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A decision to move Michigan’s Ave Maria School of Law to Florida has touched off a firestorm of controversy at the seven-year-old Catholic law school. A disagreement over the relocation has escalated in the past few months into a feud between the dean and several faculty members who allege they are being mistreated and ignored. The claims have led to many students and faculty leaving the school, and raised concerns about accreditation. During the past year, the majority of faculty passed a vote of no confidence in the dean. Also, faculty members sent a formal complaint about the dean to the American Bar Association (ABA), alleging that he unfairly denied them a voice in the relocation decision, intimidated faculty members who opposed the move, cut pay raises for those who voiced objections, and removed some professors from top committee chairs. [NLJ, May 14.] Meanwhile, three professors have resigned, including one last week. Also, two have taken leaves of absence and one has been suspended. Between 15 and 20 students are leaving the school, according to staff and the dean’s office. Ave Maria currently has 380 students. The school received ABA accreditation in 2005. Dean Bernard Dobranski insists that the problems will not hurt the school’s accreditation status or its move to Florida in 2009. “We received accreditation in the fastest amount of time possible. Why would we, less than two years later, somehow be at risk of losing that?” Dobranski said. “What we’re seeing is an awful lot of stuff to create this notion that it’s a law school that’s falling apart and in dire straits, and that’s simply not the case.” But, he added, “that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some faculty that are not happy.” Dobranski would not comment on personnel matters involving staff members, but denied allegations that he intimidated or took adverse actions against faculty who spoke out against him or the move to Florida. As for the vote of no confidence and the complaint filed with the ABA, he said: “For me, it was important in whether the board of governors was confident in me,” he said. On Feb. 20, Ave Maria officials announced the decision to move to Naples, Fla. According to Dobranski, a number of factors played into moving the school: Southwest Florida is experiencing a growth in Catholics and an overall economic growth. Also, Naples already has a solid Catholic base and there’s a Catholic school � Ave Maria University � in nearby Ave Maria, Fla. The law school has no affiliation with the school, but shares Tom Monaghan, the past owner of Domino’s Pizza, as its founder. The ABA would not comment on the pending complaint. William Rakes, chair of the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, said Ave Maria’s internal problems are not something the ABA gets involved with, nor considers when it comes to accreditation. Rakes, a partner at Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore in Roanoke, Va., noted that when Ave Maria moves to Florida, the school will have to file a notice with the ABA stating that there has been a substantial change in the school. At that time, the ABA will make sure it is still in compliance with ABA standards. That’s where the school could fall short, noted Stephen J. Safranek, an Ave Maria law professor who has been suspended since July. Safranek, who teaches contracts, constitutional law and civil procedure, believes that he is being punished for speaking out against the dean on several issues, including a cutback in faculty hirings, cuts in scholarships and a lack of shared governance by faculty in the school. Richard Myers, another Ave Maria law school professor, is equally concerned about the school, particularly its ability to attain and attract quality faculty � another ABA standard. Myers, who teaches civil procedure, constitutional law and antitrust law, said his salary was frozen after last year’s vote of no confidence. Also, he was removed as chair of the admissions committee.

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