A Message from Dean Johnson on the Nature of the SLU LAW Community

January 30, 2017

Dear Members of the School of Law Community:

This isn’t the first message to you that I imagined sending in my new role as Dean.  But in the last few days there has been a great deal of attention given to, and considerable anxiety caused by, executive orders signed by President Trump in connection with the movement of people across U.S. borders.  Two executive orders on Wednesday ordered, respectively, commencement of construction of a wall on our southern border and creation of more detention space for detained immigrants.  The executive order on Friday imposed a travel ban on would-be visitors from seven specific countries:  Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. 

I am here to assure you, our dear law school community members, that the School of Law is here for each of you, and that I proudly stand with each of you.  If you are from a family farm in the American Midwest, like I am, I stand with you.  If you grew up in a city or town in Central America speaking Spanish as your first language, I stand with you.  If you are men and women in uniform, dedicated to keeping this country safe, I stand with you.  If you are a student whose faith tradition is Islam, I stand with you.  If you are from a major city on the East Coast, I stand with you.  If your family crossed a border without papers, in search of a dream, I stand with you, my friends.  And let me be very clear:  you are all very welcome here at Saint Louis University School of Law.  SLU LAW is strong because of our Catholic, Jesuit identity and mission, and because we bring together individuals from different backgrounds who offer different – and sometimes opposing – viewpoints.  We should not feel threatened by that.

To our dear community members who have arrived from distant places:  you enrich us.  You make us better.  We learn from you, even while you pursue your own education.  Please know that we value you.  If you are feeling anxiety, worry or fear, please visit the Office of Inclusion and Diversity Education or the Office of Student Services – both on the 10th floor.  Or swing by the Dean’s office on the 8th floor.  I’d be delighted to sit with you.  As you work through any concerns or anxiety created by the past few days, please let me know how I can be helpful. 

Reasonable minds can differ on important policy matters.  While I would like to stay removed from the policy debate regarding how best to secure borders or approach conflicts, I will say this.  My own personal view is that this is a time when we should build bridges, not walls.  As we seek to address the major issues of our time, we can do so only by deepening our understanding of the historical, economic, social and cultural context that exists in the countries that are the target of the executive orders.  For the vast majority of us, I wonder, how much do we really know about Yemen?  Or Sudan?  Or Somalia?  I must confess that I know less than I would like, and clearly less than I should.  As a society, we can do better.  But to do better, we must engage with the world, in my view.  We must be open to learning and growing.  Our guests at the university and our alumni who are from the affected countries can be excellent teachers in that regard.  To all of you who fall into that category, I am grateful for all I can learn from you.

Let me add that as we work through our reactions to these executive orders, there is a special role that lawyers and students of the law have to play.  The events and controversy surrounding these executive orders have demonstrated how important it is to understand the tools that law provides.  We have access to specialized knowledge that we can share to translate to people what a President of the United States can and cannot constitutionally do.  We can discern for others what it appears these documents purport to do.  That’s powerful, and it’s important to remember the duty that that knowledge imposes on us.

In closing, as we think about the kind of law school community – and nation – that we would like to be, I am mindful of Jesus’ words, when he said, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40.)  As we consider the situation of vulnerable refugees and immigrants seeking refuge, and as we wrestle with how best to address global challenges, it is my hope that we will reflect the better angels of our nature.



William P. Johnson

Dean and Professor of Law

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