With numerous programs experiencing cuts, everything is in flux. Entire departments are scrambling to figure out what’s being phased out and what’s being redesigned, trying to do their best for their students. Students are looking at their options, making sure they’ve got the classes they need to graduate. There simply isn’t clarity on what’s currently happening, or what happens next. The only way to gain that clarity is by talking to those who are working to keep the school moving forward.
One department that’s fought for its place on campus is the Criminal Justice and Legal Studies department.
Suzanne Kissock is the current chair of the Criminal Justice and Legal Studies department. Kissock practiced law for ten years before starting her work at Missouri Western in 2005, and was the Legal Studies program director in 2006.
“We have people call from all over the country,” Kissock said. “And the reason they call is not just because we’re ABA-approved, but because we have a reasonable cost. I really think that’s the future of higher education; consumers are going to get sophisticated and are going to say, ‘I demand quality, and I’m not going to go into debt to the extent that generations before have.’”
Missouri Western has one of only two undergraduate legal studies programs in Missouri that is approved by the American Bar Association – the other being in St. Louis, MO. The bachelor’s of science in criminal justice with a concentration in legal studies, or a comparable version of it, has been around since 1977, and was officially approved by the ABA in 1986.
Kissock stated that the legal studies concentration has a hands-on approach when it comes to educating students for paralegal work and to go on to law school.
“In law school, they don’t necessarily teach you how to file a pleading, hot to get your court hearing set,” Kissock said. “We are doing the nuts and bolts of a law practice.”
This is possible due to many of the professors being lawyers who maintain a license with the Missouri Bar Association themselves.
Dr. David Tushaus is a professor of legal studies who’s also a practicing attorney. He’s taken students abroad – to places like Myanmar, which he and his students visited in 2019.
“It was a struggling democracy that we were trying to build a better legal education system to build a better legal system to build more of a rule-of-law type of country,” Dr. Tushaus said.
He’s also worked with students locally with the Midwest Innocence Project, which is a program that assists convicted individuals who believe they’ve been wrongfully convicted. This project sends Tushaus real files which include the police investigation, trial transcripts, appellate work, and the prisoner’s claim of innocence.
“The students have to evaluate [the files] over the course of the semester and write a memo,” Dr. Tushaus said. “This helps students understand how facts inform legal research and legal research is necessary to evaluate facts completely. It’s a real world case, and what the students decide will affect whether that person gets represented or not.”
Dr. Tushaus also organizes a legal clinic that gives legal studies students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with legal paperwork and offers a way for local transgender individuals to legally change their names and gender markers.
“The first time we did it we did a cultural sensitivity program for the bar that got Missouri Bar credit,” Dr. Tushaus said. “We connected with the ACLU in Kansas City, which was creating a grassroots transgender advocacy program for the state of Missouri. We invited Missouri Bar members – attorneys in town who have to have a certain number of clinical legal education hours – onto campus to listen to this person lecture and learn about transgender sensitivity.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Handbook projects that employment rates for legal assistants and paralegals will increase 10% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average. In response to the growing field, a new major, a B.S. in Law, has been approved by the Missouri Department of Higher Education, and has been submitted to the American Bar Association, and is currently pending approval.
“I check every morning to see if it’s done,” Kissock said. “Kind of surprised we don’t have it yet, but COVID has delayed everything.”
The B.S. in Law is a restructure of the already established legal studies degree so that the law-related classes are moved into the main degree classes.
“We’re going to be the primary degree and we’re going to add classes that enhance business law, and sports law.” Kissock said.
The future may be in flux, but it’s still looking bright.