The new University of St. Thomas School of Law will welcome more than 110 students when classes begin for the first time Monday, Aug. 20.
For the first two years, St. Thomas law students will attend classes in Terrence Murphy Hall on the university’s downtown Minneapolis campus. Construction of a new $31 million home for the School of Law is expected to begin next spring. The five-level, 152,000-square-foot building, to be located on the block south of Terrence Murphy Hall, will be ready for use by fall semester of 2003.
Unlike most St. Thomas graduate students who attend classes during the evening and on a part-time basis, law students will attend full-time during the day and will complete their law degrees in three years. A full enrollment of 450 students is expected by 2008.
The new School of Law has been several years in the making and has its roots in St. Thomas’ original law school, which closed in 1933 due to the Great Depression. After reviewing extensive feasibility studies, the St. Thomas board of trustees decided in May 1999 to open a law school that would be grounded in the Catholic intellectual and moral tradition.
Two months later, David Link, who had been dean of the University of Notre Dame Law School for more than 24 years, agreed to serve a three-year term as the founding dean of the St. Thomas School of Law. Link will step down as dean on Aug. 31, 2002, and a search will begin this fall for his replacement. Link will continue his service to St. Thomas as dean and professor emeritus and as a member of the School of Law’s board of governors.
Over the past two years, Link led the development of the new school’s mission, philosophy and vision statements. Associate deans Sister Sally Furay and Patrick Schiltz, along with library director Edmund Edmonds, have assisted the dean with assembling the law school faculty, administration and board of governors; developing temporary office, classroom and library facilities; planning the school’s permanent home; recruiting its first class; preparing for American Bar Association accreditation; and raising funds.
The School of Law selected its inaugural class of students from a pool of more than 300 applicants; the youngest was 19, the oldest was 69. Applications came from 30 states and more than a dozen countries, including Ghana, Argentina, South Africa, Italy, Korea and Somalia.
Of the students accepted, about three-fourths are from Minnesota. The rest come from 16 states and Canada. The largest number of students, 20, earned their undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota. The second-largest number, 19, earned bachelor’s degrees at St. Thomas. Members of the first class range in age from 19 to 55, and 53 percent are women. The students come from many faiths, and most have experience in public service and volunteer activities.
“It is incredibly rewarding to see distinguished faculty and impressive students drawn by the school’s mission,” commented the Rev. Dennis Dease, president of St. Thomas.
The mission statement is a single sentence: “The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.”
The statement underpins nearly every aspect of the school, including:
Strategies for student formation that emphasize ethical and social justice responsibilities, along with various therapeutic justice alternatives.
A curriculum model designed to increase student-teacher contact.
Public-service requirements for all students.
Loan-forgiveness and fellowship programs that will help graduates pursue public-interest careers.
A mentor program that teams students with respected local attorneys.
An interprofessional clinic linked to St. Thomas’ graduate programs in social work and psychology.
Joint-degree programs, still being developed, that will allow St. Thomas law students to simultaneously earn a second St. Thomas graduate degree from several other disciplines, including business, divinity, psychology, education, social work and software engineering.
The St. Thomas School of Law is the fourth law school in Minnesota, and is the state’s first Catholic law school. Like other St. Thomas graduate and undergraduate programs, the School of Law welcomes students of all faiths.
“We will teach, research and perform service in the same substantive areas as secular law schools,” Link said, “but we will base our work on the Catholic intellectual tradition, with a strong emphasis on our students’ intellectual, social, cultural and spiritual formation.”
St. Thomas is raising between $75 million and $100 million for the school. The funds will pay for the new building and provide long-term endowment for professorships, scholarships and the loan-repayment programs for graduates who enage in low-paying public-service practice.
The School of Law is planning opening celebration events during the weekend of Oct. 12-14, including talks by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and Cardinal Pio Laghi, prefect emeritus of the Vatican-based Congregation for Catholic Education and chair of the School of Law’s 44-member board of governors.