When I began my guest-blogging stint here at the Lounge last month, it was not my intention to focus so heavily upon the the unfolding events at Saint Louis University and its School of Law. I will eventually turn to incidents at other law schools that have significant implications for faculty governance. But before doing so, I feel compelled to address SLU President Lawrence Biondi's appointment of Tom Keefe, Jr. to serve as interim dean for the 2012-13 academic year at SLU Law.
All indications are that Keefe is a talented attorney with a lucrative law practice, an enthusiastic and committed alumnus of SLU Law who has been rather generous with financial gifts (including a pledge to donate his decanal salary back to the school), and a rather interesting character who isn't shy about making provocative statements. I have no doubt that he's a huge hit at parties.
And who knows? Perhaps Keefe, despite his lack of experience in academia, has the qualities necessary to be an outstanding dean.
Putting all of that aside, however, three aspects Keefe's appointment as interim dean have the effect of rendering it illegimate from the outset. First, Keefe intends to maintain his law practice throughout his tenure as interim dean. Second, Keefe became a member of the SLU University Board of Trustees shortly after accepting the appointment. And third, and most significantly from a faculty-governance perspective, the SLU Law faculty was deprived of any opportunity to participate in the selection of Keefe as interim dean. I will focus for now on the first of these concerns, and address the other two in subsequent posts.
Standard 206(a) of the ABA Standards for the Approval of Law Schools provides that "[a] law school shall have a full-time dean, selected by the governing board or its designee, to whom the dean shall be responsible." (emphasis added). According to the definition set forth in Standard 106(7), the term "dean" includes "an acting dean or interim dean." ABA Standards thus envision that the demands of the position of dean require a total commitment on the part of the individual holding that position, regardless of how long he or she intends to hold it.
Keefe, however, has stated publicly that his service as interim dean at SLU Law was conditioned on his ability to maintain his law practice. Keefe has suggested in this regard that forsaking his clients would be inconsistent with his fiduciary duties to them.
While Keefe's commitment to the interests of his clients is commendable, it should occur to him that, in his capacity as interim dean, one of his essential functions is to ensure that SLU Law is acting in compliance with ABA Standards. Even though he may be satisfied that he has what it takes to serve SLU Law effectively while maintaining his practice, the fact remains that SLU Law does not presently have a "full-time dean" within the meaning of Standard 206(a). If leaving his clients behind is not an option, then serving as interim dean is not an option either.