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May 26, 2021


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Billie Kaufman

When I was notified it was like I had been punched in the stomach. I worked with Dean Varona for years at AU. We worked on pedagogy workshops for faculty and adjuncts. We worked hard but he made it fun. Ediberto - your description is spot on - always caring; always promoting. He and his partner sponsored amazing events for the Hispanic law students. His love of law and life brought him to South Florida. His phone message is in both English and Spanish.
To use a "ruse" of fund-raising efforts is truly ridiculous - it's a pandemic; most schools have had to cancel most networking and fund-raising events.
I gave a reference for him during the UM search, but he didn't need my reference. He was so well-prepared for the presentation that my UM friends called and told me he knew more about UM than they did. That's simply Tony. I hope this is resolved and folks will come to their senses.

Maybell Romero

I cannot believe that this is happening. I've had the pleasure of meeting Dean Varona several times, the last being at the National People of Color Legal Scholarship Conference at AU in 2019. Not only was he warm, welcoming, and easy to talk to, but he made managing a massive event like that look easy. He's done so much to buoy up, support, and highlight minority students and faculty, myself included. It's really a gut-punch to see one of this country's preeminent Latinx legal scholars mistreated and devalued this way. Like Billie here in the comments, I hope UM comes to its senses.


Let’s keep it real.
This has nothing to do with politics or civil rights.
Tony Varona is a great person, but truth be told he did not perform where the University of Miami needed him to perform. Within the 2 years, UM law has dropped 30 spots in rankings and had one of the worst Bar passing rate in the state. The buck stops with him.
If you cannot take action to improve bar passing rates and rankings, then you need to go. Being the Dean of a law school of a powerhouse school like UM is a lot of stress and pressure to provide RESULTS. After 2 years, UM was worse in these metrics. Pure and simple.


The comment above is “fake news.” The UM Law School did not drop “30 spots” in the rankings. Look it up. It was 77, then 67, then 67 again, and 72 this year. It’s also doing OK on bar passing rates. Can do better, but it’s by no means one of the worst in the state.


So who is he being replaced with? That should shed some light on things.

David Frakt

I don't know Dean Varona. He sounds like a wonderful person. At the same time, we should not presume that the President and Provost of a major University are complete idiots. There must have been some very serious allegations, likely backed up by some fairly compelling evidence, to convince them to take such precipitous action. So while the decision might seem rash and absurd to those who have no direct knowledge of the information that prompted such action, as lawyers we should be more hesitant to jump to conclusions in the absence of evidence. Presumably, if Dean Varona has been wronged, he knows how to defend himself, or to find a lawyer who can.


David are you saying you think it's better to instead assume that there's "some very serous allegations, likely backed up by some fairly compelling evidence." I'm not sure I'd be so quick to give central administration the benefit of the doubt on such serious charges.

Also, even if you're right, do you think it ever appropriate to fire a sitting dean without even consulting the faculty?

Ediberto Roman

I could not agree more with AnonProf. While I did not claim UM's leadership are COMPLETE idiots, their rash actions, inconsistent behavior leading up to their decision, and utter lack of deliberation or communication suggests Professor Frakt's willingness to presume the existence of "some very serous allegations, likely backed up by some fairly compelling evidence" is misplaced. Despite Frakt's condescending sermon--I am no longer in boot camp and merely have to accept it. Indeed, Frakt's eagerness to question Varona's character belies reality. News and other reports highlight during the week of his firing, UM's Provost gave Varona a positive annual review and awarded him a significant raise--call me naïve, but one rarely receives a raise and a positive review the week one is fired. Further, facts also suggest UM leadership's purported basis for the removal--fundraising-- is nothing but pretext. Varona evidently raised over $8 million in less than two years as dean (during a pandemic!), and apparently had just received a preliminary commitment for another gift approaching the figure above. I wonder how many experienced deans are matching those figures these days?

And while few, except for one, are worthy to cast stones, I find it troubling Frakt is so willing to presume a "serious allegation" about Varona without any facts--so, good sir, perhaps it is you that is quick to jump to conclusions? And as for UM's leadership, no one accused them of being complete idiots, but their actions certainly appear unwise and likely ultimately costly. For me, I know Varona, and am willing to bet my decade-long unblemished Wall Street litigation practice to conclude, in light of their inconsistent acts, and lack of any sort of deliberative engagement, UM's leadership should be very worried right about now. Yes, maybe not complete idiots, but certainly, they acted in a fashion that was without legal advice. Indeed, they remind me of one of my opponents in my 25+ years of martial arts experience after my opponent quickly realize what (or who) is before them---they may survive, but will never forget that day. In the end, the better placed advice is for UM's leadership to hire brilliant counsel because much like deer facing headlights, their eyes should be wide-open because something fierce, and likely costly, I bet is coming.

Jason Yackee

Isn't it pretty common for deans to serve at the pleasure of the university president? A deanship has contractual elements, typically influenced by university policies that are incorporated into the formal, negotiated contract. I would like to see some quotes/citations from the relevant UM policies or to the contract. If he was effectively an at-will employee, of course legally he can be fired for any reason or even no reason, but not for an illegal reason. Hiring Debra Katz as an attorney (assuming that he was at-will) suggests that he has grounds for an "illegal reason" claim. Perhaps he was terminated based upon national origin (Cuban) or sexual orientation. What kind of evidence would you need to prove that? And does he have it?

Mike Chiorazzi

I am the Associate Dean for Information Services at the University of Miami - the library director in academic speak. I’ve been an academic law librarian for forty years at four law schools. I have also served on a dozen ABA inspection teams. So I have seen my share of deans. This action simply confused and hurt me. Dean Varona is one of the good ones. A tireless worker. A tireless fundraiser. Always upbeat. A champion of students and the faculty. He was dealt a hand that included the pandemic, BLM and the George Floyd verdict. He handled it all with grace and dignity. He was always concerned about student welfare during these unprecedented times. There is no shortage of rumors here at the U - I won’t list them, but the timing is revealing - days before today’s trustees meeting and after students had left campus. The faculty was never consulted. This makes no sense and I fear has caused irreparable harm to a school I love. It is my undergraduate alma mater - coming back here was a dream come true. Was. Academic coups are so civilized, with their fancy words and innuendo. This has been soul crushing. And this soap opera hasn’t even reached its first commercial break. From pandemic to pandemonium, season one.


What the heck is going on with the UM Trustees and President and Provost? The stories in the Herald and DBR read like a cataclysmic implosion due to serious incompetence and dishonesty at the top. Sounds like one or both, Prez or Provost, have to go.

You fire a dean in his second year for committing a crime. You don’t fire him or her with a series of shifting and flimsy pretexts that are easy to disprove and with no transparency and consultation. And you certainly should not fire him with a public announcement that comes across as nasty, vindictive, defamatory, dishonest,, and entirely tone deaf. Did the President realize he was messing with an entire faculty of lawyers? Lawyers who can sniff out BS arguments a mile away? And a dean who was a civil rights lawyer and activist?

Does UM have communications people? Does the President have lawyers? He better get some soon, especially given how they caused the biggest shitstorm in higher ed in twenty years and publicly humiliated and defamed a good guy with apparently many powerful allies in SoFL and across the country. This is like a bad soap opera.

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