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May 2, 2002

SMU THEOLOGY PROFESSOR TO BECOME SMU LAW GRADUATE

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DALLAS (SMU) -- For five years, Patricia Davis changed her stripes depending on which direction of campus she was heading. Walking north, toward the SMU Dedman School of Law, Davis was a student, taking tests and anxious about professor’s questions. Walking south, toward the Perkins School of Theology, she was the expert, giving tests and asking the questions.

On May 19, Davis, an SMU associate professor of pastoral care, will resolve her dual roles when she graduates with a law degree. At Perkins, she teaches students pastoral care, which is the religious and spiritual counseling of parishioners by ministers.

At 48, Davis is not unusual for seeking an advanced degree and a second career. As a fully tenured faculty member, however, including serving last year as the president of the SMU Faculty Senate, she has experienced something that few of her colleagues ever will: being taught and graded by her peers.

“There’s a real element of anxiety about how you’re going to perform in front of your friends, and these teachers are my friends,” Davis says with a laugh. “I had to decide that when I entered the law quad it was as a student and all I could do was my best.”

Perkins Dean Robin Lovin was supportive of her schedule, Davis says, and many of her SMU colleagues encouraged her to study law. One of these was Greg Crespi, an SMU law professor who taught her contract law.

“It is always a little tricky interpersonally to teach a colleague,” Crespi says. “You realize that she is an established scholar, but at the same time she’s a neophyte where the law’s concerned. You try to be sensitive in your criticisms.”

Davis entered the law school in Fall of 1997, taking between two to three classes a semester. She continued to teach, serve on university committees and write and publish her research. Davis is an expert on the socialization and spirituality of adolescent girls and is the author of the books, Adolescent Girls and Beyond Nice: The Spiritual Wisdom of Adolescent Girls.

Davis joined the SMU faculty in 1991 and quickly realized that many student pastors face overlapping legal considerations. They were marrying people and counseling in divorces, helping families with estate planning, and dealing with situations of domestic and child abuse, among other things.

“I realized that my theological training didn’t prepare me to help them understand or recognize the legal issues present in these situations,” Davis says. “The idea of studying law began to seem pretty reasonable and justifiable.”

Coming from a family of lawyers, Davis had considered law school when she first began college, but instead she pursued the ministry. She studied psychology and religious studies as an undergraduate student and theology and pastoral counseling as a graduate student. She holds a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D. in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary. She rekindled her desire to study law when she came to SMU and discovered it had a law school.

Given her background in pastoral care, many of her friends and colleagues thought she would naturally gravitate to family law, but instead she wants to practice employment law. With employment law, Davis will be able to combine her counseling and legal skills.

“Employment law is a second level removed in relationships from family law,” she says. “Family lawyers help families negotiate through crisis and that is usually when families are being torn apart. I don’t have the heart for that. My training is to heal families.”

This summer she begins a one-year sabbatical from SMU. She plans to study for the State bar exam and then spend a year clerking for federal judge Barefoot Sanders.


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