Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

An Open Letter to Austin Ruse Regarding Ave Maria School of Law

Dear Mr. Ruse, 

I am writing this letter to you in reply to your recent blog post regarding the ill-fated Ave Maria School of Law in Ann Arbor, Michigan, which was moved to Naples, Florida several years ago. I have decided to make this an open letter in the hope of clarifying some points for readers of your blog, who I believe might be misled by your post.

I was a member of the Michigan faculty of Ave Maria. I left in 2007, having experienced first-hand the beginning to the troubles at the Law School. Mr. Ruse, you have no first-hand knowledge of the events that took place there many years ago.  It doesn’t appear that you have done even basic research. If you had, you would know for example that the ABA complaint wasn't anonymous, as you state. The ABA does not accept anonymous complaints. The names were withheld from the Law School because the faculty members had been threatened with retaliation.  

As it stands, the account you have given is one-sided, at best. You obviously did not reach out to talk with any of the members of the Michigan faculty who were pushed out to find out their perspectives on what happened. If you are genuinely interested in finding out what happened, I recommend Bruce Frohnen’s recent review of Tom Monaghan’s biography in the current issue of the American Conservative. It contains some details that you would have learned if you had taken the time to talk with any of us. (It will be available on-line on December 10.)

You seem to have gotten your understanding of the Michigan faculty mostly from blog posts by anonymous sources that even you admit were prone to making false and misleading statements. So, I am surprised and disappointed by your blog post, which warns of the dangers of calumny while itself making such unsubstantiated and unreliable claims.   

More significantly, your post is potentially injurious to many people and most particularly to Ave Maria School of Law. As I noted, it has been many years since I left Ave Maria and several years since the Law School settled the lawsuits brought against it by faculty members who claimed to have been wrongfully denied tenure and wrongfully terminated. It is now possible, through a FOIA request to the United States Department of Education, to look at the ABA Report on Ave Maria School of Law that resulted from the faculty complaint. I have a copy of that Report. I will not go into the gory details of the ABA findings to refute the many inaccuracies of your blog post. I have no desire to rehash the case or its outcome in public. It is in no one’s interest to do that, and it is certainly not in the interest of the School of Law.   

One point made by the ABA Site Investigator should be emphasized, however. In the Report he likens the situation at the Law School to “a bitter divorce.” That, I think, is in fact a sad tribute to the close and nurturing community that we once had in Michigan, before all the troubles began. It was like a family, and when it ended, it was like a family being torn apart. Having lived through the break-up, and knowing first-hand the trauma that it caused my colleagues, friends, family, and the innocent students who were its victims, I can only agree with that assessment. The Ave Maria School of Law and the Michigan faculty have parted ways, and the break-up is irreconcilable.

I think its time that both sides of this old dispute move on with their lives. Mostly we have done so. Personally, I pray daily (and I hope others do too) to find room in my heart to forgive as we are called to do as Catholics; to remember that bitter disputes among us are literally wounds in the body of our Lord. I have sought to make peace with Ave Maria and try to remember the very good things that we all did there, together as a community. I wish the Florida Ave Maria very well, indeed, as I believe that their mission of providing legal education in the Catholic intellectual tradition continues to be of vital importance.

Mr. Ruse, these events are in the past: half a decade for me and several years for the litigants. It is time for this sad chapter in Ave Maria’s history to be put to rest. That is part of the healing process when a great trauma, like the breakup of a family, has been suffered. And, as with a bitter divorce, there is little to be gained at this point by opening old wounds.

In the interest of all concerned, I respectfully request that you cease making such blog posts and public statements. 

Very truly yours,

Kevin P. Lee 


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