Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Ave Maria Law School's Self-Immolation

Honestly, this blog isn't going to be All-Catholic, All The Time. Really.

As I've read at Volokh and Mark Shea, among other places, Ave Maria Law School is in some serious self-caused trouble. Many of the professors feel as though the school is being run as the personal fiefdom of a wealthy donor and board member, while the administration argues that the school is a "failed experiment" and starting over is best. Before I go any further, let me give some background.

Ave Maria Law School, which has no direct connection to Ave Maria University in Ave Maria Township in the state of Ave Maria Florida, is an independent conservative Roman Catholic law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ann Arbor is also home to the elite law school at University of Michigan, as well as being the hometown of Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino's Pizza, who is the wealthy donor mentioned in the above paragraph. Monaghan is also the a major donor and founder (I believe) of Ave Maria University and Ave Maria Township (perhaps they could secede and call their new political entity the State of Grace?). The law school, as well as the university and the town, was formed because other Roman Catholic law schools, such as those at Notre Dame, Georgetown, and so on, were considered too liberal, both politically and theologically. Although US News & Work Report ranks AMLS at the bottom, in Tier 4, the school has received some positive attention and praise, and appeared to be slowly gaining in credibility and prestige.

From my perspective, it looks as though Monaghan and the administration want to connect the law school with the university, which would likely improve both of them. However, there's more to it than that. It's doubtful that the school would keep its extremely-important American Bar Association accreditation if they moved from Michigan to Florida, as Ave Maria Township is considered the middle of nowhere (not that it stops Washington & Lee from being a top-30 law school...). Fuel was added to the fire when the administration warned faculty not to use their AMLS email accounts to send emails criticizing the administration or promoting another law school. This was apparently done because some professors had sent email to the student body saying that they were investigating carrying on the mission of AMLS in Ann Arbor if the school relocated to Florida. The administration has said that they're dead-set on moving, and that there's no "Plan B" if they don't get ABA accreditation.

Obviously, I don't know exactly what the experiment of Ave Maria Law School entailed. Monaghan had apparently bought out two other Roman Catholic law schools in the area and closed them down, along with the short-lived Ave Maria College in Michigan he had founded. At this point, the move looks like a foolish decision being made by those with the authority to do so. I suspect that few of the professors will move to the new location, and I doubt that the ABA will certify the school, which is truly a death knell as AMLS graduates won't be able to sit for the bar exam in most states. At the same time, though, even having the exact same staff in the exact same buildings would be a different school if the legal recognition of the school were transferred down to Florida. To argue otherwise would be for Roman Catholic to admit that the Church of England is the legitimate expression of the Catholic faith in Britain, as they kept the property and all but one of the bishops kept their seats.

It seems to me that a wiser course of action would have been to start a satellite campus in Florida. If it was economically viable then the two campuses would strengthen each other and provide more opportunities, and if not viable than resources could quietly be shifted to one of the schools. Not being in the know, however, I have no idea if this would have been possible. In the meantime, though, just about everyone comes out poorly, with the faculty and administration looking petty and the students looking abandoned. I have a soft spot for the Catholics, and I hope God will continue the mission of the school somewhere, regardless of mankind's pettiness.

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