Ave Maria School of Law Abovethelaw Above the Law blog.jpgEarlier today, we posted the first installment of our recent interview with Dean Bernard Dobranski, of Ave Maria School of Law. You can access that part of the write-up, which includes background on current controversies at Ave Maria, by clicking here.
Now we bring you the second half of the interview. It appears after the jump.


Same deal as before. These are excerpts from a two-hour telephone interview conducted yesterday. Our questions appear in bold, followed by Dean Dobranski’s responses.
(If you found the questions from the first half of the interview to be too general, vague, or softball-ish, you may like this half of the interview better. But we didn’t treat the interview as The O’Reilly Factor; we didn’t see it as appropriate for us to berate a law school dean. It was a cordial conversation, not an interrogation.)
It has been reported that “two professors and two lecturers have left the school since last year, and one professor took a leave of absence.” Is there an exodus of faculty members?
I don’t know if I would use the term “exodus,” but there are certainly people who aren’t happy here and who may go. There have been two people who have resigned. One was the head of our clinic. When I hired her, I advised her that this move [to Florida] might be a possibility. She explained that for personal reasons she couldn’t move. We hired her knowing this. She did a fantastic job for us. She left to take another job at another law school; I gave her a recommendation for it.
Another person left. Back in August of last year, he told me that he had decided to explore the job market, and had great regret over this because Ave Maria had been a good home to him. There were a number of personal factors that led him to seek other employment: aging and ill parents, growing children, and his wife’s burgeoning career. [But] when he did resign in February 2007, he unleashed a tirade of criticism that wasn’t consistent with what he had said in August about personal factors.
As for the person on leave, he indicated to me last year that he too for personal reasons would be looking for opportunities elsewhere.
Aren’t these faculty departures a cause for concern?
These things happen all the time in the academic world. People come and go. I don’t attach particular significance to this.
When we made the decision, I announced to everyone that everyone was welcome in Florida. We wanted the same faculty and the same staff. I understand that for personal reasons not everyone will be able to do that, especially staff…. But everyone is welcome.
Having said that, I know that some people will decide for personal reasons not to move. I know of one faculty member who is very supportive of the administration but just can’t move for personal reasons.
Everyone is welcome. If people decide for whatever reason they don’t want to go [to Naples], I’m sorry to hear that, and I wish I could change their mind. But I do know that there is a huge pool of talented people who are interested in being law professors at this school, and we draw from that pool. It’s a buyers’ market for us….
Given the nature of our school, not everyone will be looking for a job here. But we’ve had a steady stream of people who are eager to teach here.
We just announced three new appointments: one tenure-track, one visiting, and one clinical. We’re soon going to announce two new visiting professors, both with Ph.D.s, one with substantial litigation experience, and the other with previous law school experience and a tremendous record of scholarship and publications.
What about the student body? How will the move to Florida affect the incoming class?
The students [who] are coming in next Monday, they were told that the decision had been made to relocate, and they should expect to spend the first two years in Michigan and the final year in Florida….
For students coming in this year, we may be able to help with their relocation expenses, in a general sense. [The program] would be designed to help those who have to move the farthest. The maximum amount is roughly $500.
We will also have relocation packages for faculty and staff. At a minimum it will include moving expenses. We will be working on that throughout this fall, to come up with packages.
It has been reported that “[a]t least 20 students who finished their first year earlier this year are leaving,” along with “several rising third-year students.” Is this accurate? Is this cause for concern?
To my knowledge, no rising third-year student has indicated a desire to leave…. Now, we’re starting classes the week after next, so it’s possible some might not come back. In a typical year, you’ll have two or three people who decide not to return, for personal or financial reasons. Sometimes they take off a year, to deal with family concerns, or to let their financial situation improve. It’s not uncommon. But as of today, I haven’t heard about rising third years leaving….
In terms of rising 2Ls, it is not at all uncommon for people who do extremely well to transfer to another law school. So we lose some people who transfer. Having said that, we will probably lose more people than last year, due to the turbulence.
Part of this is because we have faculty members who are essentially running a campaign to encourage people to transfer out. It’s despicable.
But as of last Friday, the number of people transferring out is only slightly higher than last year. But some people don’t tell you until the last minute or at all. You can’t really tell until classes start.
What is the law school’s status with the ABA? Doesn’t the move place the school’s ABA accreditation at risk?
We are fully accredited by the ABA, and [the accreditation process] worked out for us quite well.
In terms of the move, the ABA requires by a rule that if you make a major change in their program, you have to get the ABA’s “acquiescence” — that’s a term of art. A move from Ann Arbor to Naples is a major change. So we have to get their “acquiescence” for this.
What will they look for? Finances, the quality of the facilities, stability in operations.
Is it possible accreditation could be affected through that process? Yes. If the ABA thinks you’re creating a brand-new institution, they may make you start from scratch.
That is theoretically possible. In that case, I would be opposed to the move. That would be the worst-case scenario.
But that’s not our intent [to create a new institution]. It’s the same institution. We’re just going to be in a different part of the country, in a different building.
I can’t predict with certainty what the ABA will do. But I’m comfortable that the ABA will look at all the factors and grant its acquiescence.
We’re in the process of putting together information [about the move] for the ABA. We’re hopeful of getting a decision from ABA before the end of this year or early next year.
What’s the basis for your confidence that accreditation won’t be threatened?
[T]he reasons in favor of the move are so strong that I don’t think there is much risk of losing accreditation. Southwest Florida, Naples – Fort Myers, is the last major metropolitan area in the United States that doesn’t have a law school. The demographics are great. The local bar and bench are really excited about our coming there.
We’ve always wanted to be a national law school, and in fact we are. We have students from 49 states. The greatest number come from Michigan or the Midwest, but we are national. Total enrollment is around 37,5 but our goal is to get between 400 and 450. When fully mature, we’d like to bring in around 150 students a year. That’s small. And we want to be selective. We also have a very generous scholarship policy — our “tuition discount” is very high, thanks to Mr. Monaghan’s generosity.
I was initially a skeptic, but now I’m enthusiastic about the move. I think we’ll be better able to fulfill our mission there than here. The southeastern United States is the fastest growing part of the country. A significant part of that growth is Catholics. You have Catholics coming down from the north, and you have Hispanics coming up from Central and Latin America.
Charlotte and Atlanta are two cities with rapidly growing Catholic populations. Florida, especially southwest Florida, has always had a strong Catholic population. If you put Ave Maria Law School right there outside Naples, and you look at the first part of the [school's] mission — to be national, small, selective — where do you find another law school like that?
[In the southeast you have] Duke, maybe Vanderbilt, but nothing else on that level. There are a number of [other] excellent law schools, sure, but they are much larger, like Emory, or they are state schools.
On the second [part of our] mission, the Catholic intellectual tradition side, you have St. Thomas and Barry [law schools in the area]. Neither one really emphasizes their Catholic identity in the law school. They don’t really emphasize it or pursue it the way that we do.
Is Professor Stephen Safranek — currently suspended without pay, and potentially subject to termination — being punished for his criticism of you and the law school’s administration?
I don’t comment on pending personnel matters. But people are free to have whatever views they want on the relocation. Just because the board has made a decision doesn’t mean that people can’t have differing views.
What about claims that you’ve frozen the salaries of certain tenured faculty members and removed them from key committee posts, based in part on their criticism of you and the administration?
No member of the faculty, stuff, or student body has ever been or will be punished for expressing his or her views about the Board’s decision to relocate to Florida.
Are decisions about tenure are being affected by whether the candidate supports or opposes the law school administration?
No, absolutely not. In terms of tenure, there is no presumption in favor of tenure. The burden is upon the faculty member to meet the requirements for it. We have a whole list of factors. In capsule form, candidates have to excel in three areas: teaching, scholarship, and service. In each one of those categories, you have to meet the standard. The burden is on the professor to establish they meet the requirements.
Are the allegations that you are monitoring the email communications of faculty members true?
No. It’s one of these things that is absolutely false.
Is the administration’s treatment of the faculty, including but not limited to Professor Safranek, consistent with the principles of academic freedom and tenure? What about Ex Corde Ecclesiae?
There is no substance to these allegations. People are free to express their views on academic matters, whatever they might be. We have a lot of diversity of views here.
We are a Catholic institution. We have people who come down on a conservative, free-market side, and we have people who come down on a more left-leaning side…. Another example [of an issue that divides the faculty] would be the war. Or an even better example would be capital punishment.
Academic freedom is alive and well here. We have robust discussions and debate here. It’s certainly consistent with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which is a beautiful document about the nature of a Catholic university. Our motto is Fides et Ratio: faith and reason. The fact that faith and reason can work together is a real inspiration for our law school.
One of the geniuses of our mission is that we’re about engaging the culture, having some impact on the culture. We’re not strident, but not apologetic either. We want a place at the table in the dialogue about the role of law in this country. We treat others with respect and civility, and we expect to be treated with respect as well. And we have been – we’ve been treated very well within the legal academy.
What’s the composition of the Ave Maria student body in terms of religious belief?
Seventy to seventy-five percent of our student body is Catholic — level of practice, I don’t know. The other 25 percent come from a variety of backgrounds. Mostly Protestant, a fair number of evangelicals, but some more mainstream.
Last year the student body had two Jews, three Muslims, a Hindu, and one self-proclaimed “Pagan hedonist.” We’ve had a growing number of Mormons coming here. Obviously they don’t come here for theological reasons, but they like our emphasis on values.
In light of your conflicts with the faculty, do you still retain the credibility and trust needed to lead the law school as an institution?
As I said, the number of dissenting faculty is by no means a majority here at the time. It’s obvious that the Board still has confidence in me, and Tom [Monaghan] has confidence in me. In terms of faculty, there are plenty of faculty members here who are supportive of the law school administration and are working very hard.
Speaking of Mr. Monaghan, is the school too dependent upon his financial support?
Mr. Monagahan has given us over $50 million over the past seven years, plus all kinds of other support. It shows his generosity. It also reflects on the controversy here. Many of the dissenters have a more narrow view of what the law school is supposed to be.
[T]he dissenters have been arguing against Tom’s heavy subsidy to us. They would like the school to have less financial resources. Where does most of that money go these days? Scholarships. The first impact [of taking less money from Monaghan's foundation] would be on the scholarhips.
I’m not ashamed of getting as much money as I can, including from Tom’s foundation, to help defray the financial burdens for our students. We are one of the top two schools in the country in terms of tuition discounts.
But does reliance upon Mr. Monaghan’s financial support give him too large a say in law school affairs?
The claims of Tom interfering with the running of the law school are absolutely false. He doesn’t tell me whom to hire, he doesn’t tell me whom to admit. He might make recommendations, and sometimes they’re followed and sometimes they’re not.
Only two things. First, he put on the table the idea of relocation. If you want to get call it meddling, you can call it meddling, but I think it’s proper for the Chairman of our Board, who has been our chief financial benefactor, saying I think our law school would thrive and do better down there [in Naples]. The vote was 8-1, so somebody was willing to disagree.
The due diligence process of looking into everything we wanted to look into took quite some time. That kind of process wouldn’t have happened if we were just marching to the beat of our benefactor’s drum.
Second, when we were first starting the school, Tom has a very strong professional view about professional dress [that led to a dress code]. My views aren’t identical to his, but I do think there is value to dressing properly. We do have a dress code for faculty members that calls for professional dress, generally coat and tie for men, and one for students also.
So what’s the student dress code?
It’s less demanding than the dress code for faculty, but the students must wear appropriate attire.
Our students can wear jeans. You probably see less visible body piercing and tattooing than anywhere else. But they’re not that different from law students at other schools.
In light of the current crisis, how would you evaluate the future of Ave Maria?
People talk about crisis all the time, and there are difficulties, but we will get through them. When you have people who have strongly held beliefs, it’s not uncommon that a division will develop that will turn nasty and ugly. But we’ll get through it.
I think the future is incredibly bright. There’s tension now, but I see very positive things happening in the next year or so. And then we’ll take that down to Florida. We’re continuing to move forward. We’ll be doing the kinds of things that we wanted to do.
Dean Bernard Dobranski bio [Ave Maria School of Law]
Fumare: Law, Culture, and Catholicism… up in smoke (ongoing coverage) [Fumare]
Mirror of Justice (ongoing coverage) [Mirror of Justice]
AveWatch: School of Law (ongoing coverage) [AveWatch.org]
‘Reign of terror’ at Ave Maria School of Law? [Renew America]
Purge at Ave Maria Law? [Inside Higher Ed]
The Trials of Ave Maria School of Law [WSJ Law Blog]
Memorandum: The Current Crisis [WSJ Law Blog (PDF)]
Earlier: How Do You Solve the Problems of Ave Maria? ATL Interviews Dean Bernard Dobranski (Part 1)


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