Joan Wexler will step down at the end of this month as Brooklyn Law School president, a position she took in 2010 after serving 16 years as the school’s dean, the chairman of Brooklyn Law’s board of trustees announced Thursday.
With her departure, the school is turning its back on a short-lived experiment under which it was governed by two top administrators: a president handling business affairs and fundraising and a dean overseeing academics.
Dean Nicholas Allard, who was hired last July, will now have sole responsibility for running the 1,000-student school.
Wexler will begin a two-year sabbatical on June 30, school officials said. She will remain as a tenured faculty member at Brooklyn Law although there are no immediate plans for her to teach. She will continue to assist the school on the planned sale of six "smaller" properties in Brooklyn, said Eric Riley, the school’s director of communications.
Wexler will assume the title of "dean and president emerita."
The change in her status comes shortly after Gary Minda, a tenured faculty member hired in 1978, filed a complaint with the American Bar Association claiming, among other things, that having a separate dean and president wasted resources and created confusion among administrators and faculty about who was in charge.
Minda also contends that Brooklyn Law has allowed Allard to remain in full-time practice at Patton Boggs while also serving as dean in a possible violation of ABA standards.
Stuart Subotnick, chairman of the Brooklyn Law’s board of trustees, praised Wexler in a statement for devoting "her heart and soul for the past three decades to the Law School’s affairs, leaving it in much stronger condition—academically, physically and financially—than it was when she began her extraordinary tenure."
In particular, Subotnick said Wexler has been a formidable fundraiser and financial steward. Under her tenure, the school’s endowment grew to $120 million from $20 million and assets rose to $262 million from $46 million.
Among the most notable improvements to the Brooklyn Law campus under Wexler was the construction of Feil Hall, a 22-story residence that houses about 360 students.
Wexler was provided with a rent-free apartment in Feil Hall. Riley said she will retain the apartment after June 30, but not the car and driver that have been available to her as dean and president.
In an interview Friday, Wexler said she was leaving because "it was time." She said she was going to rest and give thought to projects of her own.
"The law school was literally transformed from when I started. It is an entirely different place. It is because of the people who were in it and the hard work they did," she said.
Of Feil Hall, Wexler said it was "an enormous effort, but I think that the benefits will serve the generations to come. It is a magnificent building."
Allard credited Wexler with creating a "pioneering culture" at the school that led to its accelerated two-year J.D. program (NYLJ, May 10) and a semester-long "immersion" program for students in Washington, D.C.
"Joan elevated the Law School’s national reputation and provided the solid foundation for everything that we do today," Allard said in a statement.
Complaint to ABA
But in his April 29 filing with the ABA, Minda claims that the splitting of leadership between Wexler and acting dean Michael Gerber—and then between her and Allard—was a mistake. Minda says that Allard told faculty members that Allard would work to end the arrangement.
Minda argues that ABA Standard 404(3) on law schools requires that faculty play a substantial role in a school’s governance. Yet Minda’s complaint says the dean-president split occurred even though faculty opposed the move 28-9.
Minda says Allard led the school to believe during the search for a new president that he would step away from being a practicing equity partner at Patton Boggs, where he was a specialist in lobbying and government affairs, to devote his time to being dean of Brooklyn Law.
He told the Law Journal in an interview after his appointment that he would be only a "nominal" partner at Patton Boggs (NYLJ, Oct. 16, 2012).
Minda contends that it has become clear that Allard—who remains listed on Patton Boggs’ website as an active partner in the Washington and Manhattan offices—was functioning as a full-time lawyer.
ABA Standard 402(b) states that law school personnel, including the dean, must "substantially" devote his working time to the school during the academic year, Minda says.
Allard declined to discuss how much of his time he devotes to the school and how much to his law firm activities.
"Call me old-fashioned, but I think the deanship position is a full-time position," Minda, 66, said in an interview. "I think Brooklyn deserves a full-time dean, someone who is not distracted by anything else."
But Subotnick said through a spokesman on Friday that "there is not a scintilla of evidence" that Allard has been distracted from his responsibilities as a dean. Allard, Subotnick said, "has the confidence of the board, and his first year has been a strong success. Nick’s private practice experience and relationships are an asset."
Minda also alleged that "mismanagement" in administration amid a general crisis in legal education has prompted Brooklyn Law to sell some of its property to cover operating costs and reduce debt.
On June 11, the school offered an early retirement program to nonfaculty employees with at least 15 years of service. In making the announcement, CFO Laurie Newitz cited the "extended decline" in enrollment at Brooklyn and other law schools.
"We need, therefore, to respond to this new situation by reducing staff levels to match the smaller student body," Newitz told staffers.
Allard declined to address the issues raised in Minda’s complaint about operations or administration, except to say through a spokesman that Brooklyn Law’s finances are "very sound."
"I am not going to comment on a matter that is pending before the ABA and I will not comment on personnel issues involving individual faculty members," Allard said in an interview.
However, in response to mentions of Minda’s complaint on law school blogs, the administration said in a May statement it was "unfortunate" that a professor the school didn’t identify has "apparently chosen to attempt to gain leverage in what is essentially a personnel issue by complaining to the ABA and in the press. We look forward to addressing the matter with the ABA and are confident that the ABA will find the professor’s claims to be wholly without merit."
Minda’s complaint also contended that the compensation paid to Wexler—in excess of $600,000 in both 2009 and 2010, according to financial filings required of the school by the IRS—was excessive. He said that was especially true in the face of rising tuition costs at Brooklyn Law and the fact that some students now graduate with debts in excess of $150,000.
Under the rules governing the ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools, a fact-finder may be appointed to visit schools to investigate further if complaints are found to be valid. Violations of the ABA standards could ultimately be referred to the ABA’s Accreditation Committee, which can strip a school of accreditation if the deficiencies are not fixed within two years.
Minda said he showed Allard and assistant dean Michael Cahill a draft of his complaint at a March 6 meeting. At that meeting, Minda said he was offered a $300,000 payment by Allard to take early retirement, which Minda said he refused.
Minda subsequently told Allard that he plans to keep teaching "into my late 70s" and asked for a lump sum buyout of $2.8 million or for the school to purchase an annuity that would pay him his salary and benefits until age 76.
Minda also said that during the same meeting he was informed that his request to go on sabbatical next spring to work on a book was denied.
In an April 16 letter to Minda, Allard said he expected the ABA to find the professor’s complaints "completely misplaced and erroneous."
Allard called Minda’s payment requests "unreasonable" and suggested that Minda was trying to gain leverage for his severance demands through his complaint.
Minda said that Allard told him that he had received unsolicited comments from several other faculty members regarding Minda’s "less than adequate performance, lack of collegiality with your colleagues and your disrespect for me and others."
"I love teaching," Minda said in an interview. "I love my law school. I have no plans to retire from the law school. I think I have a responsibility to raise the issues that I have and if I am wrong, then I will be wrong. If they want to buy me out, then they can buy me out."
@|Joel Stashenko can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.