Saint Louis University School of Law has joined the list of schools that have seen their deans depart abruptly amid bitter disputes over money.
Annette Clark resigned her deanship on August 8 — after a single year on the job — sending scathing letters to both the University President Lawrence Biondi and the law school faculty accusing the university of raiding law school funds.
Biondi quickly responded with a letter of his own to the law school faculty alleging that Clark resigned just hours before she was to be fired, adding that administrators had already selected her replacement.
Biondi, in his letter to faculty, named local attorney Thomas Keefe Jr. as the law school’s new dean. Keefe is alumnus of the law school.
“As an active practicing lawyer, he will bring perspectives that will be helpful as we examine our future and how best to produce graduates who meet the needs of law firms in St. Louis and around the country.”
Clark did not respond to a request for comment. A spokeswoman said the university would have no comment beyond what Biondi wrote in his letter.
Clark joins the company of Glenn Weissenberger, fired as dean of the DePaul University College of Law in 2009 after battling with the university over how much of its income the law school would retain. He took his concerns to the American Bar Association.
Additionally, Phillip Closius resigned as dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law in 2011 at the request of university President Robert Bogomolny after they butted heads over the so-called “tax” — the amount of law school-generated money collected by the central administration. That dispute led to an agreement that the law school would received an extra $1 million per year for the next five years and that the law school would control its tuition levels.
Clark’s resignation letter was unsparing in its assessment of the university’s leadership. “I no longer have confidence in either of your abilities to lead this institution or in your commitment to the well-being of the School of Law,” she wrote to Biondi and University Vice President Manoj Patankar.
Clark listed five specific grievances, including that Biondi last year took $800,000 from the law school’s building fund without the approval of then-interim dean Sandy Johnson, and that he did not fulfill an agreement that the law school would retain $260,000 for summer research stipends. The school had already promised the money to faculty members, she wrote.
Clark also took issue with the university’s acquisition of a downtown St. Louis office building as the new location of the law school without consulting law school administrators. The university announced in January that the school would move to the donated building, but the plans have been pushed back to allow more time for renovations.
“From the beginning of my deanship, you have evinced hostility toward the law school and its faculty and have treated me dismissively and with disrespect, issuing orders and edicts that allowed me virtually no opportunity to exercise the very discretion, judgment and experience for which the faculty enthusiastically hired me,” Clark wrote.
Biondi did not respond to Clark’s specific money allegations in his letter to faculty, citing the university’s personnel policies, but he disagreed with Clark’s “interpretations of the facts.”
“Her emails to Dr. Patankar and me, and to the faculty and staff of our School of Law, demonstrate a lack of a clear and comprehensive understanding of the duties and obligations, autonomy and authority, of a modern-day dean at a large and complex university,” he wrote.
Biondi, who has served as university president since 1987, wrote that administrators had scheduled a late morning meeting on August 8 to fire Clark, but that she did not show up and instead sent her letter of resignation.
In her letter to the law school faculty, Clark wrote that she had been warned by Patankar that, “the president operates on emotion, not reason, and that the law school was going to have to ‘pay the price’ for the autonomy it had enjoyed in the past.”
She was informed of the decision to acquire the downtown building only three days before the public announcement, she added, and clashed with university administrators over providing private offices for faculty. Finally, Biondi had criticized her for not doing enough fundraising, she wrote.
Clark assumed the deanship in July 2011 after serving as an associate dean at Seattle University School of Law. She wrote that she plans to remain a tenured faculty member but would seek a deanship elsewhere “in the near term.”
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