American Lawyer article on AMSOL
From this month's American Lawyer student edition:
Heck, No, We Won’t Go
Domino’s Pizza founder Thomas Monaghan wants to relocate the law school he started—but students and faculty are resisting.
Many people might jump at the chance to swap Michigan’s icy-cold winters for life in sunny central Florida.
Not so students and faculty at Ave Maria School of Law, the conservative Ann Arbor–based Catholic law school started by Domino’s Pizza, Inc., founder Thomas Monaghan.
For now, plans to relocate the six-year-old school to a new campus, 30 miles east of Naples, Florida, are only in the discussion phase. But many Ave Maria professors, students, and alums are dead-set against packing up for Florida—so much so that the issue has set off a major rebellion at the school. This spring, the Ave Maria School of Law Alumni Association and a faculty group both passed resolutions calling for law school dean Bernard Dobranski to step down. A total of 150 students (out of a student body of about 360) signed a petition asking the school’s board of governors to halt a planned study of the feasibility of a potential move and remove “the Florida question from the table.”
That’s not likely to happen, given that Monaghan, the law school’s founder and chief benefactor, has already committed at least $250 million for construction of the new Florida school—Ave Maria University—along with a new Catholic-oriented township. The undergraduate college he started in Michigan has already made the move to temporary digs near the future campus. And Monaghan has told members of the law school board that he would like Ave Maria law students to relocate to Florida as well.
Opponents of the move, however, insist it’s too soon to uproot the school, which Monaghan launched in 2000 to train a new cadre of conservative Catholic lawyers. Since then, grads have gone on to clerkships with high-profile conservative judges, including appellate judge William Pryor, Jr., and Samuel Alito, Jr., when he was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Ave Maria received full American Bar Association accreditation last year.
By moving to Florida, the school would risk losing that accreditation, says Ave Maria law professor Stephen Safranek, a critic of the move, who contends that only a small minority of faculty members would be willing to relocate. (ABA accreditation is based in part on the strength of a law school’s faculty.) Plus, the new campus will be much farther away from internship and externship opportunities and potential clerkships, say Safranek and other critics. (The nearest major federal courthouse is in Miami, nearly two hours away.) They also complain that the new campus won’t offer nearly as rich an intellectual climate as Ann Arbor, the home of the University of Michigan. “We’re in one of the real academic centers of the Midwest,” says Andrew Doran, a rising third-year Ave Maria law student who is against the move.
“You give up a lot of advantages when you’re not near a major metropolitan center,” agrees Terrence McKeegan, a 2003 Ave Maria grad, who has helped organize alumni opposition to the move. “I don’t see how being in the middle of nowhere in Florida is a move forward.”
A spokesperson for Dean Dobranski said that he was not available for comment. The dean has not taken a public position on the move, but McKeegan and other alums perceive him as being far too willing to go along with whatever Monaghan wants. Many also blame him for the law school’s fourth-tier showing in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings, saying that Dobranski has not done enough to maintain the school’s admission standards or to boost Ave Maria’s profile in the wider legal community.
Law school board member Bowie Kuhn, the former U.S. baseball commissioner, insists that the criticism is unfair. “I think [Dobranski] has done a smashing job as dean,” says Kuhn. He contends that upset over the move is premature, since the feasibility study will not be completed before August, and board members will not make any decisions on a move before at least September. “The board’s going to have a lot of homework to do,” says Kuhn, noting that even if the move is okayed, the Florida campus won’t be ready for law students until at least fall 2009.
Still, Ave Maria alum McKeegan points out that the school did a similar feasibility study three years ago, which weighed in favor of staying in Ann Arbor. And he fears that the current study will simply be window-dressing for a decision that’s already a done deal—given that the school’s top donor is pushing for the move.
In fact, McKeegan and other critics say the real problem is Monaghan’s insistence on running the school like a sole proprietorship, and the board’s failure to stand up to him. “The bigger issue is school governance,” says Jason Negri, a 2003 Ave Maria grad and the head of the alumni association.
A spokesman for Monaghan said that he was not available for comment.
Some alums are exploring whether it might be possible to raise enough funds to sever the school’s ties with Monaghan and keep the school in Michigan. But for now, the move’s opponents concede that Monaghan will likely continue to call the shots.
“I think he looks at it as his law school,” says Negri, “and he can do with it what he wants.” —Susan Hansen