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FUMARE

Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Developments at Ave Maria College and the Value of a Contract

The recent events at AMSoL have taken everyone off guard. Our sister school, Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI, has been in the midst of similar turbulence for the last several years, but many of us believed (perhaps incorrectly) that the law school would be kept free of the chaos at the College, due to the guidance of the faculty, staff, and Board of Governors.

There are some new developments with the fate of the College that supporters of the Law School should keep an eye on. The current students at the College had been promised that classes and school would continue through the next school year, 2006-2007, with the College being closed after that time. However, the President of the College recently conveyed to the students the possibility that the students would be "bought out" of the last year of the school, so that the school could close one year earlier than promised. It is still uncertain what exactly this proposal entails: whether students would be given money for scholarships to another school; how much money is involved; whether students could opt out; whether the "buy out" is still only a hypothetical possibility; or whether it is a foregone conclusion. Please know that Fumare will be sure to keep all informed of any additional news.

This development at the College is an example of a business philosophy which I believe to be incorrect: a philosophy holding that agreements can be broken as long as the breaching party is willing to pay full economic damages for the broken agreement. In this view, agreements no longer have any more worth or value than a figure with a dollar sign. Unfortunately, this purely economic analysis of contracts is dominant in today's legal world. Once the absolutes of truth, beauty, and goodness are forgotten, money becomes the only standard to measure the value of a thing. With this economic analysis of contracts, promises and agreements lose the sanctity they once had; someone's word is no longer something that should be upheld for its own sake.

Let's assume that a "buy out" of Ave Maria College students with full tuitions to other schools makes the most economic sense for all involved: Ave Maria College saves money from shutting down a year early, and the students are fully compensated with a paid year at another institution. Even with the economic benefit, however, the students still lose out: they lose out on a year of great classes with great professors; they lose out on a year of great friendships with their fellow classmates; they lose out on a year of living in the great Christian community and environment present at Ave Maria College; they lose out on a whole great year of their lives, a year that was promised to them when they first entered the College.

Thus, even if one accepted hypothetically that the closing of Ave Maria College and Law School and the move to Florida was a great idea, one should recognize that there is a proper way to accomplish the move that takes more into account than a simple economic cost/benefit analysis. There may be a method to accomplish the Florida move that considers, in addition to economics, the well-being of students, professors, and faculty who have contributed so much to the success of the schools; a method that, though perhaps financially costly, recognizes the value of keeping one's promises.

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