Ask the Rev. Reginald Whitt why he left Notre Dame to accept a teaching position with the University of St. Thomas School of Law and you get a straightforward answer: "Simple: the appeal of being part of a new law school."
As Whitt explains, "the mission of UST Law is to graduate lawyers who can live the Catholic tradition of community and social justice. It’s good to recognize that UST Law will actively participate in an intellectual enterprise on the basis of a Christian understanding of reality." One way the school will endorse that focus on public service is through loan-forgiveness fellowships at its own multiprofessional clinic.
Thanks to a substantial endowment fund of $60 million raised by the Ever Press Forward Campaign, the law school can hire its own graduates as public interest fellows, paying them with a combination of salary and loan forgiveness. This arrangement will help graduates gain experience in public interest work while reducing their debts, putting them in an ideal position to pursue lower-paying public interest jobs once their fellowships end. "Those graduates will enter their professional life enriched by their experience with the less advantaged," Whitt said.
The financial support behind the fellowships for graduates also created a substantial number of scholarships. As reflected by the academic standings of its students, UST Law attracted an academically strong group of students for its inaugural class, many of whom qualified for scholarships.
The average Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score of the current class is 153 and the average GPA is 3.25. UST Law’s statistics are stronger than those of virtually every law school ranked in the "fourth tier" by U.S. News & World Report, stronger than or comparable to those of almost every law school ranked in the "third tier" and even comparable to those of some law schools in the "second tier" ranking. Further demonstrating the academic depth of the class, 10 percent of the class has advanced degrees.
Thanks to the financial support from both the scholarships and the fellowships, students will be able to graduate as fully trained lawyers with a lesser loan load, allowing them to be more discriminating when choosing a job. "Instead of looking for a high-paying job they take only for the salary, they may be able to find a job in any office, whether at a corporate firm or a legal aid society," said Whitt.
Keshini Ratnayake had heard that attending law school usually meant a lot of loans, but that didn’t stop her from her career goal. Ratnayake had decided to attend law school at St. Thomas, regardless of the cost — then she found out she had received a full scholarship. "[The scholarship] is going to be very helpful."
Ratnayake recently graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a double major in criminology and political science. Choosing law as a career is almost a family tradition. Many of Ratnayake’s uncles and cousins are lawyers; even Hawaii’s assistant attorney general is a relative.
When she decided to pursue a law degree, Ratnayake placed UST Law at the top of her list of potential law schools. One of her reasons sounds similar to Whitt’s basis for joining the faculty: "I saw it as a unique opportunity to be in the first class of a new law school — it was a chance to make my mark in a new program and there was no way I was going to miss it."
Before she applied, Ratnayake thoroughly explored the program of study. The small class size, the public service aspect of the school and the mentor program appealed to her. Since she has three areas of interest as a career (e-commerce, corporate and criminal law), Ratnayake especially looks to the mentor program to help define the direction of her studies.
As she continued to evaluate the program, she found the staff to be extremely helpful. "While I was applying, I received phone calls from the admissions staff. They were really helpful in answering my questions." After UST Law accepted her application, Ratnayake attended an "admitted student program," hosted by the admissions office. At the program, faculty and staff addressed her questions and concerns about being a student at a nonaccredited school. "I really think the faculty and staff are a strong asset to UST Law," she concluded.
Temporarily housed in Terrence Murphy Hall, the law school faculty, staff and students look to 2003, when the new law building will be completed.
"There is a need for our own space," said Whitt. A separate building is needed not only for a sense of community, but to handle the logistic needs of a legal education. "For instance, a law library is very different from any other in terms of texts and needs. Also, law classes tend to be taught in large lecture halls, and available classrooms on-campus don’t suit those needs," Whitt explained.
After only a few weeks of classes, both student and professor are excited about their future with law. Ratnayake enjoys her classes and anticipates a stimulating course of study and exploration into a future career, while Whitt looks forward to a new building, full accreditation and the embodiment of the UST law mission in its alumni.