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Tom Hughes ’74

From Criminal Justice Major to the FBI to High-Powered Attorney, Tom Hughes’s Life Continues to be Shaped by His Earliest SJU Studies

When Tom Hughes ’74CPS entered St. John’s as a freshman, he had two things on his mind: playing college baseball and obtaining a degree in criminal justice as preparation for a career in the FBI. By the time he graduated, not only was his career path neatly mapped out, he had a newfound penchant for the study of philosophy—a love he continues to share with students today.

“I was approached by SJU’s baseball coaches while still in high school, but never ended up playing,” says Tom, explaining that he couldn’t accommodate being on the team while working full time to fund his education. “Once I got here, playing baseball didn’t seem to matter anymore because I instantly fell in love with the intellectual atmosphere at SJU—the professors, the other students, and the curriculum, everything.” One of the consequences of Tom’s newfound commitment to academic and vocational excellence is the SJU Criminal Justice Association, which he founded in 1972 and which has been in continuous and active existence ever since.

A Transformative Experience

Tom admits that he had an initial disconnect with one aspect of the curriculum: the required credits in theology and philosophy.

“Why would a criminal justice major need to take these courses?” he reflects back on his first days at SJU. “It turns out that those very courses I questioned had the most fundamental impact on my experience at SJU and my personal and professional life since.”

After graduating with a bachelor’s in criminal justice, Tom found himself right where he always wanted to be as a foreign counter-intelligence agent with the FBI. During his stint in the FBI, he investigated Russian spies working in the U.S., conducting surveillance operations and analyzing their activities.

Tom then switched gears, obtaining a law degree from New York Law School and eventually moving into his current position as executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary for Greater New York Mutual Insurance Company. Here, he enjoys mentoring students interested in a career in law or criminal justice, inviting students to shadow him during the workday or simply giving advice on how to navigate the business world.

Giving Back

Today, Tom combines his legal career with continued work in philosophy. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s at the undergraduate level and mentors students interested in philosophy.

“Philosophy and theology courses continue to be required here at St. John's, and I think that’s a good thing,” he says, noting that he sees similarities between the reactions of some of his students and his own reactions while an SJU undergrad. “For many students coming in, philosophy is not high on their list of favorite courses. But then you see their attention and engagement increase as they’re confronted with new ideas. By the end of the course, they’re excited to have come away with a new way of thinking, and I’m excited to be part of that awakening.”

Tom brings his unique perspectives in philosophy and the law to his role as a member of College of Professional Studies Advisory Board, where he stresses the importance not only of a well-rounded education, but of an educational underpinning in philosophy.

“At SJU, we don’t just teach students to prepare them for an occupation or career,” he concludes. “We teach them how to think critically and in new ways. That’s what is so unique about St. John's and why I continue to sing the University's praises to anyone who will listen.”