Law School Dean Resigns

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In the wake of Annette Clark’s resignation as dean of the SLU law school, President Lawrence Biondi announced in his August message that Vice President of Academic Affairs, Manoj Patankar, will begin a search for a new dean this fall. In the interim, however, Biondi appointed Thomas Keefe, a personal injury lawyer from Illinois and Saint Louis University alum.

“I felt we needed a fresh perspective in the leadership role at our School of Law. We need a dean who is positive minded, a team builder, and who understands the bigger picture,” Biondi said in an email to The University News, “Tom Keefe brings all of these qualities to the role.”

On Aug. 8, 2012, former Dean Clark announced her resignation from the role in a letter to both Biondi and Patankar. In the letter, she cited several reasons as to why she felt she could not longer fulfill the role, many of which pertained to her dissatisfaction with decisions made by the president in regards to the law school.

“You have not consulted me on important matters involving the law school’s interests, you have failed to honor commitments that I had assured the faculty you would keep,” Clark said in her letter, “and you have accused me of being uncooperative and not being a team player when I have objected to these actions.”

Among her reasons cited for resigning were the apparent transferring of funds from both the Law School Building fund and faculty research stipends, poor communication regarding the acquisition of the new law school building downtown and Biondi›s failure to meet with the ABA accreditation team when they came to the law school.

“I strongly disagree with her interpretations of the facts,” Biondi said in his email, “I have addressed her assertions in my August 2012 message to the SLU community.”

In response to Clark›s grievances, Biondi assured the SLU community that his support for the law school had not wavered. In regards to the transfer of funds, he insisted that any funds that had been donated to the Law School were not redirected from their intended purposes. He did say, however, that a total of $815,490 was used to pay for compensation expenses within the law school, including the dean›s salary.

In his email to The University News, Biondi stated that he feels the move to the Scott Law Center is at step forward for the law school.

“We announced our plans to expand our current Law School facilities more than five years ago. Unfortunately, fundraising had slowed, and the project was becoming less of a possibility. The unexpected donation of the downtown building at 100 N. Tucker Boulevard will allow us to move forward right now,” Biondi said, “It will provide the amenities our Law School has wanted for years. This move is critical to ensure that we continue to provide our students with the highest quality legal education possible.”

According to the August message, law school administration were effectively notified about the change in building plans and had agreed that the Scott Law Center would be an important addition to the law school before the donation was officially finalized.

Biondi went on to say that he could not meet with the accreditation team because he was out of the country at the time, a fact the team was made aware of prior to their visit.

He said that the team met with Patankar instead and that he intended to converse with them over Skype, but spotty internet availability made this juncture impossible.

Finally, Biondi addressed the assertion that he transferred funds from the law school’s faculty research stipends.

“The reality is that we did review the Law School’s summer stipend program because we are committed to operating in a fiscally responsible manner,” Biondi said in his message, “After this review and a meeting with the faculty, it was agreed that we would proceed with awarding more than $260,000 in summer stipends to the Law faculty. The stipends were awarded, and the source of this funding came from the School of Law’s budgets.”

In light of the changes occurring at the law school, Biondi said in his email to The University News that he would like to see the school move forward.

“We must always keep trying to advance and to improve the education we provide, not only for our current students but also for our future ones.”

Keefe echoed this sentiment in his letter of greeting to the student and faculty of the law school.

“I pledge to help our students get a fair shot at good jobs by reminding the people in the world I come from that our law school trains lawyers – people who are ready, willing, able and eager to represent clients,” Keefe said.

Keefe went on to announce that he welcomed the opportunity to work at his alma mater and that he understood the challenges that go along with being a law student.

“Being a lawyer is fun, but it isn’t perfect. It’s too expensive to get a legal education, and it’s too hard to find a job to pay for that education. I get that,” he said, “I wish I could hire every one of you. We cannot guarantee jobs but we can work hard to make each of you employable and marketable.”

According to reports addressing his appointment, it was announced that Keefe was donating the salary he would have been paid as dean back to the University.

“My wife Rita is my most trusted adviser. It was her recommendation, and it didn’t take much convincing,” Keefe said in an email to The University News, “I have been blessed to have a successful practice for many years, and this is simply another way that I can pay SLU back for the great education it gave me.”

Keefe said his goal is to fight for the success of the law school, something he plans to do by listening intently to faculty, staff and students.

“Right now, I am doing a lot of listening.  I have been meeting with students, faculty and alumni, and members of the St. Louis community.  I want to know what they want for our School and our future.” Keefe said.

He hopes that he will be able to bring a different perspective to the law school, as he has had no previous experience as a college administrator or in academia. Instead, he intends to use his 35 years of law experience to ensure that he doing the best job possible during his tenure.

“We have a great school, and I want people to know it.  I need to be strong advocate in terms of seeking the necessary resources to move us forward.  At the same time I recognize that this one great big university, and the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the few,” Keefe said.

Above all, he maintains that he is strongly committed to the success of the students enrolled in the law school.

“For the next year I work for you. Please understand I did not ask for this job, and I am not running for reelection. I am not here to please the administration, the faculty, law school bloggers, and least of all U.S. News and World Report,” he said,  “I am unorthodox and irreverent, but I take lawyering very seriously.  It has been my life; it is a good life, and working together it can be a good life for you too.”