Monthly Archives

November 2013

Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minn., where University of St. Thomas School of Law Great Books seminar is held
Student Activities, Student Perspective

J-term getaway: ‘Great Books’ seminar discusses jurisprudence through literature from French Norman-style country home

Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, Minn., where University of St. Thomas School of Law Great Books seminar is held

Imagine for a moment having the opportunity to step away for one week between semesters — away from the hustle and bustle of doctrinal coursework, long papers, clinics, internships, etc. Imagine spending the days and evenings during the first full week of the New Year participating with fellow School of Law students and faculty in fireside chats about some of the classic works of the great authors of ancient and modern times. Splendid conversations, great meals, comfortable room and board, all within the confines of a classic French-Norman style manse situated on a peaceful 180-acre horse farm just 60 miles south of the Twin Cities.

Now imagine earning three credits for this week of peaceful existence, learning and camaraderie. That’s the premise behind the “Great Books” seminar, a six-day residential seminar that has been offered to School of Law and Opus College of Business students during the J-term for more than a decade.

The Great Books course uses selected writings of great classic and contemporary thinkers as a launching point for intensive, focused group dialogue. The readings revolve around such universal human concerns as justice, rights, liberty, equality, the role of economics, leadership and community. Moderators lead conversations on the enduring ideas and ideals of world civilization, the problems and opportunities facing society today, and critical issues to be encountered in the years ahead. (View sample syllabus)

School of Law Professor Chuck Reid and Opus College of Business Professor Jeanne Buckeye will co-teach the 2014 seminar.

Students will read excerpts from some of the greatest thinkers and writers in ancient and modern history, ranging from Aristotle to Dostoyevsky, and Virginia Wolfe to Milton Friedman.

“It’s a focused period of reading and discussion on some of the grand themes in jurisprudence,” Reid said. “The wonderfully relaxing environment and the stimulating discussions that take place really provide a great backdrop for lifelong friendships to form as well.”

Participants stay onsite during the seminar and enjoy meals together at the beautiful Gainey Conference Center in Owatonna, which is just an hour south of Minneapolis.

Great Books qualifies as a three-credit elective for graduate business and law students.

A few seats for the January 2014 seminar remain open. Students can register for the course through Murphy Online.

Service, Student Activities, Student Perspective

Incarceration & Children: How a Little Phone Call Can Make a Big Difference

By Sarah Orange, ’14, for Voices for Racial Justice

Children across the Nation are often the invisible victims of mass incarceration. In June 2013, Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street, recognized this challenge when it launched a new program called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” This program seeks to reach the 2.7 million children in the U.S. with an incarcerated parent through videos, crafts, music, and more. In one of the Sesame Street videos about incarceration, Alex (if you haven’t watched the show in a while that’s the orange puppet with blue hair) talks about how his father is incarcerated and the difficulties that he and other children like him face, including not always being able to talk to their parent. This program recognizes the importance of maintaining communication between children and their incarcerated parent. Maintaining routine communication is essential for helping children to understand and successfully cope with this difficult situation. A little phone call can make a big difference in the lives of children with an incarcerated parent.

Did you know: of the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent, 15,000 of them live right here in Minnesota? However, Minnesotan children are often denied the ability to maintain close contact with their incarcerated parent. First, because prisoners are incarcerated an average of 100 miles away from their families making in person visits difficult. Second, because it costs over $17 to make a 15-minute collect phone call out of a Minnesota prison. It is cheaper to call Singapore. These phone calls are so expensive because prison phone providers attract government contracts by offering the state a kickback – a percentage of the prison phone provider’s profits. In Minnesota, the prison system receives 49% of the profit that the phone provider makes from prison phone calls. However, community members and local civil rights organizations are taking action to stop this injustice. The Federal Communications Commission recently adopted policy changes regarding interstate prison phone calls which will lower phone rates across state lines and in federal prisons, however, these reforms do not affect intrastate (local) calls in Minnesota. Much more work is needed to address this issue within Minnesota in order to support children and families. For the children impacted, this cost barrier to communication can have devastating effects, resulting in emotional stress and behavioral challenges.

The impact of limited contact between children and parents has a far-reaching impact on Minnesota’s children. Studies have demonstrated that “lack of regular contact with incarcerated parents has been linked to truancy, homelessness, depression, aggression, and poor classroom performance in children.” (Federal Communications Commission, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FCC 13-113 (Sept. 26, 2013)). Furthermore, studies indicate that maintaining contact with an incarcerated parent is one of the most effective ways to improve a child’s emotional response and reduce behavioral problems. But in Minnesota the high cost of making a phone call from prison prevents this critical communication between the parent and child.

This problem most significantly affects children from communities of color. African American children are nine times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than White children. But the problem does not stop there. Forty-four percent of African American households in Minnesota live below the poverty line. For these families the cost of communicating with a loved one in prison can mean having to forgo basic necessities and places on strain on family budgets. The high cost of prison phone calls can be a significant barrier preventing African American children from maintaining communication with an incarcerated parent. Hence, the impact of the high cost of prison phone calls is far-reaching. However, a solution to this challenge is within our reach.

We can make a big difference in a child’s life today by raising awareness related to prison phone justice and educating others about this important issue. By reducing the cost of a prison phone call, we can ensure that families can remain connected. This is essential for promoting strong families and safe communities in the state of Minnesota. Take action today by visiting the Prison Phone Justice Campaign website at and signing up to help fight for prison phone justice in Minnesota.

Sarah Orange is a Certified Student Attorney with the Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The work of the Community Justice Project civil rights clinic focuses on training law students to serve as social engineers who create new inroads to justice and freedom.

Murphy Institute, Uncategorized

Inside the UN: A World Made New

This semester, two UST Law students who are Murphy Institute Scholars  blog about their internship experiences working to support the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See at the United Nations in New York and Geneva.  Rachana Chhin writes from New York, and Joseph Grodahl Biever from Geneva.  To catch glimpses of the workings of the Holy See at the U.N., bookmark this blog and follow along.

By Rachana Chhin, posted Saturday, November 2, 2013

It is that time of year again: the air is a bit cooler, the leaves are turning all their earthy hues, and the sun sets just a little bit earlier each day. Yes, fall is in full swing and it is a particularly beautiful one here in New York City! As I write this, I cannot believe that we’ve been here for a little over a month now. It has been a busy past few weeks at the United Nations.

ParkRiverDSC00161Pumpkin(Clockwise, starting at top left: Walking through Central Park, People enjoying a day on the water, inside the ECOSOC Chamber for a side-event, Farmer’s Market in Union Square).

Usually, I attend daily meetings in the Sixth Committee whenever they are in session. The discussions have touched upon diverse topics ranging from “the law of trans-boundary aquifers,” to “strengthening criminal accountability of UN officials,” the “responsibility of states for internationally wrongful acts,” or “measures to eliminate terrorism.”

This past week was especially interesting as the United Nations celebrated “International Law Week.” As a result, I’ve been listening to various States comment on the International Law Commission’s latest Report. When not at work, I’ve enjoyed going to different side-events or receptions hosted by various missions, where diplomats, lawyers, and other officials mingle and talk in a much more casual setting.

One of the most interesting things that I’m gleaning from this experience is both how similar and distinct international law is from, say, the common-law or the civil law traditions. Because it incorporates diverse legal systems in unique ways, many of the same concepts that we’ve learned in law school remain important and are quite relevant. The main difference, to me at least, is how countries must cooperate together for this process to work. Here at the United Nations, countries strive to work on the basis of consensus.

Although somewhat more amorphous than national legal systems, international law is gradually being developed and codified in ways such as these: the work of courts and tribunals (e.g., ICC and ICJ) contribute to an ever increasing corpus of legal precedent. International and regional organizations define legal frameworks, set forth guiding principles, help regularize state practices and solidify international legal norms. The States themselves negotiate treaties, contracts, and conventions, creating another layer of international law.

51zs8U0N7mLTo prepare myself to come to New York, I knew that I had to learn more about international law and the history of the United Nations. In this regard, I read a very helpful book by Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard entitled A World Made New: Eleanor Roosevelt and The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Professor Glendon takes the reader right into the waning days of World War II, when the United Nations — as the Allies were then called — began to lay the groundwork for the post-war recovery.

After the guns fell silent and the full scale of destruction became apparent, it did not take long for the surviving nations to realize that humanity needed something to articulate a new vision of the rights that every man and woman in every country around the world should share, regardless of their culture or religion. The outcome of this desire eventually birthed the first “international bill of human rights” in a unique document called The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Although it took much arduous work to get there, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the UDHR in 1948. This is an example of a human-rights and international law achievement: that so many people from divergent backgrounds and world-views came together and agreed that certain rights were so integral, so intrinsic to humanity, and worthy of protection, that they should be called universal. How radical that was!

What especially fascinated me was to learn of the diverse set of drafters who represented a smattering of the mid-20th century diplomatic world: Jacques Maritain was a French-Catholic philosopher. Charles Malik was Lebanese-Christian. Rene Cassin was Jewish. P.C. Chang was a Confucian from China. Alexander E. Bogomolov represented the officially atheistic USSR. Eleanor Roosevelt, of course, was an American woman and played an integral role to encourage this work. There were many others.

The drafters were under no illusions that the UDHR would solve all the world’s human rights problems or its noble aspirations realized quickly. After all, subsequent history has since shown us the limits of what the best laws, treaties, and organizations can do. Nonetheless, what Professor Glendon says makes the UDHR important is that it “charted a bold new course for human rights by presenting a vision of freedom as linked to social security, balanced by responsibilities, grounded in respect for equal human dignity, and guarded by the rule of law”:

That vision was meant to protect liberty from degenerating into license and to repel the excesses of individualism and collectivism alike. By affirming that its rights belong to everyone, everywhere, it aimed to put an end to the idea that a nation’s treatment of its own citizens or subjects was immune from outside scrutiny. (236)

Although, like any man-made institution, the UN is imperfect and can be inefficient or redundant. But, in weighing the whole, I see much positive work coming out of these halls. From the beginning, the Catholic Church and the Holy See were strong supporters of this effort. In fact, Professor Glendon notes that Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII, lent his encouragement to the drafters and called their work an “act of the highest importance” (132).

To this day, the Holy See, along with many other nations, continues the noble work bequeathed to us by the framers of the UDHR to help develop international law and protect human rights. Whether that is speaking on issues such as disarmament, world hunger relief, or the dignity of life and good of the family, the Church remains at the UN to give voice to that vision of true freedom “grounded in respect for equal human dignity and guarded by the rule of law,” knowing full well in the repository of her faith and in the light of reason the source and ground of it all:

Behold, I make all things new…” -Revelations 21:5

Thank you for reading! Please continue to pray for Joseph and me in this work and we shall keep you in ours.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations.