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Fulbright Scholar's Search for Justice Began at St. Ambrose

November 2012


Growing up in Goose Lake, Iowa, population 240, Brian Farrell '95 enjoyed his small-town life. "But I was always interested in other places, learning about other cultures, interested in history," he said.

This fall, Farrell began a yearlong appointment as a Fulbright Scholar, lecturing in the law department at Sofia University in Sofia, Bulgaria.

His Fulbright journey began at St. Ambrose, where he completed his degree in history and teacher education, with a minor in political science.

Through his studies, Farrell began to see how changes in society took place as a result of the law and court decisions. It was also at St. Ambrose that the ideas of fairness, social justice and human rights came into focus.

Following his graduation from St. Ambrose, Farrell earned his law degree from the University of Iowa. In 2002, he earned a Master of Laws degree in International Human Rights from the National University of Ireland, Galway. "I was thinking more deliberately of human rights as a discipline and body of law," he said.

He practiced criminal law in Iowa for a number of years. In 2007, he co-founded the all-volunteer Innocence Project of Iowa, with a mission to prevent and remedy wrongful convictions through case investigation, policy reform and education.

One Innocence Project triumph involved policy reform related to arson investigations and convictions. When the reform resolution failed in the Iowa state legislature, Farrell convinced the state fire marshal to voluntarily adopt the new policies.

"This proved even more impactful than if the changes had been legislatively dictated," he said. "Developing relationships with people, working to do the right thing and seeking the truth; in innocence work, attorneys, prosecutors, judges and state officials are all interested in the same thing."

Farrell is taking a year's leave from his current position as director of academic achievement and adjunct lecturer at the University of Iowa Law School. He sees his Fulbright Scholar grant as a wonderful opportunity to focus on teaching and to teach students from different backgrounds.

"It's also exciting to live in a new place and experience a new culture," said Farrell. "Most importantly, I take my mandate and mission as a Fulbright ambassador very seriously, ‘to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.'"

Farrell suspects that his studies and work related to human rights and justice might have been of interest to the Fulbright commissioners who made this year's selection of scholars.

Looking back, Farrell, whose brother Kevin Farrell '84, PhD, is an SAU professor of physical therapy, can see how a concern and passion for human rights has evolved as a unifying theme in his life and his journeys. "My experience at St. Ambrose with its strong social justice mission was a formative part of that," he said.

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