Friday, May 05, 2006

Rice Says: Make Falvey Dean, Ryan Chairman

What follows is the text of a letter dated today from Professor Rice to Thomas Monaghan and Bernard Dobranski.

May 5, 2006
Mr. Thomas S. Monaghan
Dean Bernard Dobranski
Ave Maria School of Law
3475 Plymouth Road
Ann Arbor, MI 48105

Dear Tom and Bernie:

You both have played essential roles in the inception and development of Ave Maria School of Law (AMSL). As a founding member of the Board of Governors, I know the difficulty of the task and the effort and personal resources you both put into it. The purpose of this letter is to suggest a course of action that could lead to an equitable and constructive solution of the present crisis at AMSL.

The occasion for this letter is the unprecedented concurrence of formal declarations by the AMSL faculty, the AMSL alumni board and the signers of the AMSL student petition, all expressing what amounts to a terminal lack of confidence in Bernie’s leadership of AMSL. That lack of confidence implicitly applies also to Tom because of the reality, as well as the perception, that, contrary to ABA standards, AMSL is, in effect though not by design, governed as a sole proprietorship with Bernie as the resident agent.

This is not the place for a detailed analysis of the specifications laid out by the faculty, alumni and students. They credibly allege serious abuses, including significant violations of ABA standards. I am not a member of the full-time AMSL faculty, but I can corroborate a number of the grievances they have alleged. The credibility of both of you among those primary constituencies has evaporated.

Please understand. I believe that you both are acting in what you see as the best interests of AMSL. In effect, however, your conception of those interests has resulted in a subordination of the interests of AMSL to those of Tom and his Florida venture. You are doing what you think is right. But it has long been evident that this course you are pursuing is on a collision course with the welfare, and even the survival, of AMSL. Since 2002 I have documented, in the records of the Board of Governors, from which I was ejected last December, my concerns about the prudential and constitutional problems involved in Tom’s transfer of his personal focus from Ann Arbor to Florida and especially in the possible involvement of AMSL in the

Mr. Thomas S. Monaghan
Dean Bernard Dobranski
May 5, 2006
Page -2-


projected Ave Maria Town (AMT) project.

On October 15, 2003, I wrote a private, four-page letter to Tom explaining in detail my reasons for concern. I have not shown that letter to anyone else and have no intention of so doing. I mention it here only to emphasize that the imprudence of the course you are both pursuing has been obvious for years. Yet you have persisted in policies that have destabilized the school by subordinating, in effect, the interests of AMSL to Tom’s agenda. You both surely believe that such policies are in the best interests of AMSL, but all that belief does is validate the concerns expressed by the faculty, alumni and students.

In light of the foregoing points, what can be done to resolve the crisis? You both seem determined to carry out Tom’s purpose to move AMSL to the new Ave Maria Town (AMT) in Florida. Let’s be blunt. If you do so, all you will take to Florida will be the name, Ave Maria School of Law, some movable assets and such students, faculty and staff who see no alternative. It will be a mere shell of the school that is AMSL. I am informed also that the likely expense of uprooting what can be uprooted from Ann Arbor and moving it to Florida, building at AMT a new law school building of sufficient quality to attract students and faculty to such a location, subsidizing several years of students with scholarships and stipends sufficient to lure them to that school, buying a new faculty and promoting the entire venture, along with other major transition costs, would probably exceed the cost of starting from scratch and accrediting a brand-new law school at AMT. In either case, ABA accreditation mechanisms would be involved.

The reality is that if you proceed with that uprooting and transplantation, the school will continue to be involved in turmoil and negative publicity resulting from your repudiation of the serious concerns of your present faculty, students and alumni, and other possible controversies. A further consideration is the unjust hardship that would result to the hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni, and their families, who committed themselves to AMSL in Ann Arbor without any expectation that the school would be subject to uprooting and transplantation under such conditions. AMSL is not Tom Monaghan’s law school. You both, as well as the Board of Governors, have a serious fiduciary duty not only to AMSL but also to the members of its community.

Again to put it bluntly, your well-intentioned but imprudent subordination, in effect, of the interests of AMSL to another agenda has made such a mess of things that another solution must be sought. I hope you will agree that it is time for you both to sit down with representatives of your AMSL constituencies and develop a

Mr. Thomas S. Monaghan
Dean Bernard Dobranski
May 5, 2006
Page -3-


constructive, friendly resolution under which you would take to Florida the name, Ave Maria School of Law, together with willing faculty, students and staff. An equitable financial settlement could be reached with respect to the Ann Arbor school and the Ave Maria Foundation. The Ann Arbor school would retain its accreditation and would adopt a new name. The result would be a two-fer, with two Catholic law schools instead of one, with one in AMT and the other, financially and organizationally independent, in Ann Arbor. This arrangement would seem to be achievable under ABA regulations. With an equitable arrangement for interim financing, there is very good reason to expect that the Ann Arbor school could be self-sustaining in an acceptable time. Bernie, of course, would retain his position as a tenured member of the faculty of the Ann Arbor school.

Under an arrangement such as this, AMSL would be free to establish itself under that name at AMT and the existing school in Ann Arbor would enjoy restored stability and an unimpeded opportunity to grow. My personal view, incidentally, which I have not cleared with anyone else, is that with Joe Falvey as Dean and Judge James Ryan as Chairman of the Board, the Ann Arbor school would take off like a rocket because of the resulting assurance not only of competence and total integrity but also of the certainty that every decision would be made according to the undiluted criterion of the best interests of the school.

I present this proposal to you both rather than also to the Board of Governors. I am confident that the Board will agree with whatever Tom decides. The Board confirmed its compliant role when it voted “[u]nanimously” to express its “total confidence” in Bernie on the same day that virtually unprecedented charges were made against Bernie by the faculty who requested a discussion with the Board. The Board rejected the faculty complaint without deigning even to discuss it with the faculty. That act of the Board was, in my opinion, irresponsible and a violation of its duty to the faculty under ABA standards. It was disgusting. Every Governor who voted for that resolution should resign. Incidentally, the Board resolution of approval was described as “[u]nanimously passed at a special meeting,” which apparently was a telephone meeting. I know at least one Governor who declined to vote to support that resolution because that Governor had not heard both sides of the issue.

This letter contains merely my own personal opinions, for which no one else is responsible. I am not sending this letter to the general AMSL list, but I will make it available to interested members of the AMSL community. I hope you will consider this letter in the spirit in which it is written. That spirit is neither combative nor unfriendly. Rather it is one of accommodation. You both, and I, have been involved

Mr. Thomas S. Monaghan
Dean Bernard Dobranski
May 5, 2006
Page -4-


in AMSL virtually from its inception. The differences here are of judgment and any criticisms are of policies or acts rather than of persons. We are accustomed to speak with candor. And you know that the views I have advanced in this letter do not imply that you have done anything except what you perceive to be in the best interests of AMSL. But the fact is that, unless constructive measures are urgently taken to solve the problems your policies have created, the very existence of AMSL, whether in Ann Arbor or AMT, will be gravely imperilled.

The most important suggestion here is that we join in a union of prayer, especially to the Patroness of Ave Maria School of Law, for a successful resolution that will advance the mission of her Son in his Church.

With appreciation and best regards,

Sincerely,



Charles E. Rice
Professor Emeritus of Law

CER/lp

2 Comments:

At 10:06 AM, May 06, 2006, Blogger percy said...

A sensible, workable plan. Dare we hope?

 
At 9:14 PM, May 06, 2006, Anonymous Scoop said...

The students and faculty need to get together and proactively approach Dobranski (and/or Monaghan) about this, before Tom tells Bernie to arbitrarily and unequivocally disregard it as crazy talk or some other such nonsense.

Rice is the man, and he's right about this one in every respect.

 

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