It Sounded Great in the Glossy Brochure…So
Where is it?
Carrying Out the Mission at a Mission Driven
Jeffrey A. Brauch
Introduction: The Challenge of the Mission Statement
Perhaps you are like me, a devotee of law school brochures. I
love them. They look fantastic; each describes a school that is absolutely
unique and thoroughly excellent. My assistant just rolls her eyes now as we go
through the mail and I admire the brochures and say, "Wow! We ought to have
something like that."
It reminds me of something NYU Law Dean John Sexton once said.
He related that he was known to experience life 15% better than it was, and
describe it 10% better than that. Our brochures can be like that too. We must be
vigilant against the danger that the law school we describe looks a good deal
better than the one students see when they arrive expectantly in August or
September. Rightly, each of us seeks to set our school apart, and our statements
of mission and purpose vary greatly. Some emphasize curricular or philosophical
focuses; some are directed toward a particular view of the legal profession;
some direct attention to a religious perspective or tradition.
The statements are vital. They also must be matters of great
attention for any dean. It is in these statements that we try to reveal the core
of who we are--the compass that guides all else--and they may determine where a
student will ultimately enroll. We always want to be somewhat aspirational in
the public descriptions of our schools, but those descriptions better match
reality as well. If we describe a thoroughly unique school, students rightly
expect a thoroughly unique experience.
The issue of carrying out the mission is particularly acute at
the religiously affiliated school. Unlike a particular curricular emphasis or
view of the legal profession, a religious mission goes to the heart of what is
often a matter of deepest concern for students and the defining element in their
lives. That is certainly the case at my school, Regent University School of Law,
where the mission is explicitly religious and is frequently the reason
why students attend the school. Students come with high expectations.
In the rest of this short piece, I will describe how we have
recently approached the issue of mission fulfillment at Regent, and then finish
with some general thoughts about how the approach could be applied at any
school, religiously affiliated or not.
Regent's Approach to Mission Fulfillment: Mission-Related
Regent's mission statement makes some very strong claims. We
identify ourselves as a Christian school with two vital aims: 1) To integrate
biblical principles into the substance of the law we teach; and 2) To train and
mentor students to bring a Christian perspective to bear on the way they live
and practice law. This mission is the core of who we are; indeed, the school was
founded only because of this mission.
Both prongs are a challenge to carry out, but the first,
integration of faith and learning in the substance of what we teach,
particularly requires a lot from our curriculum and our faculty. It shapes the
curricular focus in general and in each course. It means emphasizing issues
"Why"--not just "what." Why do we
have the legal system we have? How has Christian theology helped to shape
the law from the beginning of the common law to today? So, for instance,
our first year course equivalent to the traditional Legal Method or
Elements of the Law is called "the Common Law." It introduces
students to the historical roots of English and American law. The course
encourages students to ask "why?" Why do we enforce contracts?
Why do we punish crime? Why do we forbid the taking of life, liberty, and
property without due process of law? The course explores history,
philosophy, and theology, and confronts the influence of Christian
thinking on much of our substantive law and legal institutions. For
instance, we trace the development, thoroughly supported by Christian
theology, of the rule of law in English and American history.
This focus on "why" also affects each
individual course. So in Criminal Law our students learn that many of our
current concepts like mens rea and retributive theories of
punishment were significantly developed in the canon law of the medieval
church before being encapsulated in the secular law of Western nations.
"Ought"--not just "is." Regardless
of what the law looks like today or has looked like in the past, does
Christian theology guide us as to what the law should look like in the
future? For example, again in Criminal Law, we would discuss the
considerable biblical support for restitution to victims of crime. Or in
Family Law, we would consider theologically sound alternatives to no-fault
divorce that would better value and preserve the family.
Few law school catalogs promise this! And this mission
dramatically affects our enrollment. Though we are a young law school in
Virginia Beach, Virginia, we draw students from all across the country and
world. We draw students with a wide variety of academic backgrounds. Some come
because their GPA/LSAT combination fits our entering average profile. Others
have 4.0 UGPAs and 175 LSATs. They could go to any school in the country but
they come to us because of the biblical perspective we offer. We promise a lot,
and we better deliver.
Who are the faculty members to do this? While the university
has an evangelical, charismatic background, the faculty members come from very
different traditions and denominations within the Christian church. I attend a
Presbyterian church. Others are Baptist, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian,
Pentecostal, and Mennonite. We broadly represent the Christian church. We all
subscribe to a basic statement of faith and are united in a belief in the
inspiration and authority of scripture.
Now, right from the start, we face a major challenge. Our own
law school training did not exactly prepare us to provide the kind of education
we offer. At the University of Chicago I was offered the opportunity to take
some jurisprudence and legal history--and I certainly would have taken more of
those courses and less Corporate Finance had I known then what I would be doing
today. I had a great course on Religion and the First Amendment, but that mainly
focused on key constitutional cases dealing with the religion clauses of the
First Amendment and, like the rest, did not prepare me to integrate law and
theology in the thoroughgoing way Regent's Prospectus promises.
And I am not alone. In fact, our faculty members bring widely
divergent backgrounds and experience to this endeavor. Some have theological
training; others have through their own reading and study given a great deal of
thought to the integration of faith and law; several have published extensively
in the field. But others of us are fairly new to the endeavor. And this poses at
least two major dangers. The first is that we do very little real integration.
We might simply provide traditional legal training with a shallow religious
veneer so we can say we have followed through on our promise. The second is that
we do this integration of faith and learning badly. We might look at scripture
in a superficial way, find some seemingly relevant verse, and apply it with
little relevance or understanding. Take the following instruction given to the
nation of Israel in Leviticus 19:19: "Keep my decrees….Do not wear
clothing woven of two kinds of material." If approached without considering
the purpose for such a law in Old Testament Israel or grappling with how Old
Testament law is to be approached today, one could end up with the Federal
Anti-Cotton/Polyester Blend Law of 2001. Despite the silly example, I believe
this is the more serious danger of the two. As scholars, it would be far better
to make no reference to the Bible or Christian theology than to do it shallowly
When I became interim dean two years ago, having both grown
and struggled in the task of doing this integration in my own classes, it seemed
to me and others that this was a good time to assess how we as a faculty were
doing in the integration of faith and learning--and to approach the project of
integration in an intentional and collective way. So we held a faculty retreat
devoted entirely to the religious mission of the school. We asked these
questions: What do we promise in our mission? How are we carrying it out now?
How can we do it better? Some very concrete ideas came out of and were presented
at the retreat.
Even more helpful was a talk given some months later to the
faculty by Professor David Smolin of Cumberland Law School. Coming with fresh
eyes, Professor Smolin challenged us with an approach by which the faculty could
carry out its mission in a collective way. This last year, we took on his
The first step of the plan called for us as a faculty to gain
a basic understanding of the rich body of literature that already exists on the
relationship between law and Christian theology. Leading thinkers in the
Christian Church have written on the intersection of law and theology for two
thousand years. Some faculty members were thoroughly conversant with this
literature; others were only marginally so or not at all. We determined that at
a minimum, the whole faculty must have a baseline of knowledge of the historic
teachings of the Church in the field. And so we took on the challenge of
studying Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Anabaptist teachings on law
and theology as they have been developed and presented throughout the history of
the Church. It was a huge task, but a necessary one if we are to approach the
field in a scholarly way, and a fruitful one if, as we believe and teach,
Christian theology has had an impact on the development of the law throughout
Now, how to gain this understanding was another matter
altogether. The project called for a major faculty investment of time and
energy. We built the program around four days of presentations and discussions
led by Professor Smolin. We hired him as a consultant and he led us in eight
2-hour sessions on topics like: "Christianity and Forms of Civil
Government" and "The Content of Civil Law: What Laws Should Be
Enforced by the State?" While several members of our faculty had the same
level of expertise in the subjects covered, we thought having someone from
outside the faculty put everyone on the same footing and brought a helpful
outside view. We held the sessions for two days before the start of each
The seminars were just the beginning. As scholars, we knew we
needed to grapple with and understand the original source materials. So we had
monthly reading assignments consisting of many of the greatest historical works
on law and theology: Augustine’s The City of God, Aquinas' Treatise
on Law from his Summa Theologica, as well as excerpts from John
Calvin's Institutes on Christian Theology, Luther's political writings,
and others (both historical and contemporary). To regularly interact with the
readings and each other, we met monthly to discuss the readings as a faculty.
Different faculty members led the discussion.
All of this required great commitment and dedication by the
faculty. We had near unanimous participation. This was due in part to everyone's
understanding that the enterprise was central to our mission. It was also due in
part to a generous offer by our then-Provost George Selig. My biggest concern
was that faculty would want to participate, but would feel overwhelmed by adding
this training to their already full plates of teaching and scholarship. Excited
about our plan, Selig offered to anyone completing the training an extra year to
complete scholarship requirements toward tenure or post-tenure review. The
support was extremely helpful.
It is still early to evaluate the results. Our last discussion
meeting was only two months ago. But two benefits were apparent. The first we
have begun to enjoy but will enjoy more fully in the future: quite simply, we
will be better at doing what we say we do in the Prospectus. The training will
make us better teachers and better scholars.
Second, we have already experienced another very significant
benefit: the joy of getting together as a faculty to talk about things that go
to the heart of who we are as a school. Quite simply it was fun to spend serious
time talking about the things that matter, the things that unfortunately often
get squeezed out of faculty meetings by talk of budget challenges and grade
appeal petitions and committee reports. It sounds funny to say, but the training
of students and future publications aside, we are already a better faculty for
having gone through the training.
And we really have just begun. While we will not approach the
project with the intensity each year that we did this last year, we intend for
integration training to be a permanent part of our life as a faculty. New
faculty will go through the training we have gone through. And all of us will
continue the monthly meetings to take the next step--to discuss, again together,
how to apply what we have learned in general to our particular fields of torts,
contracts, and environmental law.
Mission-Related Faculty Training at Other Schools
There is no doubt that the faculty training project I have
described was tailored specifically to further Regent's mission. But some of the
principles could be applied elsewhere to further other schools' unique missions.
An obvious application would be to other religiously
affiliated schools. A school affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church might,
for example, decide that all of its professors, even those who do not come from
Catholic backgrounds, should be familiar with Church social teaching or with the
basic natural law theology of Aquinas. As many students will come to the school
because of its Catholic affiliation, they will benefit from being taught by a
faculty that, even if it does not affirmatively present this theology as part of
its instruction, is familiar with it and can effectively dialogue with students
who are interested. Similarly, a religiously affiliated school whose mission
calls for it to train lawyers in light of particular ethical standards could
provide its faculty with basic training in ethical theory in addition to the
model rules. Especially useful would be exposure to the ethical teaching of the
particular church with which the school is affiliated.
Even those schools whose religious affiliation is more a
matter of historical interest could find some faculty training in that history
useful. An understanding of how the religious affiliation shaped the institution
in the past might empower faculty members to think creatively about how the
theological background might affect the school or the law now. This would
benefit not only the faculty itself, but also those students who continue to
come to the school specifically because of the affiliation.
But it is not just religiously affiliated schools that benefit
from training related to the mission or history of the school. Take a school
like the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville for
instance. The school's identity and mission are in some sense shaped by or at
least enriched by the tie to its famous namesake. I was impressed that when
Laura Rothstein first became dean at Brandeis, she began reading biographies of
Louis Brandeis, knowing that his life and work was relevant to the kind of
school that Brandeis sought to be. A school like Brandeis, or Marshall-Wythe
School of Law at the College of William and Mary, or others might find it very
useful for the faculty to have a collective understanding of their heritage. The
learning could spur scholarship and sharpen the mission of the institution.
Indeed, this kind of mission-related training could be useful
at any school. Let's say a school emphasizes a particular jurisprudential or
curricular focus. That focus may be one of its main draws for prospective
students. All faculty, not just those teaching jurisprudence or courses in the
area of the school's focus, ought to be familiar with the basic issues related
to the area of focus.
In all of these cases, the benefits of mission-related faculty
training are great. The faculty is energized by spending time together on the
things that matter. The training spurs creativity in scholarship and teaching.
And it ensures that our glossy brochures not only sound fantastic, but that they
sound exactly like the schools we have--schools sharply focused on their