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

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Unofficial Transcript of Tonight's Faculty-Student Meeting

If accurately reported here, I can say that I have never been more proud to have studied under these professors. They are the epitome of class and love for their students. No further commentary is necessary.

April 25, 2007
Ave Maria School of Law, Room 269
8:00PM. All seats taken in the room; many people standing

Faculty Present: Professors Lyons, Falvey, Myers, O’Callaghan, Strang, Pucillo, Lee, Frohnen, Safranek, Murphy, Carr (joined later as she had a previous commitment)

Myers: [Open with the Hail Mary.] Let me begin by saying we are not here to make any explosive announcements; we mean this to be a discussion and informational meeting.

History of school: Monaghan’s financial support, pushed for Dobranski as dean, led school successfully during accreditation; nationwide support; notes the risk that the 1st year class took; done a lot in first years of existence; all original faculty were involved in writing the mission statement.

Distressing to faculty are several things that have happened in past few years; some people think faculty are trying to destroy/jeopardize school with regard to ABA accreditation. Most concerns from faculty have not involved move, but rather with Board of Governors lack of response. Faculty filed complaint with ABA due to school not living up to mission/accreditation.

Issues of complaint fairly serious, but could be easily resolved by Board of Governors. No serious risk to accreditation if school/constituency act to ensure school works within mission/ABA standards. Notes unusual action of ABA fact-finder—lends credence to the seriousness of issue. Not a significant risk to accreditation if the school will comply with issues brought forth. These issues have been rebuffed summarily.

Another example of faculty/alum trying to obstruct move. No opposition from faculty toward move to FL if in best interest of school if given the opportunity to evaluate; with the research the faculty has completed, not in best interest; no demonstration of best interest.

Move subject to acquiescence of ABA; important part of process; if ABA grants acquiescence, it looks at best interest of school. Nobody knows exactly what will happen. Spoken with legal educators outside law school—some uncertainty as to whether acquiescence will be granted. Significant issue with regard to faculty relocation, etc. If school does not receive acquiescence & decides to move—serious issue that needs to be explored. If acquiescence concerns exist within ABA, it’s because they are not sure if it’s in the best interest to move.

Contingency plan: What happens if the school does not get acquiescence? Not a lot has been said. Conversely, what will happen if it does move? Has not been disclosed. No “Plan B” has been expressed. Ex: Falvey Report—school with accreditation is viable; notes 2 years ago close to financial sufficiency. Law schools are profitable. Faculty thinks product offered here is superior legal education. Well on road to financial self-sufficiency/achieving goals. Many supporters willing to ensure long-term viability—unable to provide specific details. Entities/individuals who would support the school are out there. Optimistic about the future of the school

Question: When you say that it isn’t faculty is against FL but that there are issues that have led to complaint, what would have to change in order for the school to move in a viable way?

Myers: Complaint had nothing to do with FL move. Tried to resolve problems internally leading up to no confidence in dean. Haven’t spoken publicly b/c tried to resolve internally. Next step was ABA complaint. Issues relate to academic freedom/faculty governance. Professorss devoted life/efforts to school; no reason to want to see school fail. Want to make sure school lives up to ideals/mission. Issues w/ ABA do not have to do with FL.

When issue of relocation came up with Feasibility Study of Deans Read & White, faculty wanted to know what this would do for the school…what benefits would exist? R/W does not address. Faculty does not think it is beneficial…successful school picked up and move has serious risks. Evidence not presented that move was in best interest of school. Better to watch and see how new town/university perform; would it be in best interest to be there with them? Turns on many factors, especially health of that institution. Risky to move.
Other issues don’t have to do with relocation, rather admin philosophy, vision of community, role of faculty—these things need to be resolved prior to a move. If school isn’t living up to ideals, it will not succeed. Need to see some type of proposal—here’s what will happen to school, here’s how it will be run, here’s how issues of concern will be remedied.

Question: Where did things go wrong? If all was going well, where did it happen? 2nd: Losing some faculty. Can the remainder give assurance that you will remain to ensure quality of education?

O’Callaghan: No control over that.

Safranek: Some people are leaving, but if things put in proper order, those leaving would return and those thinking of it would stay. It would be very difficult for me to conceive remaining with the institution if current order remains. Things are so disordered. Despite what might be said, many myths promoted. Myth: Faculty come and go—the reality is boards, donors, deans come and go. Faculty remains. Four faculty been here since beginning—board members come and go. This was not a way station; many professorss treat lower schools as such. This was an aspirational place to be. #1 destination. Current order of things indicate uncertainty, especially tomorrow.

O’Callaghan: Haven’t heard of current plans, other than those heard, of leaving on their own.

Safranek: Dating analogy: Over time, things change. Same language, different meaning. One party might undergo different pressures/situations which lead to different understandings—lead to different directions. No deep detail, but from beginning, there were profound differences we weren’t attuned to; over course of things, there is a fund difference of vision. Problem we have is that the Catholic Church has vision of university based on community of scholars that reaches out in various ways. If you don’t have that, you can’t have a Catholic school. Mission and faculty has all embraced a vision consistent with Catholic vision. Frankly, leadership does not have that vision. Admitted that they do not. “New Vision” of Catholic education ordered with Monaghan on top and various administrators who run school within that vision. Inconsistent with church vision of Catholic institutions. Thought he shared my vision, he thought I shared his. Seeing fruits of Monaghan vision being borne out. [Notes all schools Monaghan has started.] Which do we embrace? Which does church embrace?

Frohnen: Ex Corde: Does this vision mean that professors are prima donnas want to be the center of everything/don’t want to work? Students are the center of why faculty is here. What happens in classroom is a shared vision…common vision…common respect. When that becomes subordinate to other concerns—efficiency, proper market conditions, etc.—it dehumanizes everyone. All faculty had other options that paid a lot more money…if the school was run with that vision, I would stay no matter what. Will not put family at risk.

Lee: As someone who is leaving—people here are among finest. Leaving pains me. Breaks my heart. I’m leaving not because I’m trying to escape or leaving the students. I’m leaving because of my family. I hope in the act to shock the administration into waking up and realizing what they are doing. This is a community of scholars…should not be diminished. Absurd. Common vision of human dignity; when it stops serving that end, time for everyone to leave. Offering heartbreak up to make this a better place. This is the best community I’ve ever been a part of.

Question: Noticed most faculty are here…some are not. Previous emails note names that aren’t on the list. Can any of you speak to relations among all faculty? Being in a minority group must be difficult for them. Can you speak to faculty relations? OK with each other?

Pucillo: What breaks my heart is that two of those people are godparents to my youngest son. We barely speak anymore. A third was a very dear friend. Why haven’t they been there with us? Don’t want to say much more than that, but nothing would please me more than to be together on this and have the common vision spoken of tonight. All faculty need to come together and decide that for the good of all of you and the school that we have to get back to where we started. I don’t know if that will happen. I pray for it constantly. Would be a lie to say it hasn’t affected relationships.

Question: Why, from your perspective…a couple of you refer to tomorrow morning and possible surprises…why is it important to you to come here and allow us to hear exactly what the vision is and stand that you’ve taken…why does it matter what the student body thinks?

O’Callaghan: Students coming into my office in tears, asking for advice, direction about where school is going. I don’t know if it’s fool’s hope, but there is hope that the institution will thrive and go forward. It’s a misconception that we either get behind the administration and go to FL or the school closes. False idea. Not reality of situation. For people to have that as guiding decision to their future is a disservice. Students deserve to have good information. The other is that I respect students here/in classes and there’s a certain. Difficult to balance goals of school—school success and keep thing together and moving forward. Balancing these things is difficult. Silence the faculty has maintained has been misleading.
Lee: Precipitous of faculty raising this issue before final exams…leaving concern lingering among students more detrimental. Better to get reaction from faculty.

Many of us have taken the time to try to talk to the Dean and express our concerns…we get half-answers, half-truths, misinformation, and changing answers. Do you get anything from him? We can get nothing from the man…does he talk to you?

Falvey: [shakes his head no]

Myers: Difference of opinions in disclosure of our opinion; I took a cautious approach; may have been a mistake. I was optimistic that issues may have been resolved….students are busy, but also have interest in what’s going on. Faculty has been more circumspect than prudent by hoping issues would be resolved internally. This meeting was a hope to promote optimism/faith in school to large group rather than individually that we are committed to having school be faithful to original ideals. Complaint/actions motivated by faith to institution—alums, current and future students—wanted to express that commitment. Value in initial public effort to give opportunity for thoughts on vision of school.

Question: Dean tells us that this is Monaghan’s school and that he’s running the show. Many students are misinformed in this respect, too. Is this remark flawed?

Falvey: When founded, we rejected idea of proprietary law school. Organized as educational non-profit—can’t be proprietary. Why not have a proprietary law school, then it’s clear that it’s Monaghan’s law school? Harder to get accreditation/trouble throughout their life. In ABA experience, proprietary law schools have problems…single board member can have too much sway in running.
When we received full accreditation, seemed to be running more and more like a proprietary law school. I had board members say same thing to me…to which I replied, “No, Your Eminence.” It’s a concern of ABA that the school is run de facto as proprietary law school but de jure it is not. Wish they had said that in the beginning…I’d have hooked onto being Monaghan’s law professor and then everyone could have said, “Shame on you, Falvey.” But I didn’t.

Question: You were seasoned attorneys, why would you sign on if that were the future?

Myers: Spent a lot of time thinking “Did we do something wrong?” Leap of faith in starting school. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Might have been better with a large endowment and run in a different way; we trusted that things would grow/mature. In a way, all talked in beginning that we all had the same vision. Monaghan has been very generous, but he said in beginning that he wouldn’t run school/would be detached; run the school at a distance. I think that in some ways we took gamble/risk, but had faith in school and thought this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Maybe should have had more foresight, but wouldn’t have happened if we had insisted on conditions....

Safranek: Promises/representations made. Among those were that Monaghan would spend whatever it took to ensure this would be a 1st tier law school. I understood that representation and so did first several classes. Was that promise fulfilled/on track? Not even spoken of. I teach K—promises made, promises kept. Agree with Meyers—Monaghan has donated $$, but many alums came here based on early representations made in various ways, faculty as well. My mistake was that I believed promises made to me. If people want to say I signed on to be part of law school run by Monaghan wherever/however he wanted, I would say no. The real question is—sure, there are problems that have occurred, but I can stand here and say that not a single promise/representation made by faculty has not been disregarded. I don’t want my silence to be construed as me continuing to represent something that has been represented for many years. This shift that it’s Monaghan’s school might be what the dean/Board of Governors wants now, but that’s not what we ever said. If it’s being said now, it’s being said for some purpose.

Question: There are some students who believe that school is a parental/familial analogy; this is like mommy and daddy fighting and we’re the children—should students speak up? Do we have a say?

Falvey: If a child sees a member of their family as being a victim of domestic violence, they should speak up.

Frohnen: Must have voice heard.

Question: Helplessness. Is there anything we can do to help/show support in most effective way possible?

Myers: Pray for the school. Important part of success from beginning. Power of prayer is significant. Pray for all members of community/health of school. Students are important part of community; even though short period of time, you’re part of comm. Important aspect at beginning; devoted student body/alum because we are offering something distinctive. Ask questions, make judgments about whether actions are satisfactory. Inform yourself, make judgment about interest of school. You are entitled to ask questions; be charitable and treat others politely and with dignity, but ask questions.

Murphy: Stunned by idea that faculty is stirring people. If you suspend your brain, leave this law school. Ask questions, get answers. Some confuse being civil with being resigned. Take advantage of education. Ask questions, get answers. You have responsibility to be a part of this community.

Question: Follow-up with ABA questions. With regard to acquiescence, dean has changed answer repeatedly: Is it now such that Board of Governors has made decision to move, are we in process of acquiescence or does this happen afterward? Also, current status of complaint and when we might hear something?

Pucillo: To relocate is a major change; requires prior acquiescence. Cooley got in trouble wanting to open branch campuses. Went ahead and did it, ABA said this was major change. Want to demonstrate program, ABA said no. ABA suspended Cooley for this action. Question becomes, at what point is change implemented? Is announcing to community that Board of Governors has made change the beginning? Is sending message to all other law school deans with a drawing of our “new building” a major change? Is putting building on market a major chg? At what point to you slide into a major change?

Question: Has bldg been put on market?


Question: Has app for acquiescence been entered?


Question: How will you know of the status of the ABA complaint?

Faculty will be notified if the report is closed. No notification if invest is continuing. Only if concluded.

Question: Is faculty notified if school is out of compliance?

Don’t know. Only in certain instances. Up to ABA.

O’Callaghan: Certain resolutions that might be made public.

In my coffee with the dean, it was made clear that I’m a third-class citizen: Students come last behind Monaghan, Board of Governors, the administration, and the faculty is thrown in somewhere, too. Can’t go talk to the dean or Board of Governors. I want to do something. What to do?

Murphy: He does have to talk to you, doesn’t he?

O’Callaghan: Won’t stay this way forever. Other things in the works. Don’t let this detract from education.

Lee: You have fine legal minds…doesn’t limit to analysis. Do some research. Search for similar situations that have happened before? How do students deal with similar situations? Go look it up.

Question/Interjection: You say not to let it detract from our education, but it’s hard to do. I’m sure you’ve seen the fall schedule…an influx of adjuncts, a reduction in the courses offered. It’s hard to get a quality legal education when I can’t even get the necessary courses. I can’t even get a course in real estate law…I took this to the dean, and his reply was that I should go take it at U of M because they have several offerings a semester. What kind of response is that?

Question: What of the Falvey Report: Not a valid document. Confidential. Board of Governors concerned with “Catholic Cooley.”

Falvey: Written Statement: On 2/20, letter circulated to law school community pertaining to report. Report not responsive, unrealistic, full of assumptions. Dobranski read pieces of report to community, then repeatedly claimed no such report existed. He still says so as recently as last Friday at faculty meeting. Claims have been repeated in meeting. Redacted version of report can be found on web.

Background: Monaghan acting on behalf of Board of Governors wrote Falvey a personal letter on 10/11/06 soliciting input on long-term viability of AMSOL in Ann Arbor. Given 45 days. Been asked to solicit financial viability. Completed report on 11/24/06. Left to Board of Governors to release to community. They have chosen not to. Falvey did not distribute to law school community. Did not leak to web. I draw attention now because Monaghan & Board of Governors have called into question my professional competence. Also due to denial of report. Also reports of confidentiality. As author, considered as such that it was of limited distribution. Furthermore, confidential due to confidential information provided. Information used was public. “Confidential” information given by the administration was deemed worthless. Budget information was denied. Any potentially sensitive information was placed in tabs not circulated to anyone. Heard claims that report was commissioned by Board of Governors. Was not. Was not compensated, retained. Had to pay for its copies from his own copy account. Dean claims no report/not asked for report. Monaghan wrote “your report” should be submitted within 45 days. In report, concluded that law school as approved by ABA based on assurances of financial support by Monaghan, fundraising, income, tuition, reduction in discount renders this school viable. Biggest ABA concern was “Are we viable in the long run absent Monaghan?” Board of Governors approved application to ABA, dean signed off, Monaghan signed off, stating this is our plan to reduce dependence on Monaghan and how we become less dependent. After accreditation, we deviated from that path. Now we are on path of possibly permanent dependence on Monaghan. With some adjustments, we can return to the path of independence. I wish they would have taken report more seriously. Just a box to check off for them. I think it’s persuasive, accurate, and presents damaging assessment of last couple of years.

Safranek: Disgusting to hear “Catholic Cooley.” Some Board of Governors called this a “failed experiment.” Troubling that board members would call us failed experiment. If dean said that was stated by Board of Governors member, troubling that dean would repeat it to us, the experiment. Stunning that it was said and repeated. Unbelievable about situation—here’s the board, year after year, approving budgets, spending money, overseeing dean, and here they have created a failed experiment, and that this failed experiment is entrusted to them to get it right in another place and time. They are the ones who approved the budgets, oversight of the dean, his operation of the school, oversight of faculty; if there was a problem, then they should have corrected them all along the way. If you talked prior to ABA, no words of “failed experiment” and Catholic Cooley, but rather commitment to 1st tier. They want you to be scared into believing this and that if we don’t go along with them in their plans, we’ll become Catholic Cooley. I have every reason to believe that with this faculty, student, alum, that this school can thrive with sufficient time to deal with some of the problems and move forward. Need more than 45 days to come up with a plan when the Board of Governors has spent 7 years coming up with a plan. How am I supposed to believe when the Board of Governors was the one responsible for getting us into this? How can I turn around and say you were right? I can hardly think of anything more affirmatively injurious than calling the LS a failed experiment.

Question: Acquiescence; If it turns out that ABA were not to grant acquiescence and school stays here, would that create problem for accreditation here?

Pucillo: We are accredited. We have it. This program is fully approved. A failed request of acquiescence would not affect accreditation.

Myers: If school made some other change in governance, then would have to seek acquiescence. Dean has said numerous times—no school ever lost ABA accreditation. Even if a problem occurs, there are opportunities to fix them. What we and the Falvey Report demonstrate is that the school is viable. Program offered, ability to attract students, that school is viable with plan for financial independence. Some bumps in the road over the past few years, but the basic model is that we can succeed. I do think you would see the idea of what we are trying to do here is sufficiently attractive that we would get the support from donors, students, alum. Cooley will take anyone who will come; ours was not. They’re being faithful to their vision; can’t be criticized for that vision. Not ours. Look at Falvey Report; see where school was when granted accreditation; plan is something that shows a proven record of success.

Question: Opportunity to transfer; need encouragement that made the right decision to stay.

Myers: Tried not to be critical of other schools. Lots of great law schools in the country. Can get a great legal education at those schools. The community here is what’s really special. [compares Ave to St. Thomas] Our goal was to form community; believe what we’re doing here; can’t look down on other schools. Tell students that they can get a great legal education here; confident to ensure great legal education. Faculty can control that; other parts they can’t. Tremendous benefits to being part.

Lyons: [compares our mission to St. Thomas] Here, being put to the mission. Struggling with that. Don’t know what will happen, but here we feel like we’re up against the man. Trying to figure out how to proceed, but the test you’re being put to is the mission itself. Is this the crucifixion or the resurrection? Going through this as a community. Beautiful, but a struggle.

Pucillo: Hope the fact that the faculty organized this talk shows that we feel your coming here/staying here was the right decision.

Question: Re: Financial viability. Convinced that school will not move, but what concerns me is in the next year or third year when Monaghan pulls all funding. Any feel on what deficit is? People you spoke of interested in financing the school post-Monaghan—would those people be able to meet that?

Falvey: We announced that some faculty members are committed to staying in Ann Arbor and would explore avenues to ensure that. Yes, familiar with annual grant this year and projected from the foundation. Yes, confident of survival without grants, not that they wouldn’t have to be replaced. A big key is that Monaghan made commitments to ABA and 1L class for scholarships, etc. I would hope that he isn’t talking of breaking that commitment. How do you survive in a post-Monaghan era? Easier prospect. I would hope he would keep his commitments. Bottom line: Every law school turns a profit; may not be able to keep it due to University taking for overhead. We can be there, too. No reason not to believe that. Whole pitch to ABA—we have a plan to be independent and financially sound.

Myers: It is true that law schools make money. Distinctive about us is that we aren’t trying to be like all other law schools. Ability we have to receive support is greater than one trying to make a go of it. We have opportunity to pursue excellence.

Falvey: Monaghan’s law school sales pitch. I’d like you to give your $$ so I can give less. Doesn’t sell. People came here, took a risk. Sell this school based on our benefits.

Question: Seems there is a structural authority problem. You went in with your eyes open and set up a law school with a Board of Governors and dean, but where did the faculty have authority? Where do you see yourselves? You guys are acting like a bunch of Protestants with the top-down authority. Is there a structural problem where the faculty has no authority or is it anomalous in this school that this is going on? Faculty should submit and reconcile; hearts are in the right place; courageous & just. How do I reconcile those competing notions?

Frohnen: This is a religion that is not top-down…questioning authority…natural law. Just because you say it, it isn’t so. Yes, we came in with eyes open that we were coming to work for a law school that is going to get ABA accreditation is promising academic freedom and faculty governance; we didn’t. It is clear in a law school organization that the role of the board/dean have to do with general policies; the educational program is in the hands of those whose hand it must be—the faculty. Catholics invented university as we know it; university has always been that way since the beginning; the heart of the university is what goes on between you and us. This could be fixed in an instant; all that has to happen is the Board of Governors act in accordance with the structure put forth by ABA.

Question: With the idea of being civil, noticed lot of personal attacks thrown around about faculty, students, Board of Governors, etc. The professors present have not behaved in this way. Can you speak to the idea that personal attacks aren’t needed?

Murphy: Refers to civility lecture. Emotions run high over difficult issues. If we want to transform the profession, we must practice civility with each other. Engage on merits of issues. People confuse the idea of what it is you’re trying to do. Intellectual questions on the merits. Ask questions that are legitimate, and you should get legitimate answers. Continue to press for legitimate answers. If you want to have a discussion, then operate on a civil level. Emotions get high, people get frustrated. I understand the level of frustration and encourage you to use civility, but do not let that devolve into subservience.

Question: Joke about passing hat for collection.] With all the publications about Monaghan’s school, could you relate the story of the founding faculty and how this school started.

Safranek: Troubling story to tell. When school was started, so many have contributed so much. It is inappropriate that some people claim primacy. Whatever contribution I made and others made I did so willingly. Honored to do so. Can’t take into account the sacrifices students have made. Others have mistakenly over-calculated their contribution to the law school; not so. Under-calculated. The faculty came, wrote a proposal, gave to Monaghan who made a substantial contribution, we volunteered to work to begin the school. Monaghan’s generosity has been substantial and it shouldn’t be underestimated, but to turn around and say this is his school or anyone else’s school is false. Who has made the greatest contribution? I don’t want to go into that. I wish the true story of the founding of this school had never been known. It’s embarrassing that it came out. How much more fascinating it would be that a donor that refused to be named was the donor that started this law school? The desire to claim credit…I prefer not to go into it. So many have done so much. When people tell you it’s not your school and Monaghan has donated so much and you should be obedient to him, it’s false. This is your school. You have risked far more than what Monaghan has put in. Entire community has. I find it utterly ridiculous, absurd, and shameful to downplay the risks that you have put in. The Board of Governors has no risk, it’s you.

O’Callaghan: Not just risk, but the things you build. Clubs, study groups, classroom atmosphere—these things create the community from nothing. You are the people who turn this into something valuable and unique. To treat it as fungible is bothersome.

Myers: No doubt how the school got started. Widespread agreement on how it came about. The history is not important in that it’s understood, but it says something about the vision that people have for the school. It’s quite clear—I try to point this out. We wanted the story to be about the community forming, not taking credit. People who have power and authority should exercise it to support the community. We have a vision of the school as a community of scholars that we’re trying to advance. It’s a fun story, but it only says something about how we want the school to operate and pursue the vision. If people say the school is the Board of Governors and that the faculty is fungible and only employees and that the students don’t matter that much, then they have a vision, but it’s not the vision that we have for the school. It’s not faithful to the church and the institution.

O’Callaghan: [Relates the story of the founding faculty’s donation of their salaries.]

Lee: Can you imagine how absurd this place would be if the center of meaning here was the Board of Governors? We all attend here so they have something to talk about at their meetings. The search for truth is why we’re here. That’s why we take the name of Mary, Seat of Wisdom.

Question: At this point, is it us or them? Can there be reconciliation?

Pucillo: It would mean the world if we, the faculty, could all be one again. There are very profound differences on the perception of faculty roles. It’s not too late with respect to our fellow faculty members. As for the admin…

Myers: [Close with the Lord’s Prayer]