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It took a two-year search to hire Douglas Kmiec as dean of Catholic University’s law school. That’s just about how long his stay there lasted. Kmiec, dean of the Columbus School of Law since July 2001, is stepping down from his position — a prospect that has unsettled Catholic University leaders — to return to California and a teaching job at Pepperdine University School of Law. “When he brought it to me I was a little surprised, I must confess, and disappointed,” says Catholic University’s president, the Very Rev. David O’Connell. The search for a new dean will begin in the fall. The process, O’Connell notes, “is not something that any president jumps for joy about.” For his part, Kmiec, a conservative Roman Catholic constitutional scholar who worked for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, says he misses his three grown children, who stayed behind in California. Kmiec’s arrival coincided with the school’s descent into the third tier of the U.S. News and World Report rankings of law schools. Skeptics worried that the outspoken conservative would alienate students on campus as well as potential applicants, compounding the school’s problems. But in Kmiec’s two years on the job, the school has regained its spot in the second tier, decreased its student-to-faculty ratio from 22-to-1 to 15-to-1, and become more selective. “Academically, we are a stronger institution,” Kmiec says. O’Connell credits Kmiec with raising the prestige of the law school while helping to confirm its Catholic identity. Kmiec wasn’t without controversy, however. He assumed a high profile by weighing in on a range of issues, including judicial nominations and abortion, in newspaper op-eds and in congressional testimony. He created and taught a mandatory course for first-years on Roman Catholic intellectual tradition. (The course remains a requirement.) Kmiec says he isn’t leaving Washington, D.C., with hopes of landing a spot on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — a bench for which his name was floated before he headed east for Catholic University. “I haven’t thought about it in the least,” he says. “But I never close the door on anything. If the president thinks I’m worthy of consideration at some point, I’d be willing to talk to him about it.” Kmiec says he is leaving the school in the hands of “one of the most beloved faculty members at Catholic.” Associate dean for academics and administrative law expert William Fox, a faculty member since 1975, will take over as interim dean on July 15. Fox, who is currently teaching in Scotland, writes via e-mail that he plans to teach at least one course each semester while continuing to bolster the school’s reputation and academics. He notes that he also hopes to improve the school’s bar pass rate. “We now have a superior academic enterprise,” he writes. “I want to work to make it even better.”

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