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Ave Maria Born Again Print E-mail
By Austin Ruse   
Friday, 30 November 2012

Disclaimer: Austin Ruse’s wife, Cathy, serves on the Ave Maria School of Law Board of Directors. She joined the board after the decision to move was made.

Of all the internecine battles among orthodox Catholics in our time, among the nastiest was the Ave Maria Law School war. The administration eventually won, but only after years and at great cost.

Businessman Tom Monaghan and law professor Bernard Dobranski founded Ave Maria School of Law because it had become clear that the country and the Church needed a law school with a distinct Catholic identity.

The school started with great fanfare. Monaghan’s generosity provided almost 100 percent scholarships to the first students enrolled. That and Dobranski’s connections to elite legal minds like Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia brought legal scholars onto the faculty ranks and ensured the school got off to a rocket start.

Bright students with high LSAT scores lined up for a free legal education informed by Catholic Social Teaching. This paid off in sky-high bar pass rates, successful placement of grads in prestigious judicial clerkships, and easy American Bar Association accreditation.

It became clear, however, that the town mothers of Ann Arbor, Michigan did not like Ave Maria or their plans to expand. They particularly did not like a huge statue of the Blessed Mother that Monaghan wanted to erect on the edge of town, so Monaghan began looking around for more welcoming environs. He settled on Naples, Florida.

The argument for the move centered on what the board considered a more welcoming environment in Naples and the fact there was a dearth of legal education in the area. They said the legal community of lawyers and judges would welcome a law school in that part of Florida.  What’s more, Monaghan was starting Ave Maria University in Naples and it made sense to have the law school nearby.

But a number of faculty and students balked at even the thought of moving the school from Michigan to Naples. Some faculty understandably balked at the idea of moving themselves and their families so far away, some of them after recent moves to Ann Arbor.

But most especially it seems they hated the idea that Monaghan and the Board of Directors got to make such a decision that the faculty and students – oddly – thought was theirs. They latched onto process. They said the decision had to do with school governance.

They also charged that Monaghan only wanted to move because he had bought a bunch of land and wanted to start a town where he would clean up on the sale of lots.


      An example of what passed for humor among Ave Marias dissidents

Finally, the revolutionaries saw the board as little more than running dog lackeys of the plundering capitalist Monaghan.  If that sounds kind of Marxist/radical, so did their tactics, which turned out to be rather totalitarian.

Anyone who deviated from the party line became anathema and deserved nothing but scorn. The revolutionary tribunal was an exquisitely hateful blog set up by students and alums called Fumare. The brave boys who set it up hid behind aliases like Advocatus Militaris, Thales, and Boko Fittleworth from which they launched a relentless attack on their enemies.

Here are a few examples of their level of discourse. In December 2006 Advocatus called the Catholic League’s Bill Donahue a “whore” for working with Monaghan-founded Legatus, a group for Catholic CEOs.

Advocatus liked the word “whore” and worked it hard. In February 2007, he wrote, “What is not arguable is that this continuing story involves whores and people getting screwed.” Advocatus wasn’t alone. In December, 2006 “Casimir Pulaski” wrote, “Now, while there is still a chance, the remaining Board members need to halt the madman. It's ok, call him a lunatic, we all know he's one.”

To give you an idea of this oh-so-Catholic crowd, one female professor told me that among the revolutionaries were male alums who had regularly harassed her when they were students because they believed a female should not be teaching law. On the one hand, they held themselves up as uber-Catholics (while putting in the always charitable knife). One board member joked she would get anonymous emails from these morally superior boys – “Rot in Hell, bitch!” – signed,  “Yours in Christ.”

Other nasty, but more substantive things happened. An anonymous complaint by some faculty to the American Bar Association challenged the accreditation of the law school. Faculty of the school were trying to deliver a deathblow to their own school. Some faculty and students actively discouraged prospective students from attending. There were lawsuits, firings, and tenures denied.  All fodder for the war.

Not all those who opposed the move went crazy. Gerry Bradley of Notre Dame quietly left the board, as did others. But the lawsuits and recriminations only petered out when the move was complete and the school began to regain its footing. Fumare is still up. but the most recent post was months ago.

Professor Gene Milhizer took over as Dean from Bernard Dobranski. Milhizer takes a diplomatic approach, refusing to say anything negative about those who opposed the move. Many of them, in his view, even some of the vociferous ones, have reached out in recent years and sought rapprochement with the law school. He hopes all of them do. He says all are welcome – and he means it.

The school stands at record enrollment. After a dip in incoming LSAT scores and in bar pass rates, the numbers are climbing. The dean is proud of the faculty they continue to attract.  Many alums and professors are advisers to the Vatican. And most of all,  Milhizer proudly says the school is now self-sufficient. After years of getting by to a large extent from the largesse of Tom Monaghan, Ave Maria School of Law stands on its own financial feet.

You ought to visit the campus in Naples. It’s beautiful. And you ought to sit down with faculty and students. They still are carrying out an amazing and much needed experiment in truly Catholic legal education.   

 
Austin Ruse is the President of the New York and Washington, D.C.-based Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-FAM), a research institute that focuses exclusively on international social policy. The opinions expressed here are Mr. Ruse’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of C-FAM.
 
 
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Comments (30)Add Comment
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, November 30, 2012
Here's my idea: take all of the funding that goes to CCHD, CRS, Catholic Charities USA and give free scholarships to faithful Catholics atending Ave Maria Law School. This will effectively cut off buying the bullets being used against the Church by those out to destroy Her.

Then there will be sufficent numbers of good Catholic legal minds who will be needed to defend the Catholic Church against the assault being waged on our religious freedom by the Obama administration and the other pagans in our culture who want nothing more than to see the undoing of the Church. Who's in?
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written by Titus, November 30, 2012
If one wanted to think of an episode that was less worthy of being re-hashed and dredged up in these pages, it would be the the subject of this post. The truth of the matter is that the entire affair was a train wreck and that the substantive criticisms of Mr. Monaghan's decision making, as well as of the decision-making process, were well founded. The online criticisms of the A.M. administration may have reached a bizarrely uncharitable pitch (so much so, frankly, that it became impossible to keep abreast of the state of the debate), but it is difficult to claim that Mr. Monaghan did not severely damage what began as a truly promising and needed project.

I certainly hope the law school recovers and takes an honored place among Catholic academies. I also hope never again to have to hear about the sordid affair of its move to Florida.
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written by Glad to be out, November 30, 2012
Calumny is a terrible thing, whether it is practiced by immature students on Fumare, or whether is practiced as it is here by Austin Ruse in this article. I cannot imagine what he thinks he is accomplishing by dragging up this topic and blaming the "revolutionary" faculty in this way. Anyone who knows the true story will be led to think less of Austin after reading this.

However, it is obvious that he does not know what he is talking about regarding the dispute. If he just wanted to talk about how "great" the current law school is, he could have done so without repeating incorrect information about people who were very badly treated by the law school for many years. How wonderful it would have been if the story was as simple as he makes it out to be here. But since it was not, it makes me wonder what he has to gain by repeating these calumnies.
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written by Mike, November 30, 2012
I am afraid I must agree with the two latest posts. It is very distasteful of Mr. Ruse to dredge this "sordid affair" up. Disclaimer or no, his bias is clear. As for the school "being born again", he gives that lip service at the very end of the piece after re-hashing many embarrissing incidents.

I think he owes the readers here an apology and ought to be reprimanded for using this forum as a vehicle for retribution against a cast of characters he and his wife have not forgiven. It was a difficult piece to read because the sound of the axe grinding made concentrating a challenge.

Mr. Ruse, what did you accomplish by writing this piece?



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written by A D, November 30, 2012
A fellow alum brought this piece to my attention. I wish he hadn’t. I’ve spent the last five years of my life trying to forget that nightmare, even if I did make many wonderful friends in the process.
Some of Mr. Ruse’s characterizations are fair; some are not. Some of the most revealing facts go without mention at all. It must first be noted that it was represented to those of us who attended in the first five classes – by Bernard Dobranski, inter alia – that the law school would not move to Naples, Florida. Dobranski told us that there were many good reasons for not relocating to Florida, chief among them the harm this would bring to the reputational status of the law school. In his defense, Mr. Ruse is almost certainly unaware of this fact – and doubtless many others.
Not all board members who disagreed with Monaghan simply left. Charlie Rice was effectively voted off the board. Many were dealt with far more severely. Two very decent professors, who had walked away from promising careers to teach at Ave Maria, were denied tenure on the most spurious (and hateful, if I may) of pretexts. They sued Monaghan and he settled. A tenured professor patted the Dean’s secretary on the arm as he bid her “good morning” in the parking lot. Dobranski characterized it as “an unwelcomed touch” – the implications of which I needn’t spell out – and the professor was subsequently fired. He sued and Monaghan settled. Mr. Ruse omits mention of all these ugly stories and more.
I certainly don’t wish to relive what was a horrible experience for so many of us, who went to Ave Maria Law with the best of intentions. If Mr. Ruse had merely said that the law school is making a comeback and deserves a second look, then fine. But he chose to delve back into the past – one he didn’t experience firsthand, though many of us did. Many hateful words were written and uttered there can be no doubt. But who, in the end, had the power to ruin careers and reputations and lives – and what did they do with that power?
I sincerely wish Ave Maria, town, university, and law school, the best. I hope it has all been “reborn.” It desperately needed to be. I work at a generally liberal agency and have never witnessed it – or any other institution – treat people so wretchedly as that horrible place.
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written by Prayer Request, November 30, 2012
Dear sweet Mother of God, please bring this article to my mind whenever I am tempted to take sides in a dispute about which I am in ignorance. Help me to hold my tongue, lest I inflict further injury on people who have already been sorely abused. Instead, help me to pray for justice, healing and reconciliation.

Amen.
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written by Graham Combs, November 30, 2012
I wonder if even or especially Catholic lawyers will have to be learned in the new arts of accommodating the new anti-Catholic legal gauntlet? Sort of like Maryland in pre-Revolutionary America. The Obama Administration is the elephant in the room. Although the president has simply provided the capstone to a Constitutional revolution that is over half a century old. We live in a post-Constitutional Era in America history and not even the the good intentions of a Catholic education can change that. If Ave Maria Law School is to make a difference it will have to dedicate its every breath to restoring First Amendment rights. Will they? How could they? Remember that at least part of the push back came from the disposition that saw the University of Michigan Law School faculty and student body as colleagues. Were they? Are they? Perhaps only in a technical sense. As George Weigel has noted, we live in a new cultural moment.

I suspect I would be just as unwelcome at Ave Maria as I was a the City University of New York Law School in the nineties. I cannot join in the delusion...
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written by uh-oh, December 01, 2012
I can only think of two possible reasons why Mr. Ruse would want to write this story. One -- There must be some really bad news coming down the pike about Ave Maria. What other reason would a board member's spouse have for writing such a ridiculous and bone-headed article?. Stirring the pot to distract attention ,... it's worked before.

Two: I suppose, it is always fun to poke poorly healing wounds to remind people of the exquisite pain they can still feel from the puss-filled,reeking scars they will carry with them for life. It makes some people feel powerful,particularly when you get to poke and poke and poke-- and then end your frightful piece with a warm fuzzy that implies that all has been forgiven now. We can all come back into the warm embrace of a reborn Ave. We have been forgiven for forcing them to crush us. Gosh. No matter how far Ave Maria administration has fallen, they always find a way to get just a bit worse.
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written by Aeneas, December 01, 2012
Hello Mr. Ruse...this comment is less about this piece you wrote now as one you wrote a few weeks ago. Your last post here, "32-0 and counting" to be exact.
I have been waiting for a post election response from you, but so far nothing. Seeing as how you know the situation so well, can you please explain to us what on earth happened that Tuesday? Alot of people were proven wrong that day, you very much so.
PLEASE do not mistake what I am saying, I'm not attacking you, far from it. I'm just trying to ask you what happened. Certainly your not the only one who was wrong about that Tuesday (alot of the GOP was way off on who win the election), but you were so sure in that article, that it would be a good day for marriage, that even if the SSM crowd one one or maybe two states, it would not be a grand victory for them. Well...they won ALL four. Yes, I know, 32-4 are still good odds, but what happened that day that proved you so wrong? Before I had read your article I thought that real marriage would lose those in those states(and why not, they were leftist states to begin with), but after I read your very confident report (which surprised me), I was quite hopeful. So you can imagine my surprise the next day, I awoke to find my peers gloating over their total victory.
I have been waiting for a follow up post from you since that week. I'd really like to hear what you have to say about the whole situation, what went wrong, why your predictions were so off, are we fighting lost causes now, etc?
Can you please respond to this in some way Mr. Ruse (a follow up post would be ideal, but if not, can you at least explain here in the comment section?)
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written by Humble Genius, December 01, 2012
Dear Patrick, this is a lovely business model you speak of, but a university is not a "business" one owns. Who "owns" Yale University? Who "owns" Princeton? There is no such thing as an owner. All major decisions are voted on by the faculty. That is called "faculty governance" and the ABA requires that an accredited law school must comply with these rules. These rules are part of the school's contractual obligation. Otherwise, you lose your accreditation. There is indeed no point in dredging up this topic, but if you do comment, you should try to be informed.
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written by Aeneas, December 01, 2012
Thanks Mr. Ruse for telling me where to look, I would not have found those articles otherwise (I don't read Crisis).

"I dont think I made any predictions at all. I wouldn't have becuase I was never more than extremely cautiously optimistic."
Then I read it very differently then you wrote it. I saw it as a battle ready optimism (which was much more than I had at the time, it raised my spirits up).
Still though I think it would be nice if you did a breakdown of what went wrong, but what you have written will suffice.
I just hope this election was a stumble, and not what I fear it is, the beginning of the end.
Then again, I'm given to despair, so perhaps I'm just sulking?
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written by Humble Genius, December 02, 2012
A professor who left Ave Maria Law has responded to this article, and anyone interested in reading it can go to Mirror of Justice blog to read it. Mr. Ruse should be ashamed of himself for this irresponsible article that is simply wrong on so many points that it would take longer to correct all of the mistakes than the article is worth. I do hope that the explanation for these many inaccuracies is simply ignorance.
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written by N.D., December 02, 2012
Every Catholic Law School should have a distinct Catholic Identity. (Catholic Canon 750) If every "Catholic" Law School was a Catholic Law School, then one could find a Catholic Law School in many locations.
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written by Daft Dodger, December 02, 2012
Is this article an attempt at humor? I don't think it works well as such and even less so if meant to be on the merits for all the reasons commented already, but also because of such poor accuracy it isn't factually chronicled in the least. It's almost as if there was some other law school being discussed here. As others have said, there could have been no point to dredging up such a wound to people, and salting the dignity of all involved. What could the motivation of this article have been? It doesn't do anything well.
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written by Rick Garnett, December 03, 2012
I would urge readers of Mr. Ruse's piece to (a) pray that Ave Maria School of Law does indeed improve and (b) read also a post by Prof. Kevin Lee (a former AMSL Faculty member), "An Open Letter to Austin Ruse Regarding Ave Maria School of Law". It's at the Mirror of Justice Blog.

Readers might also be interested in a statement, from September 2007, by a number of Catholic law professors about the situation at AMSL at that time, also at Mirror of Justice.
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written by CK, December 03, 2012
Way to gloss over and ignore a number of material facts in this case. No mention of Safranek, Falvey, Lyons, or even Sonne. No mention of the major wrongful termination litigation which was settled to the favor of Safranek. No mention of the lives that were trashed by Monaghan. Meanwhile, good American faculty members, some of the FL move objectors who are still on faculty, are being trashed as Marxists by a board affiliated person (husband).

Re-write the history all you want, but do it with caritas. Oh wait, that's impossible because to misrepresent the past lacks caritas.
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written by CK, December 03, 2012
BTW. There are now a number of law schools that have solid Catholic faculty, doing important, orthodox work in the legal sphere. These include, among others, Villanova, Notre Dame, and St. Thomas MN.
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written by CK, December 03, 2012
"If I signed up to work for a business, which then decided it was in their best interests to move their office, I might be upset, but they are still "playing fair" so long as they fulfilled their contractual obligations."

When you run a Catholic educational institution, the standard is not self interest but common good.
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written by Boko Fittleworth, December 03, 2012
Thank you for this well-researched and timely article. I had forgotten about the giant Mary statue.
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written by Humble Genius, December 03, 2012
I too would like to visit the giant statue of Mary. Could you please tell me where I would need to go to see this? Since Tom Monaghan has built his town and university, I would imagine this statue, which was apparently central to his plan of a university, is very impressive indeed. Perhaps you could post a picture? Thanks.
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written by Kevin Lee, December 03, 2012
NOTE to readers: We are publishing Prof. Lee's link below, in spite of our stated policy against internet links, which you may read in the Rules for Commenting above. -Brad Miner

Here's a link to my letter:http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/2012/12/an-open-letter-to-austin-ruse-regarding-ave-maria-school-of-law.html
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written by Alice Byrne, December 03, 2012
In a moment, Austin went down into the hole, never once considering how in the world he was to get out again.

We can't go back to yesterday because the school was a different school then, I know it's hard to believe and impossible that the school is different, but try it! I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast!

I was very glad that they were going to build a giant statue of the Blessed Mother instead of paving the dirt road, adding rain water drainage, and filing an area impact study, Having a 500 foot Madonna is so much better spent money. It is so muchier. yes, muchier! I'm glad that today it was a Blessed Mother. You can't take less, so take more!

You see, everyone is mad here. Yes, you're mad Austin. Everyone who comes here is mad.

You can take any road from here, Austin. Any road will get you somewhere if you walk long enough.
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written by odd but true, December 03, 2012
In the midst of all this rancor, I would think if there is one thing we can all agree on, it would be about the absolute necessity of building a giant statue to the Blessed Mother. Those who love her the most build the largest statues to her, as is well-known.

I never heard those darned, dirty revolutionary professors even once discuss building even a small grotto in her honor. If that's not a clear indication of how bad those people were, then I don't know what else would convince you.

Even sadder -- I wonder what kind of statue could have been built with all the money the school spent on legal fees and monetary settlements with professors they fired? Probably something really nice.
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written by tom, December 03, 2012
Antonin Scalia? "elite legal mind?" I don't think so.
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written by Boko Fittleworth, December 03, 2012
The person in the comments hiding behind the ridiculous moniker "Austin Ruse" has generated a lot of negative feedback. He's at minus three while some of us are up to plus five and one guy has a plus six! I bring this to the administer's attention and suggest that "Austin Ruse"'s comments be deleted and his IP address blocked.
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written by Brad Miner, December 03, 2012
@Boko Fittleworth: Trust the administrator.
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