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When Karen Miller-Gamble agreed to sign on as academic dean of John Marshall Law School a year ago, it appeared that her Harvard law degree and big-firm experience would prove precious assets to the institution. Gamble, along with Associate Professor Jeffrey A. Van Detta, announced their resignations Thursday in a joint letter distributed to students, faculty and staff. They say John Marshall’s new corporate management only cares about dollars and cents, and not the school’s historic mission to provide a legal education to working students and minorities. Just days earlier, Dean Robert J. D’Agostino announced he will step down from his post at year’s end. Jack Sites will serve as interim dean while the school searches for a permanent dean. Sites, a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law, is senior vice president of academic affairs for Chicago-based Argosy Education Group Inc. Argosy is a for-profit company that operates graduate schools. In September 1999 it loaned John Marshall $500,000 in exchange for an option to assume ownership of the school. The company says it now has invested nearly $3 million in the school. The departures come at a critical time for John Marshall, which is seeking provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association. The school’s third bid for official approval failed in June. An appeal of that decision is scheduled for review in February. The school was dealt another blow nearly two weeks ago when only 20 percent of its students passed the July Georgia Bar exam. INCONSISTENCIES CITED In their letter, Gamble and Van Detta say that corporate-driven decision-making and planning aren’t consistent with the school’s mission. “For example, corporate management proposed, and the Board adopted, a substantial tuition increase without undertaking a thorough study of the impact that such an increase would have on the students or on the law school’s ability to serve the mission,” the letter states. Gamble says the school’s tuition has gone from about $3,000 per trimester to about $4,000. John Marshall students don’t have access to federal funds because the school isn’t accredited, she adds. Argosy Chairman Michael C. Markovitz says the resignation letter is news to him. But he did respond to criticism in the letter that was read to him. ‘STILL A BARGAIN’ Despite the tuition increase, he says the school remains a bargain. “John Marshall is the most inexpensive private law school in the South,” he says. “It was the most inexpensive before the tuition increase and even after it remains the most inexpensive.” Agrosy has also allocated roughly 25 percent of its revenue to scholarships, he says. The resignation letter also claims the school boosted enrollment without providing enough resources to handle the new students. “Corporate management has directed the school to increase enrollment, yet it did not, in our view, sufficiently assess the consequences for academic program development and the impact on limited faculty resources,” the letter says. Markovitz calls that statement “absurd.” “For God’s sake, we’re the smallest law school there is,” he says. John Marshall has about 120 students. There are many electives the ABA would like the school to offer, but it can’t because there aren’t enough students, he says. He says increased enrollment can only help the school. “The school needs to increase the size of the student body to offer adequate programs.” Gamble and Van Detta also say revenue goals are more important than spending for school improvements. “Revenue targets have received more prominence in the planning process than assessment of the capital investment needed to strengthen the school and bring it into compliance with accreditation standards,” the letter says. NO RETURN ON INVESTMENT But Markovitz counters that last year Agrosy invested almost $3 million into the school and hasn’t seen any return. “All of the revenue flow has been in one direction since Agrosy became involved with John Marshall,” he says. “In a year we have just about doubled the size of the library, instituted an academic support program, and more than doubled the size of the full-time faculty,” he says. Markovitz says he doesn’t know why Gamble and Van Detta wrote the letter. He says he’s never received a complaint about school operations from Van Detta and has only said a passing hello to him in school halls. He says he was aware Gamble opposed the tuition increase. “It appears to be an attempt to hurt the school for some reason, so you’d have to ask them what their true agenda is,” Markovitz says. “Despite what appear to be several malcontented faculty members, Argosy remains committed to the students, faculty and staff of John Marshall and will do everything in its power to bring about accreditation,” he says. Gamble left her post as general counsel and vice president for legal affairs at Atlanta’s Morehouse College to become John Marshall’s academic dean. Previously, she was an associate at Washington, D.C.’s Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan and the predecessor firm to what is now Atlanta’s Kilpatrick Stockton. According to D’Agostino, she’s accepted another position at Morehouse. “I do not anticipate that I will have any continuing role at John Marshall as it currently stands,” she says. But D’Agostino says he plans to remain at John Marshall once he steps down as dean. He’ll take a sabbatical and then return to the school as a law professor, he says. He offers this observation to place the recent upheaval in perspective. “Whatever’s happening here is nothing compared to the presidential election,” he says.

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