The University of Cincinnati has ousted law dean Jennifer Bard less than two years into her five-year term, an unusual move in the legal academy.
Bard’s removal comes after repeated clashes with some members of the faculty, apparently over her efforts to cut the law school’s budget in order to reduce a significant operating deficit.
University Provost Peter Landgren emailed law students and faculty Wednesday to inform them of his decision.
“After much deliberation and after many conversations with the dean and many of you who are part of the College of Law community, I have met with Dean Jennifer Bard today and taken steps to place her on administrative leave effective immediately,” Landgren wrote.
Landgren didn’t specify his reasons for removing Bard, but said the decision was “precipitated by a thorough evaluative process that involved in large part the College of Law community.”
Bard said in a written statement Thursday that she was surprised by the university’s “precipitous action” in removing her so soon after news of internal faculty problems were made public.
“This action was unexpected and raises serious questions about the University’s failure to support the financial goals for which I was hired and the due process to which I am entitled,” Bard wrote. “We had an agreement for a process that included bringing in a mediator to address these issues and I deeply disappointed that the Interim Provost chose to close down this process and take this unprecedented action to frustrate the College of Law’s progress.”
Stories of a faculty at war began trickling out earlier this week, when the Cincinnati Business Courier reported that at least nine faculty members discussed holding a vote of no confidence in Bard late last year. That story was based on emails obtained through a public records request, and those emails did not reveal the faculty’s specific concerns with Bard. Landgren then devised a six-month plan to repair relations between Bard and the faculty.
On Wednesday, Bard told the publication that the “small but vocal” cabal of her faculty opponents were unhappy with her efforts to tackle the school’s “multi-million” dollar operating deficit. She strengthened the approval process for faculty travel and considered integrating the law library into the larger university library system as a cost saver, she told the publication.
Cincinnati hired Bard away from Texas Tech University School of Law in 2015 for what was to be a five-year term that ran through 2020. Bard had directed Texas Tech’s health law program. She replaced former dean Louis Billoni, who had been in that role for a decade. Bard said that cutting costs was one of her mandates from university officials.
The law school rocketed up 22 spots on U.S. News & World Report’s closely watched law school rankings last year, due largely to a climb in the number of graduates who were employed 10 months after graduation. But the school fell 12 spots to No. 72 on the latest U.S. News ranking, released last week, despite an increase in the Law School Admission Test scores of new students. Both the school’s bar pass rate and its student-to-faculty ratio took hits this year.
According to data from the American Bar Association, the school’s faculty and administration shrunk from 69 in the spring of 2014 to 57 in the spring of 2016. Meanwhile, the number of new students enrolling over that period grew from 73 to 126 in 2016.
Bard wrote that the law school has improved under her leadership, with a boost in applications, plans for a new building, and increased fundraising. “I was recruited to reduce a significant financial deficit at the law school and establish sound financial controls and am gratified at the significant progress the school has made toward these goals under my leadership,” she said.
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