Robert Vischer, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, will become the new dean of the school, it was announced Thursday.
Vischer will succeed Neil Hamilton on Jan. 1, said Dr. Susan Huber, executive vice president and chief academic officer. Hamilton has served as interim dean since May, when dean Thomas Mengler left to become president of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
Huber said Vischer’s experience on the St. Thomas faculty (since 2005) and as associate dean (since 2011) prepares him well to serve as the school’s third dean since it opened in 2001. He also is one of the nation’s leading scholars on relating lawyers’ moral formation, including faith-based formation, to their professional development and excellence – a central part of the school’s Catholic mission.
“I am confident that Rob will lead the school to a new educational destination during this critical period of time for legal education,” Huber said. “His belief in keeping the mission of the school authentic and vibrant balances well with his concern for openly addressing the challenges facing all law schools today.”
Those challenges include a soft hiring market for new attorneys and a decrease in applications to law schools, but Vischer believes St. Thomas is well positioned to deal with critical issues.
“We have built an innovative program of legal education on our distinctive mission, which is a big draw for students,” he said. “We take professional formation seriously, equipping our graduates to excel in teamwork and building relationships, and impressing upon them the importance of developing a foundational moral commitment to serve others.” These attributes, he added, are important to employers and clients.
Vischer grew up near Chicago. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of New Orleans in 1993 and a Juris Doctor degree in 1996 from Harvard Law School, where he was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. After graduation from law school, he served as a clerk for three federal judges and as a corporate litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago.
He became an assistant professor at St. John’s University School of Law in New York in 2002, teaching there for three years until joining St. Thomas as an associate professor. He was promoted to professor in 2010.
“The mission drew me here,” he said. “It’s a powerful mission, encouraging us to focus on the integration of faith and reason in ways that improve the legal system and produce more effective lawyers. I have been passionate about that since I started teaching, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to be part of a place where that is hard-wired into the institutional DNA.”
Vischer’s honors at the School of Law include Professor of the Year in 2008 and 2011, the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Scholarship in 2009 and the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Teacher in 2007. At St. John’s, he was named Professor of the Year in 2005 and received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003.
He is a senior fellow in the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy at St. Thomas and a contributor to Mirror of Justice, the leading blog devoted to Catholic perspectives on law. He also has been a regular contributor to Commonweal magazine and served three years on the Policy Implementation Committee for the American Bar Association’s Center for Professional Responsibility.
Among his scholarly publications are two Cambridge University Press books – Martin Luther King Jr. and the Morality of Legal Practice: Lessons in Love and Justice, scheduled for release next month, and Conscience and the Common Good: Reclaiming the Space Between Person and State (2010).
He and his wife, Maureen, live in Minneapolis with their daughters Sophia, Lila and Ava.
Huber praised Hamilton for his work as interim dean. He joined the law faculty when the school opened and is founding director of its Thomas Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions.
“When it was time to appoint an interim dean, I found unanimous support for Neil,” she said. “He has been an excellent interim dean, and I know how much he looks forward to spending more time in the classroom and with activities in the Holloran Center.”
Huber thanked members of the dean’s search committee, co-chaired by Thomas Berg of the School of Law and Dr. Susan Alexander, executive adviser to Father Dennis Dease, president. Other committee members were Ann Bateson, Nora Fitzpatrick, Mitchell Gordon, Nekima Levy-Pounds and Joel Nichols from the law school faculty and administration, Larry LeJeune of the school’s Board of Governors and Dr. Christopher Puto, dean of the Opus College of Business.