The Dean's Corner :: A Brief Look Back At The Blessings of the Past Year

December 01, 2011
Author: Mathew D. Staver, Dean of Liberty University School of Law

The rush of life can often make us overlook the blessings we experience every day. The tyranny of the urgent tends to make us focus on the immediate problem or task we have to accomplish. Sometimes we need to ascend to the mountaintop to see the grand scheme and the ultimate purpose of our mission. A proper perspective of the present is best achieved by looking back and then forward.

I could fill up this entire magazine cataloguing the many accomplishments of the law school since its inception. For now I will highlight some of the achievements over the past year. One of the biggest milestones in the history of the law school was achieving full accreditation on August 5, 2010. It is easy to take this remarkable achievement for granted considering our past successes, but it cannot but its importance cannot be underestimated. For comparison, a law school on the West coast obtained provisional accreditation the same year Liberty did in 2006, but in 2011 failed to achieve full accreditation. That law school is no longer accredited, and thus the lives of many people have been thrown into turmoil.

Full accreditation has allowed the law school to pursue additional opportunities not available to a provisionally approved law schools. In preparation for full approval, we began working on a study abroad program in Israel. I have traveled to Israel to meet with a variety of academic and political leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Many opportunities have been opened for us in Israel. Our plan is to launch the first study abroad program in 2012 in Jerusalem.

In the spring of 2011, Liberty University launched the first dual degree program in the history of Liberty University. The dual degree program allows law students to obtain a Master’s degree and a Juris Doctor degree in less time than if you took them separately. We worked out arrangements with a number of colleges in the University to accept law school credit for certain Master-level courses. These include JD/MAR, JD/MDiv, JD/MBA, JD/MEd, JD/EdS, JD/EdD, JD/MA History, JD/MA Human Services, and JD/MAPP.

With Liberty University being one of the leading online programs in the world, in the summer of 2011, the University launched the Paralegal Studies program that offers AA and BS degrees. With little advertisement, enrollment quickly exceeded 300 students in the first subterm. The program is off to a great start with incredible growth. The income from the Paralegal Studies program will greatly benefit our core program of legal education.

In the fall of 2011, Liberty University began offering a Master of Arts in Public Policy. This program combines government and law and is taught by faculty who hold JD or PhD degrees.

The ABA allows up to 12 hours of distance education. This innovative program will allow Liberty to impact aspiring lawyers across the country.  

In order to reach the world, we plan on offering specialization modules in law for a variety of degree programs. We know that only a select group of individuals enter law school, but every profession deals with law. The modules will be online and allow individuals to incorporate a law specialty into their degree. These modules will be offered for business, religion, education, nursing, government, and much more.

In the summer of 2011, we launched our second Clinic. The Prosecution Clinic is operated in partnership with the Bedford County prosecutor’s office. In addition to receiving real life experience in the courtroom, students also receive additional training from one our new faculty members, Professor Cynthia Tompkins. The Prosecution Clinic is our second Clinic. The Constitutional Litigation Clinic is offered in partnership with Liberty Counsel, which, in the past year received new and larger office space to meet the growing needs of students.

For those interested in litigation, we kicked off the “Top Gun” Trial Team program under the direction of Professor Pamela Bell, one of our new faculty members. Professor Bell comes to the law school with 28 years experience teaching and private practice. She led the trial team to the number one spot at Stetson College of Law. We expect no less than the same to be accomplished at Liberty.

Our co-curricular competitions continued their winning streak. We won the Southwestern Entertainment Law Negotiation Competition in California. The Negotiation Teams continued to bring home trophies by advancing to the ABA Finals and ranked in the top 24 teams in the country for the fourth year in a row.Our Tax Challenge team was selected by the American Bar Association as one of the top six in the county. Our Moot Court teams continued to win regional championships and numerous team and individual awards.  Our teams were the runners-up in two national competitions and won second best brief and best oralist at one of them.  Both teams won the ABA regional championships and qualified for the ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition national finals.

This past year we continued to improve the facilities. After receiving input on Revolution Hall, we finally completed it this year. The hallway has beautiful framed pictures of revolutionary people who share a heritage of Judaism or Christianity, who pressed forward in the face of intense opposition, and whose life achievements rippled through history and continue to positively affect us today. This hallway includes a wide diversity of individuals. After reading all the inspiring stories of these “revolutionaries,” the last frame contains a mirror, which is meant to challenge the observer to do great exploits. Faith Hall is like Revolution Hall except that it focuses on great heroes of the Christian faith, many of whom gave their lives for the Gospel. This too was completed in the past year. We also reconfigured two smaller classrooms to make one large classroom. The extra space was greatly needed to accommodate our future growth.

Throughout the past year we recruited and interviewed a number of new faculty prospects. We began the fall of 2011 with four new full-time faculty members and one new part-time visiting faculty member. They bring a wide variety of experience and expertise to the law school. Their enthusiasm for the mission and their love of the law school is palpable.

The student body is also enthused about the mission of the school. We plan to grow to about 450 full-time JD students. We will not grow at the expense of quality. Maintaining a quality entering class and program of legal education is a top priority. The online programs can grow with virtually no limit on numbers since the need for physical space is minimal. These programs will expand our outreach to non-JD students worldwide while generating income for the program of legal education. This is cutting-edge and will place us ahead of other law schools. We plan to increase the number of summer electives for students. Summer electives have been very popular with students. We will also launch new electives during the academic year.

Our Career Services department is working hard to network with a variety of prospective employers to open opportunities for students and graduates. To this end, the staff has been traveling across the country meeting new faces and maintaining contact with existing relationships.

We have many things planned for the future. My constant prayer is that God will expand the vision, give the boldness to pursue it, and provide the resources to accomplish the dream. God has never disappointed. Most of all, our prayer is that our Lord Jesus Christ be glorified in all that we do. As our founder Dr. Jerry Falwell always said, “If it’s Christian, it ought to be better.”