ethical beliefs. We are more likely to learn from the truth and value in various traditions if adherents of those traditions are present among our faculty. And our faculty is more likely to be able to help students of various traditions and beliefs, and to serve as models for those students, if those traditions and beliefs are represented on the faculty. Accordingly, it is a priority of ours to find faculty with a diversity of religious and deep moral beliefs. And to reemphasize, this diversity extends to potential faculty who do not profess traditional religious beliefs, but who nevertheless are themselves committed to integrating deep moral and ethical beliefs with professional life (and helping students to do so), and who are interested in and comfortable with doing so in a Catholic setting.

Finally, although having a significant Catholic presence on the faculty and staff is important in maintaining UST Law’s mission, we have not found it necessary to date to make religious affiliation a criterion in order to preserve such a presence. We have found that the substantive content of our mission naturally attracts Catholic candidates–and more broadly candidates with religious faith–who are interested in the connection between faith and professional life. As UST Law becomes (we trust) more prominent and attractive to applicants and the faculty grows in size, the preservation of our mission focus may require us to revisit this approach–to consider religious affiliation more specifically, not as an overriding factor, but as one indicator of “mission fit” among many others.

UST Law’s approach is fully consistent with the relevant accreditation standards. ABA Standard 210(e) states that a law school may “hav[e] a religious affiliation or purpose” and may “adop[t] and appl[y] policies of admission of students and employment of faculty and staff which directly relate to this affiliation or purpose”; “[t]hese policies may provide a preference for persons adhering to the religious affiliation or purpose of the law school,” although they may not “preclude admission of applicants or retention of students” based on religion.[11] First, we do not give any preference based on religion (let alone “preclude” admission on that basis); we also consider whether a faculty candidate or student applicant has some other deep conscientious moral belief that he or she is seeking to integrate with his or her professional life. Second, as we have already explained, our consideration of mission fit “directly relate[s]” to our purpose–one of our central purposes–of helping students of varying faiths to integrate those beliefs with their professional lives. Finally, we provide notice of our mission focus both to faculty candidates, at the stage of initial interviews, and to prospective student applicants, through the UST Law website.

Adopted by the Law Faculty, August 12, 2002
Placed in catalog, August 12, 2002


                [1]John Paul II, Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities Ex corde Ecclesiae, art. I, § 13, Aug. 15, 1990, 82 AAS 1475-1509 (1990).

                [2]Id. § 1.

                [3]Id. § 45.

                [4]Id. §§ 43, 47.

                [5]Id. §§ 34, 40.

                [6]This section focuses on the relationship between “mission fit” and faculty-related decisions, because many of the relevant issues – promotion and tenure, academic freedom–are unique to faculty. As noted above, mission fit is also a consideration in hiring of administrators and staff, with adjustments appropriate to each context.

                [7]Ex corde Ecclesiae, General Norms, art. 2, § 4.

                [8]Ex corde Ecclesiae, art. 1, § 4.

                [9]What one Catholic scholar has written about the Catholic university in general can be applied more specifically to the various aspects of legal study:

We learn something about the meaning of human life and death from Tolstoy. . . . We also learn something about our life and death from courses in human anatomy and physiology, in human genetics and neurophysiology. . . . We learn also about human life and death from political science and economics. . . . Schools of nursing, social work, education, law and business immerse their students in so much of what it is to be human. . . . But we finally understand human life in terms of Christ[. W]e bring all of that human promise and beauty, pathos and sorrows, intricate structures and biological drives, massive disagreements and debates about political interactions and economic forces to a theological inquiry about what it means to hear the great promise of the Gospel: “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

Michael J. Buckley, S.J., The Catholic University as Promise and Project 19 (1998). 

                 [10]The purpose of the information is to provide some sense of whether our mission is proving attractive to people of particular faiths and whether we are achieving religious diversity. The admissions committee does not consider the willingness or unwillingness of an applicant to answer the question in making a decision about admissions or financial aid.

                [11]The AALS has an essentially identical provision. See AALS Executive Committee Regulation § 6.17.

Other Policies in this section