Plymouth Voices: Professor Mark Fischler

Jacob Downey




Professor Mark Fischler is something of an enigma. Rarely would you combine the metaphysical with the judicial, meditation with litigation, and yet Fischler’s dedication to both has led him on something of an academic odyssey across the Americas, eventually bringing him full circle back to his hometown of Plymouth to educate and empower a new generation of legal minds.

So who is Mark Fischler? What is your background?

I grew up here in the Plymouth area. My parents still have the same home since I went to Plymouth High School. And then I went to UNH for college, and I studied political science. When I was there, I had some professors kind of whack me over the head and say graduate school and politics not as much up your tee as law school. And they really saw a passion in me around issues of justice, and so I finally listened to them. After taking a year off I went to the University of Maine School of Law up in Portland. And the minute I started taking classes, I was like, oh, I get it. 

Then I got a job as a New Hampshire Public Defender. And then that was some of the most meaningful work I’ve ever done. I really was passionate about the law and passionate about representing my clients, who I really came to love and care about. So I did that for about three and a half years. And then I had a kind of moment of spiritual awareness, where kind of the universe literally kind of spoke to me and gave me a major hint that I needed to leave everything, which made no rational sense.  

It was kind of a trans-rational push. So I finally listened to it. In the winter of 2001, I left everything and eventually made my way to southern New Mexico, and worked with a spiritual teacher, Ginni Gentry, in New Mexico for about a year and a half of my life. Living in a yurt and working with her, which was a really profound experience. 

Are there any cases you’ve worked on that you’re particularly proud of?

I represented a guy named Red Elk, who went to trial ended up being retried four times for the same crime. That was kind of an infamous case, because, you know, there might have been either the first or the second person up to that point that had ever been tried four times for the same crime. He was charged with burning down his own business and fortunately, we were able to get some arson experts that were able to testify and show that the fire did not start the way that the eyewitness said [it did]. We were able to show why he had bias and reason to lie about seeing him start the fire.

There were also, you know, representing juveniles, a lot of stories, a lot of heartbreak with my clients, and I just was very appreciative of getting to stand up for people that the rest of society was looking down upon. And to give them dignity and respect and to give them 100% ensuring that the system didn’t do them wrong. So I really loved the work. It wasn’t always fun, because it’s intense, it was a lot of work, but I did have a lot of fun doing it.

So from public defender, to leaving everything, to spiritual guru in a year?

I was going into my senior year of law school I had kind of had a premonition about, or kind of an awakening of kind of gravitating towards spiritual, greater levels of spiritual awareness. And so I’ve been meditating and doing some practicing, like Zen Buddhism.

Are you a Buddhist?

I’m a lot of things. And that would be, I’ve certainly ascribed to Buddhist principles pretty consistently in my life. But I’m open to other spiritual traditions that have influenced my life as well. The tradition that I eventually settled into was the Toltec tradition in Mexico. And, it was an incredibly intense experience where a lot of layers of who you think you are kind of get undressed and exposed, and the more raw experience of being kind of one with life as it truly is. My ego was stripped in a lot of ways, and that’s a good thing. But if you’re attached to a strong sense of self, it’s kind of tough to go through, but I was up for it

What Toltec principles or teachings are most important to you?

Well, one of the 21st-century Toltec teachers, Miguel Ruiz wrote a book called The Four Agreements. Those agreements are pretty powerful and if one really dives deep into each of them, they can radically change your experience with life. They are, be impeccable with your word, don’t take things personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best. If you really deep dive into each of those, your whole relationship to life will change. And in my experience a much more powerful way.

So after this year and a half in New Mexico, how did you end up teaching at PSU?

I had another kind of like, spiritual intuition that I was supposed to come back East and something to do with teaching. I really didn’t know what that looked like And then kind of within six to eight months of coming back, a judge that I had gotten in front of that was also a professor here said, ‘Hey, I’m starting the Criminal Justice Department here at Plymouth, and I need an instructor on the ground for the first year”. I was like, well, maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s where the universe was pushing me. So I did it, and I taught the first-ever Criminal Justice class. Then here you are, here I am, 19 years later.

Within criminal justice, what courses do you regularly teach?

So I’m teaching Society, Ethics, and Law, which has been my kind of foundational course here. And I’m teaching Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties. I’m only teaching two classes because I’m chairing the program. Next semester I’m just teaching ethics twice.

And I understand you do something of a meditation seminar, is that correct?

It’s just an offering I [make] for students that want to do a little meditation, contemplation, and talk about more meaningful things than some of the superficial stuff that people tend to gravitate towards. I do it once a week from 12:30 to 1:30 in room, 123 in The Hub, anybody that wants to come by and sit for a little while, learn some different techniques, and talk about things on a deeper level, are welcome. 

Awesome! Let’s talk a little bit about how your classes are structured. What does a student need to do to be successful in a Mark Fishler class?

I would say all of my classes are structured to be intensely interactive experiences. So if you’re going to be in my class, I’m going to be speaking, sharing, but asking questions that are inviting you to go think deeply with me. So that requires a lot of attention, and focus and so if you meet me at that level, which everybody’s capable of it’s a, really fun experience. We gain insights together that we wouldn’t have thought of before. There’s a true dialectical experience where something’s going to arise that we never thought of if we both go in there together with the equal desire to kind of learn something new from the material that we were asked to cover.

Fischler is the type of person who throws himself wholeheartedly into everything he does, whether that’s discussing theories of constitutional interpretation, pondering the mysteries of the universe, or sitting down with a student to just “shoot the breeze.” Regardless, his wisdom, spiritual and scholarly, make him an asset to the Plymouth State community.

He will be a keynote speaker at the What’s the Future Integral Conference on November 5th where he will be discussing integral democratic inclusivity as a theory of constitutional interpretation and will offer Society, Law, and Ethics for four credits and fulfill the diversity connection.