Alfredo Garcia
Alfredo Garcia (J. Albert Diaz)

Douglas Ray, the law dean at St. Thomas University, is the latest Florida law school dean to step down after less than four years in the position.

Ray’s replacement was announced without a nationwide search. Alfredo Garcia, who served as dean of the private Miami Gardens law school from 2007 to 2010, was reappointed, the school announced Monday.

Ray will remain as a law professor, effectively switching places with Garcia, who has been a full-time law professor since 2010.

The private Catholic university has 650 law students.

Ray is the fifth law dean in Florida to step down this year of 11 law schools. The others are at the University of Florida, Nova Southeastern University, Ave Maria University and Florida Coastal School of Law. Additionally, the law dean at Stetson University resigned last year.

Alexander Acosta, law dean at Florida International University and an applicant for the UF opening, said it’s a tough time to be a law dean with fundraising becoming increasingly challenging, the legal industry contracting and LSAT scores declining at some schools.

“Our profession is changing, and law schools must adjust quickly to new opportunities,” he said. “Students expect no less as they enroll with the expectation that their degree will lead to jobs and successful careers.”

Ray said he was stepping down from the administrative post for personal reasons effective July 15. Among his main accomplishments are establishing an alumni relations office, expanding student pro bono efforts to 23,000 hours, promptly being reaccredited by the American Bar Association after an inspection and overseeing the construction of a new building, the Center for Professional Development.

The decision to reappoint Garcia without a national search was unanimous, Ray said.

“The feeling was universal within the law school and the university that had we done a national search, Al Garcia would have been the leading candidate,” Ray said. “He’s highly respected by the faculty, highly respected by the students, he’s written three books, and he’s a national authority on criminal law. As we embark on a fundraising campaign, he’s highly respected in the region.”

Garcia, 62, was the first Cuban-born dean of an ABA-accredited law school. He initiated the school’s first five-year strategic plan, improved its bar passage rate and launched a successful fundraising campaign for the school.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Bob Butterworth, the former law dean at St. Thomas and state attorney general, said Garcia was a good pick to replace Ray.

“The faculty didn’t even want to do a search because they have such respect for Al,” Butterworth said. “Not only does he have a J.D., but he has a Ph.D, which is unusual. He’s a very good administrator, he’s a very good teacher, and he’s a prolific writer. He’s the total package.”

Garcia pushed an aggressive plan to sell naming rights to every part of the school. Naming rights to the school is still available for $10 million, but smaller donors also were given the opportunity to have their names plastered on the student center, law library, conference room, annexes, breezeways, classrooms, instructor’s offices and a new Center for Global Justice and Dialogue.

Among the donations were $300,000 from alumnus Alex Hanna, a traffic ticket defense attorney, to name the law library and the school entrance, $50,000 from Miami bankruptcy attorney Pat Cordero for a breezeway, $25,000 from Philip and Denise Gerson for a conference room, $10,000 from Bilzin Sumberg Baena Price & Axelrod attorney David Gersten for the moot courtroom atrium, $10,000 from Miami personal injury attorney Sean Greene for a walkway and $10,000 from Michael P. Rudd of Rudd & Diamond for another walkway.

“We named literally everything but the school, and that was in the midst of the recession,” Garcia said.

He said he intends to continue his fundraising campaign, using the money to subsidize student tuition. He also will oversee a new two-year law school program that was just approved by school administrators. It’s unclear whether students will embrace the program, which entails attending classes for three consecutive summers. Florida Coastal has a similar program.

Garcia generated controversy in 2010 over his boycott of U.S. News & World Report rankings, refusing to fill out the survey. He has said the rankings do a disservice to schools with a diverse student body, and St. Thomas has one of the most diverse in the country.

When asked whether he will again boycott the survey, Garcia said: “I think I made my statement. The survey has a negative impact on the law schools.”