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Law school Dean Rob Vischer will serve as the next president for the University of St. Thomas, after holding the role in an interim capacity for six months.

Vischer, 52, will be the second layperson to lead the 137-year-old Catholic institution based in St. Paul. The first was Julie Sullivan, who also was the first woman to lead the university, and who left this past summer to take a similar job in California.

The private university's board of trustees approved a five-year term for Vischer after a national search process that included listening sessions with students, alumni and faculty, and interviews with 10 candidates.

Amy Goldman, a trustee who led the search committee, said they were able to envision Vischer as "the perfect president for St. Thomas," saying he demonstrated not just the intellectual capacity for the job but a strong commitment to the students.

Vischer began working as a law professor at the university in 2005, after having worked in corporate law and as a clerk for three federal judges. He said he decided he "wanted to give back to the next generation of law students and lawyers" and was drawn to the University of St. Thomas because it was focused not only on efforts to teach students about the law but also to impart skills for managing stress and caring for their well-being.

"We believe that one way our mission could be lived out is by approaching each law student as a whole person who needed development and formation, not simply pouring knowledge into their head," he said.

Vischer became dean of the law school in 2013 and the university said that under his watch the percentage of students who obtained gold-standard employment — full-time, long-term work in their field — rose from 59% to 92%.

Vischer said he hopes "to build a culture of innovation, where you're always adaptable, not simply to meet the needs of the market, but to meet the underlying needs that are represented in the world."

The University of St. Thomas has about 9,000 students, including both undergraduate and graduate programs. Its undergraduate students come primarily from Minnesota. Vischer said he hopes to maintain the university's reputation in Minnesota and to expand it elsewhere, in part through its transition into Division I athletics.

He said the university is boosting its nursing programs amid an expected shortage, building a new center that encourages interdisciplinary learning among sciences and the arts and continuing to support programs aimed at helping more diverse and more first-generation students enter a two-year program aimed at eventually helping them earn a four-year degree. The university said it enrolled its most diverse class this year, with 27% of those who were seeking a four-year degree describing themselves as a person of color.