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

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Dean Milhizer Editorial: AMSL Will Persevere

Acting Dean of Ave Maria School of Law, Eugene Milhizer, has an editorial about AMSL in yesterday's Naples News:
I speak for the entire law-school community when I express my sincere excitement to complete our transition to our new Naples campus in early July.

Years of preparation will culminate in the founding of our Vineyards Campus, which will serve as home to our law-school community of more than 450 students, faculty, staff and employees.
Well, I don't know about "years of preparation" for the Vineyards campus. I mean, the decision to move to Vineyards was only made last spring, right? And isn't Vineyards only a temporary location, and not a "culmination"?

Unsurprisingly, the editorial is a rose-colored piece, emphasizing the few positives that exist for AMSL:
I am pleased to report that the state of the law school is strong. According to the Law School Admissions Council, Ave Maria School of Law is one of just 15 American Bar Association-approved law schools experiencing a significant increase in applications for admission (more than 30 percent). This is noteworthy because more than 60 of the 200 ABA-approved law schools across the country are experiencing a decline in applications.

Indeed, Ave Maria School of Law currently has the largest applicant pool in its history, with more than 1,750 applications received. Increased tuition revenue from this class will complement increases in financial contributions to the law school, which will exceed last year's totals by 5 percent by the close of our fiscal year.

These results are even more impressive when compared to many other higher-education institutions, which are suffering a decline in their contributions due to the weak economy.
A larger applicant pool is a good thing, because that should translate into a smaller acceptance rate as the school is able to be more selective in its accepted students. And acceptance rate is a factor in the US News ranking. I don't have access to this year's US News rankings, but I suspect that we've got plenty of room for improvement.

Milhizer also addresses the recent news of AMSL failing the financial responsibility test:
Like many new higher-education institutions, Ave Maria School of Law has a complex financial outlook. Earlier this week, an article appeared in the Daily News that referenced a U.S. Department of Education report suggesting the law school is struggling financially. It is important that I clarify the true position of the law school’s finances.

Ave Maria School of Law is a private, independent law school that has intentionally chosen to accept small classes of students in order to maintain the high standards of our student body. Only seven classes have graduated from our law school, and while our alumni are extremely generous, there are simply fewer of them to call on compared to an older law school. And while Ave Maria School of Law lacks the backing of a giant state-supported university, as many other new law schools have had, our finances are secured by the Ave Maria Foundation, a major educational philanthropy committed to our law school's success.

In this moment, due to our cross-country move, the global recession and the youth of our law school, we face a time where it might be easier than usual to point to negative news. But every trend that leads to an institution's success — most importantly, the numbers of applicants and donors, the quality of the education and the accomplishments of our students and alumni -- projects that Ave Maria is moving rapidly toward financial independence.
I know that as "Acting Dean" you have to put a positive spin on things, but this sentence bothers me because it misleads about the fact that maybe a majority of alumni don't donate on principle because of the problems with AMSL's governance: "Only seven classes have graduated from our law school, and while our alumni are extremely generous, there are simply fewer of them to call on compared to an older law school." AMSL's small financial support is not simply a function of having a small alumni base and a small donor base; it's also a function of AMSL's administration acting immorally and irresponsibly in the past, thereby alienating large portions of its alumni, donors, and former supporters. And what is this mention of financial independence? It is a serious project or a just a talking point?
That is what Ave Maria School of Law will do -- persevere. The remarkable story of the first 10 years of our law school has hardened our resolve and made us far better prepared to overcome tough circumstances.
The exhortation to persevere is not as compelling when you remember that AMSL's struggles to overcome tough circumstances during the past 10 years were mostly caused by AMSL's own mistakes.

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