Thursday, October 06, 2005

AMSOL Alumni Board Letter concerning Florida feasibility study

April 5, 2006

Dear Dean Dobranski, Board of Governors of Ave Maria School of Law, and Professors Read and White:

We are pleased that Ave Maria School of Law (“AMSOL” or “Law School”) has expressed interest in obtaining the opinions of its alumni in compiling and presenting materials for preparing a feasibility report on a proposed move of the location of AMSOL to Florida.

AMSOL has achieved great success in the past five years. We can all agree that any major change to the Law School, including a move to another state, has the potential to affect that success and should be carefully considered. No doubt the feasibility study is the first step in that careful consideration. We hope that the decision on the potential move to Florida, about which the feasibility study is one part, will be approached in such a way as to compare and contrast the benefits and potential risks associated with both options currently on the table: staying in Ann Arbor and relocation to Florida. We are confident data will be collected in such a way that does not merely consider the feasibility of a move, but also whether there is an added value to moving the Law School to Florida instead of remaining in AMSOL's current location where it has thrived.

The Alumni Association, as the formal body designated by AMSOL to represent its alumni, on behalf of its members, wishes to present certain considerations that we think will be of particular interest to the alumni in the feasibility report. Additionally, we request a copy of the prior feasibility study to assist the alumni in providing meaningful feedback to your request. Finally, we address the procedures outlined in your March 24, 2006 email.

We appreciate your invitation to suggest items for Profs. Read and White to consider in updating the feasibility report. The AMSOL Alumni Association Committee on Florida Relocation trusts that you are receiving many responses to your email. To respond to your request, we believe that an adequate Feasibility Study of AMSOL’s potential move to Florida must take into account the following considerations:

1. Continuity of operations in a single location/stability of the institution: AMSOL has expended a great deal of effort and financial resources to convince students, faculty, the ABA, employers, and the legal community at-large that AMSOL, while a new institution, is not a fly-by-night endeavor. Indeed, many if not most, alumni based their decisions to attend AMSOL at least in part on these representations. The Feasibility Report Committee (“Committee”) should address to what degree the proposed move would undermine the stability of the institution by leaving its founding locale so soon after opening operations.

2. Ties to the local communities in Michigan and Florida: The presence of AMSOL in Michigan has created ties to various legal, religious, civic, cultural, and financial communities. The Committee should address the existence of such ties in Michigan and Florida, the importance of such ties to the short-term and long-term success of the Law School, and the prognosis for continuation and growth of such ties in light of the proposed move. The Committee should also take into account the proximity of major legal markets in and around Florida as compared to those in and around Michigan, as both impact recruiting and placement.

3. The timing of this move: As recent national-media coverage indicates, the Florida project is far from reaching a “mature” level, but, rather, is still very much in its infancy. The Committee should consider the benefits of delaying consideration of an AMSOL move until such time as Ave Maria Town and Ave Maria University are established and the campus is fully completed.

4. Press, publicity, and internet: Positive media and press coverage has assisted AMSOL in establishing its reputation as a first-rate Catholic law school. Positive press coverage has spanned from the inception of the Law School to the recent successes of alumni on bar exams. The Committee should address to what degree negative or positive press and publicity could be expected in relation to the proposed move and the impact of such press and publicity on the short-term and long-term success of AMSOL.

5 Word-of-mouth publicity: Many people are aware of AMSOL through religious communities, undergraduate universities, and church groups. The Committee should address to what degree positive or negative word of mouth could be expected in relation to the proposed move and the impact of such word of mouth – including from benefactors, current students, and alumni – on the short-term and long-term success of AMSOL.

6. Impact on existing students and faculty: The prior move of Ave Maria College from Ypsilanti, Michigan to Naples, Florida undoubtedly had an impact on existing faculty and students. This impact, in turn, contributed to a fair amount of press and word of mouth (whether accurate or not) regarding the move. See infra ## 4-5. The Committee should address the impact of the proposed move on existing students and faculty with specific reference to attrition. Members of this subcommittee of the Alumni Association have already received emails from current students seeking advice as to whether they should transfer schools because they are concerned that a possible move could leave them “unemployable.” Further, special consideration should be given to impact on relations with founding faculty and other individuals of influence who were instrumental to starting the school.

7. Recruitment of faculty and students: Already members of the Alumni Association are receiving inquiries from potential students about how the move will impact them, and whether they will be able to graduate from the Michigan campus. AMSOL has advertised itself as a tier-one quality law school. As retention and recruitment of the best faculty and students are hallmarks of tier-one quality law schools, the Committee should address the impact of the proposed move on the current and future recruitment of the most qualified faculty and students.

8. ABA accreditation issues: The ABA’s grant of full accreditation to AMSOL in the shortest amount of time possible is a tribute to AMSOL’s success thus far. The Committee should address to what degree the proposed move would place accreditation at risk. As a related point, the Committee should also address the ABA’s likely response and opinion regarding the proposed move and feelings regarding Ave Maria Town, irrespective of accreditation issues.

9. Potential litigation surrounding Ave Maria Town: The Committee should assess the likelihood of litigation against Ave Maria Town, as well as the potential cost to AMSOL’s reputation and financial stability (including impact to recruiting and donations) of associating with a community likely to be involved in First Amendment and other litigation. Again, the Study should evaluate the merits of delaying discussion on a potential move to see if litigation issues actually arise and how they are resolved.

10. Governance questions: Certain individuals have voiced a concern that the proposed move to Florida evinces the operation of AMSOL as a commercial sole proprietorship, rather than an educational institution operated by a Board of Governors. The Committee should address to what degree the proposed move would formally or informally alter and/or undermine the intended structure of governance for AMSOL. There is also concern that the two institutions have several common Board members. The Committee should assess the impact of this fact on decisions relating to the move, particularly whether the move is strictly considered to be in the best interests of AMSOL, as a separate entity, and not merely the best interests of Ave Maria University, Ave Maria Town, or some combined entity that may be in mind for the future.

11. Financial issues: It is no secret that AMSOL’s largest donor is also a board member. The Committee should address to what degree a refusal of the proposed move would impact the continued receipt of funding from AMSOL’s primary donor, including, but not limited to whether an alternate financial plan could be devised to keep the Law School viable. A related issue for the Committee is to what degree the proposed move would impact alumni and other donors’ continued financial support of AMSOL. The Committee should also ascertain the potential financial interests and gains of any/all Board of Governors in the move to Florida, in the interest of full disclosure.

12. Alumni employment: Most alumni have encountered employers’ hesitation regarding a new and unknown law school. The Committee should address to what degree the proposed move would impact the employment options for current and future alumni. Again, proximity to major out-of-state legal markets as well as potential competition with an increased number of law schools should be considered as well.

13. Reputation in the legal community: AMSOL has advertised itself as a school comparable with other first-tier law schools. Unfortunately, the recent U.S. News and World Report rankings--national rankings of widespread acceptance--have ranked AMSOL as a fourth-tier law school. Law school reputation is a factor in such rankings and the Committee should address to what degree the proposed move would enhance or detract from the Law School’s reputation in the legal community – public, private, and academic. The Committee should also evaluate the prospect that a move to Florida will delay AMSOL’s ability to obtain higher rankings in the near-term (e.g., reduction of AMSOL by the ABA to provisional accreditation status precludes ranking at all by U.S. News and World Report).

14. Affiliation with an undergraduate institution: AMSOL has always been independent and unaffiliated with an undergraduate institution. Presumably, AMSOL’s proposed move to Florida would entail an eventual union, whether formal or informal, with the undergraduate institution with a similar name in Florida, Ave Maria University. The Committee should address to what degree AMSOL’s union with Ave Maria University would aid or hinder the short-term and long-term success of the Law School.

15. Impact of AMSOL’s potential move on the local Florida community and local safety issues: Ave Maria University’s campus in Immokalee is now under construction. The Committee should consider whether AMSOL will be part of an enterprise at Ave Maria Town that impacts the community surrounding the proposed campus. Included in this inquiry should be an analysis of: potential impact on housing prices in Immokalee and the surrounding area; employment opportunities for any current residents of Immokalee at Ave Maria Town; possible displacement of any significant members of the current community (by direct construction or infrastructure improvements in the area); and, if applicable, proposed methods of integration of Ave Maria Town with the local community. Further, the Committee should investigate any plans for security, police, and fire departments to ensure adequate safety of Ave Maria Town residents.

16. The option of dual campuses: If AMSOL were to move to Florida, there is a separate issue as to whether AMSOL’s Michigan campus would be closed and, if so, when this would take place. The Committee should explore the feasibility of the continued operation of the Michigan campus both as a short-term and long-term complement to proposed operations in Florida.

The aforementioned are the initial considerations that the Alumni Association wishes to present to Professors Read and White for inclusion in the Feasibility Study. In order to most effectively participate in this process, we request the release of the Law School’s 2003 Feasibility Study by April 12, 2006. We think that the release of this study would assist alumni in formulating issues that we would like included in Profs. Read and White’s report. The long-term success of AMSOL is foremost in all of our minds and, after discussing how we can best assist our alma mater, we think that the release of the original Feasibility Study would be invaluable to us in that endeavor.

Regarding procedure, your March 24, 2006 email stated that once suggestions for information to be included in the feasibility study were submitted, “and information has been gathered and the pros and cons of a possible relocation have been developed, the consultants will then be able to seek better informed input from the various constituencies.” While we appreciate that the opinions of the alumni (and other constituencies) will be sought by Profs. Read and White, we respectfully request that such opinions be sought before the “pros and cons of a possible relocation have been developed.” Perhaps this is simply a misunderstanding of your email, but we expect that alumni will be allowed to express their desires, concerns, and questions with Profs. Read and White well in advance of their formulation of the pros and cons of a possible relocation. We will be establishing forums and other methods for this purpose shortly.

It is our position that a strong opinion, whether positive or negative, of the alumni, faculty, staff, and current students would be considered in the pros and cons of a possible relocation. Indeed, such opinion and support or opposition to the move are quite possibly the most important factors in this decision. Thus, we hope that the alumni and the other constituencies will be involved early in the process to allow Profs. Read and White the opportunity to include such groups’ views into their report as an integral part of developing the pros and cons of the proposed move.

Additionally, if it has been established, we would appreciate receiving a copy of the proposed timeline of events that will be involved in this undertaking.

Thank you, again, for inviting the alumni to participate in this decision of paramount importance to our Law School. Please do not hesitate to contact any member of our subcommittee with any additional questions.

While we await your reply, the Alumni Association is submitting its own, informal, survey to all AMSOL alumni in order to ascertain the big-picture feelings of alumni on this matter. We will certainly pass along our findings to you, the Board of Governors, and Profs. Read and White upon compilation of alumni responses to this survey. Also, for the longer-term, the Alumni Association will be preparing a report detailing specific alumni concerns and feelings on the merits of the potential move that we hope will be included in the feasibility study. Certainly, such a report will be an invaluable aid to you as you make decisions relating to this critical subject.

We join you in prayer to Our Lady for wisdom regarding this decision and for the continued success of our alma mater.


AMSOL Alumni Association Committee on Florida Relocation
Justin Berger, ‘03 –
Thomas Flickinger ‘03 –
Peter Mansfield ’03 –
Angela Pfister ’04 –
Mark Rohlena ’03 –

cc: All Alumni


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