Sunday, September 5, 2021
Last week, I reported the 2021 update to the Scholarly Impact Ranking of law faculties that I and my team at the University of St. Thomas had just concluded: here.
Three years ago, I posted a series on the importance of scholarly activity and scholarly impact for Catholic legal education. I am revising and re-posting those, as they remain just as salient today. This is the second in the series of three.
The first point, which I made in a post last week, is that a meaningfully Catholic law school must be an intellectually engaged law school. Intellectual excitement and depth cannot be sustained without a faculty also engaged in the quintessential intellectual activity of scholarly research and writing.
My second point goes not only to Catholic legal education, but Catholic higher education in general: Through our scholarly excellence and prominence, we witness to society the vibrancy of intellectual discourse by persons of faith.
Throughout American history — and with increasing tendency today — persons of devout religious faith have often been discounted in academic and other elite cultural circles, sometimes regarded as intellectually inferior. As but one pertinent example, those who study reputational-based rankings of law schools (such as the U.S. News ranking which gives considerable weight to reputational surveys) have observed a “religious law school discount.” See Monte N. Stewart & H. Dennis Tolley, Investigating Possible Bias: The American Legal Academy’s View of Religious Affiliated Law Schools, 54 J. Legal Educ. 136 (2004). A law school that is religiously affiliated is likely to be downgraded an ordinal ranking level or more — due to poorer survey scoring by academic peers — when compared to otherwise equivalent law schools on objective measures such as student profile, employment statistics, faculty scholarly impact, etc. The strongest counterpoint to this "religious law school discount" is to prove the falsity of the anti-intellectual stereotype by encouraging our colleagues to perform even better than scholars at our peer institutions without a religious affiliation.
If Catholic legal education (or Catholic education in general) is to be acknowledged as intellectually fit, then faculty at Catholic institutions must be intellectually engaged. By producing excellent and well-written legal research, sharing our legal scholarship with others, and receiving deserved accolades for our work, we thereby enhance the intellectual reputation of Catholic legal education.
A half century ago, Monsignor Tracy Ellis provoked Catholic higher education through a speech and monograph titled, “American Catholics and the Intellectual Life.” Monsignor Ellis indicted Catholic colleges for failing to build a strong scholarly culture, leading to the disrepute of Catholic higher education.
Tom Mengler — who is President at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio and previously was dean at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and the University of Illinois College of Law — wrote thoughtfully about Monsignor Ellis in a piece published several years ago in the Journal of Catholic Social Thought titled “Why Should a Catholic Law School Be Catholic?” (here)
Monsignor Ellis blasted away at the anti-intellectualism of the American Catholic and the mediocrity —- especially the scholarly mediocrity — of American Catholic colleges and universities. Ellis wrote that the lack of an intellectual and scholarly tradition within Catholic higher education [was] a kind of self-imposed ghetto mentality * * *. [In the early twentieth century, Catholic colleges] emphasize[d] what Ellis called a narrow vocationalism and anti-intellectualism.
* * * By all accounts, Ellis’s tiny book had enormous impact on Catholic higher education. Just a few years after Ellis‟s book was published, Father John Cavanaugh, formerly Notre Dame’s president, credited Monsignor Ellis with upgrading scholarship at Catholic universities across the country. At most of the major Catholic universities — throughout their academic departments, including within the law schools — scholarship suddenly became a more important focus.
In our Catholic law schools, we are the heirs of Monsignor Ellis’s intellectual legacy. And the need for a vibrant scholarly culture in Catholic higher education remains as compelling. As I’ll turn to with the third point later this week, the additional challenge today is to ensure that our scholarly excellence includes a critical mass of distinctly Catholic or Catholic-inspired work to influence the larger society for the good.