Robert Vischer, associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, was appointed the new dean of the school in October. He began his duties on Jan. 1.
Dr. Susan Huber, executive vice president and chief academic officer of the university, said he was selected from among a strong group of finalist candidates.
Vischer is one of the nation’s leading scholars in relating lawyers’ moral formation, including faith-based formation, to their professional development and excellence – a central part of the school’s Catholic mission. Huber said Vischer’s experience on the St. Thomas faculty (since 2005) and as associate dean (since 2011) prepare him well to serve as the school’s third dean since it opened in 2001.
Among his scholarly publications are numerous articles and 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). Vischer’s honors at the School of Law include Professor of the Year (elected by students) in 2008 and 2011, and Dean’s awards for Outstanding Scholarship in 2009 and Outstanding Teacher in 2007. At St. John’s University School of Law in New York, where he taught before coming to UST, he was named Professor of the Year in 2005 and received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2003.
“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 noted that several items have recently highlighted success at the School of Law. St. Thomas law faculty ranked 30th among the nation’s approximately 200 law schools in the 2012 Scholarly Impact Study, and second in the Roger Williams study of scholarly productivity. In the Law School Survey on Student Engagement, St. Thomas students reported above-average satisfaction, compared with law students overall, on a host of factors including development of legal knowledge and lawyering skills; academic, job/career and personal support; and others. They reported especially high comparative satisfaction on developing professional ethics and values, developing self-understanding and contributing to the welfare of the community. The School of Law recently ranked in the Princeton Review’s list of the top 10 schools with “Best Professors” (2012 ed.) and best “Quality of Life” (2013 ed.), the latter a ranking that St. Thomas has appeared in six of the last seven years. The school also ranks first in number of externships according to the National Jurist.
Vischer served as an assistant professor at St. John’s School of Law from 2002 to 2005 before 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 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 and his wife, Maureen, live in Minneapolis with their daughters, Sophia, Lila and Ava.
He is currently 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.
Vischer succeeded Neil Hamilton, who served as interim dean since June, when dean Thomas Mengler left to become president of St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.
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 of the University of St. Thomas.
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