"Ever since I joined the St. Thomas board of trustees in 1992, I have been involved in discussions, first with William Mitchell College of Law, then as a member of the advisory board [that recommended establishing a law school]," Diana Murphy said.
Murphy, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, serves as vice chair of the newly formed board of governors. It is a role she relishes.
"I’ve had a long life in the law and the judiciary," she said. "Serving on the board of governors is a way that I can contribute to the university."
The 41-member board is chaired by Cardinal Pio Laghi, prefect emeritus of the Vatican-based Congregation for Catholic Education. Born in Casti-glione, Italy, Laghi was named by Pope Pius XII to serve in the Vatican’s diplomatic corps in 1948. He served in Nicaragua, India and the United States, as well as in Jerusalem and Greece. He was the first pro-nuncio to the United States when the Holy See and America established official diplomatic ties during the Reagan administration.
Murphy considers it a true honor to work with Laghi. Both see a wonderful fit between the new school and other St. Thomas programs, such as business, education and medical care management. In addition, having a law school will contribute to the university’s overall mission.
"Father Malloy of the University of Notre Dame asked a very good question during our deliberations. He said, ‘Can a Catholic university be a truly great university without a law school?’" she recounted. "The justice system is concerned with the common good. What better home for a law school than a Catholic university that teaches philosophy, theology and moral values."
Murphy said that the board will help to set policy and direction but will not micromanage the program. A key role will be "asking the questions and stimulating the thinking of the people who do manage the school."
This is exactly what the schools’ administrators seek, according to Associate Dean Patrick Schiltz: "The most important function of the board will be to keep us honest. We will face a lot of pressure from many quarters to dilute or stray from our mission. Knowing that we have to account for ourselves before the board every year will help to keep us on course."
A diverse membership will make the board effective, said Murphy. Attorneys and members of the judiciary offer practical knowledge about the field. Entrepreneurs and corporate leaders "know how organizations and the world work. They often have critiques of lawyers and the legal profession that we need to hear." Most governors are willing to serve because of the school’s mission to train lawyers who think about ethical issues and serve the community.
"My law clerks come from the top schools from around the country," Murphy said. "They typically leave law school with $100,000 of debt. This severely limits what they can do. They often feel they must work for a large firm to make ‘megabucks.’ That’s why scholarships and the loan repayment plan are so important. We [the governors] want to keep the law school on target with its public service mission."