Leadership Crisis at Ave Maria Law School

Ave Maria School of Law has been plagued by some interesting institutional challenges and weird publicity (most of it of its own making). First there was the plan to build Ave Maria Town in Florida and relocate the school from Michigan, a plan that generated lots of push-back from students and faculty. Now there's this news of misconduct by the dean of the law school. According to a statement by the law school faculty:

Until now, the majority of the faculty has not made public the outrageous behavior of the Law School's administration. We have remained silent in the hope of minimizing damage to our school, believing that responsible parties would set matters right, and out of fear of escalating acts of retaliation. At this point, however, we believe it is important to allow the larger legal community to know the reality of the way AMSL's administration has abused the power with which it has been entrusted.

Those who have not been closely following events at AMSL, nonetheless, may have heard of a number of events over the last year or so. To summarize: last spring, a substantial majority of the faculty issued a vote of "no confidence" in Dean Bernard Dobranski. The response from the AMSL Board of Governors, led by Board Chairman and AMSL's largest funder, Thomas Monaghan, was a terse restatement of its support for the Dean. This rejection of open discussions, combined with retaliatory actions by the Dean, exclusion of the faculty from governance of the school, and serious violations of academic freedom were subjects of an investigation by an ABAfact-finder earlier this year. In the midst of this ABAprocess, the AMSL Board voted in effect to close AMSL and transfer its assets to a new law school to be located on the campus of Ave Maria University, in southwest Florida.

Disagreement over this proposed move is thus only one aspect of the difficulties at AMSL. Problems at AMSL go much deeper, and are much more structural.  Since the vote of "no confidence" in Dean Dobranski in April 2006 over issues of faculty governance and academic freedom, he has used threats and retaliation to try to silence members of the faculty from voicing concerns about his leadership and that of Mr. Monaghan. A majority of the faculty whom the Dean believes to be disloyal to him have been punished financially and through manipulation of the promotion and tenure system. One tenured faculty member has been repeatedly threatened with termination based upon bizarre allegations. Junior faculty members have been threatened that their careers would be harmed if they associate with disfavored tenured faculty. We have also been informed that Dean Dobranski had instituted a system of monitoring our emails and computers, and student research assistants have been closely questioned about research projects of disfavored faculty members. All tenured faculty members have been removed from the Chairs of faculty committees, and such chairs are now in the control of the few faculty members whom the Dean believes to be loyal to him. Cumulatively, such intimidation and bullying has created an intolerable atmosphere of fear and contempt at our school....

Hat tip to Brian Leiter, who adds: "'Crisis' is probably an understatement for what seems to be going on there."