About six weeks after Saint Louis University President Lawrence Biondi appointed Tom Keefe as SLU Law's dean for the 2012-13 academic year, it was announced that Keefe had been elected to the SLU Board of Trustees. Accordingly, Keefe now serves on the governing board of a university while serving as the dean of a law school that is part of that university.
The ABA Standards for Approval of Law Schools do not speak directly to this sort of arrangement. Relatedly, Intepretation 204-1 expressly envisions that a law dean will serve on the governing board of an independent law school. If a law dean's service on the board of an independent law school poses no problem--at least as far as ABA standards are concerned--why might it be a problem for a law dean to serve on the governing board of a university of which that law school is a part?
This question brings us back to the brewing situation at SLU. It is clear from his prior actions and statements that President Biondi believes that he has unilateral authority to hire and/or fire whomever is serving as the dean of SLU Law. Presently, that person is Keefe. But, as noted above, Keefe is also serving as a member of the SLU Board of Trustees.
Here's where it gets interesting: in late October, the SLU Faculty Senate overwhelmingly passed a vote of no confidence regarding Biondi. So did the SLU Student Government Association. The matter is now being investigated by a committee of the Board of Trustees. Presumably, the full Board at some point in the not-so-distant future will squarely address the matter. The big question is whether Keefe will deem it appropriate to participate in the determination of whether Biondi gets to keep his job, notwithstanding that Biondi gave Keefe his job as law dean and--so long as Biondi remains President--may to take it away from Keefe for any reason.
We can only hope that the plainly obvious conflict of interest here will be apparent to Keefe, and that he will not be involved in any discussion or decision on the matter. The same would hold true for any Board matter that directly implicates the terms and conditions of Biondi's employment with SLU. But would it go even further than that? What if Biondi brought before the Board a proposal about which he was so enthusiastic that he could barely contain himself? Would Keefe be obligated to refrain from considering that matter as well?
My view is that Keefe should not be in a position to have to consider these questions. That is, after accepting the appointment as law dean, thereby becoming an at-will creature of Biondi (at least as far as Biondi is concerned), he should not have accepted membership on the Board of Trustees until his time as law dean had concluded. If Keefe wants to remain as a member of the Board, he should participate fully as a member of the Board by resigning his post as law dean.
I'm curious as to what Lounge readers have to say on the situation. Perhaps, as a general matter, it's appropriate for a law dean to serve on a university board, assuming that appropriate measures are taken to ensure against the law dean's participation when the issue at hand presents an obvious conflict of interest. But if it's not appropriate, it seems to me that the ABA ought to enact a Standard (or an interpretation to an existing Standard) proscribing such an arrangement.