UB law dean resigns over university's use of its revenue

He has been troubled by the amount of funds from the law school used to subsidize other programs

July 29, 2011|By Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

The popular dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law said he was forced to resign this week, and in an unusual move, he used a widely circulated email to air internal tensions over the university's spending of law school revenues to subsidize other programs.

Phillip Closius said in a letter to the law school community that he was asked to resign Thursday, the day after the university received an accreditation report from the American Bar Association that raised questions about the administration's rationale for siphoning off large percentages of law school proceeds.

During Closius' four years as dean, he has overseen a rise in national rankings and the groundbreaking for a new $107 million law center.

The news of his resignation prompted surprise and outrage among students and alumni, who described Closius as a dynamic leader and tireless advocate for law students.

Closius said he was troubled by steady cost increases for law students, noting that tuition for in-state students has gone up 70 percent over the past seven years and tuition for out-of-state students has risen 48 percent in the same period.

"I was becoming increasingly uncomfortable justifying tuition and fee increases to law students when the money was actually being used to fund non-law University initiatives," he wrote in the Friday morning email.

In an interview Friday afternoon, Closius said scholarships, faculty salaries and the school's law library were underfunded because of the revenue situation. "We've been trying to get this resolved through dialogue and conversation, but that has not been effective," he said. "I did not expect it to lead to my demise."

The university announced a national search for Closius' replacement Friday morning and said Closius will return to teaching after a yearlong sabbatical.

"Under the leadership of Phil Closius, the school developed a strong operational foundation from which to build," UB President Robert L. Bogomolny said in a statement. "He has strengthened an already outstanding faculty, increased the national recognition of the school, and enhanced the success rates of our students. I look forward to his continued contributions to the School of Law as a leading educator and legal scholar."

His departure comes at a time when the school is squarely in the public eye because its architecturally ambitious new building is rising at the corner of Charles Street and Mount Royal Avenue. The law school's reputation had improved during Closius' four years as dean, with its ranking in U.S. News and World Report rising from 170 to 117. During the same period, the university has sought to expand beyond its traditional mission of producing law and business graduates, greatly increasing its undergraduate offerings.

Recent law graduate John Petrovick said students wondered where their increased tuition payments were going when the university added a new bookstore, coffee shop and apartments while trimming hours at the law school library.

"I was deeply disturbed by the letter to the student body and the news that Dean Closius was forced to resign," Petrovick said. "In general, the student body felt that Dean Closius was doing great things for the school of law. We didn't all like the fast-paced changes we were forced to endure during our law school education, but we all tolerated it because we truly believed he would make our degrees much more valuable in the future."

Jim Astrachan, a 1974 graduate who teaches copyright law at the school as an adjunct professor, called Closius "impossible to replace."

"If it wasn't for Phil, I wouldn't be teaching there," said the longtime Baltimore attorney. "He was an absolute cheerleader for the law school and the student. He was a huge believer in the consumer, the student. Apparently, Phil took that belief to the point where it cost him."

James Vidmar, a 1980 UB graduate and member of the law school's advisory board, said he found the resignation "very deeply disappointing."

"I think it was clear that there was tension to those of us on the board, but I didn't want to think this was coming because he's a hall-of-fame-caliber dean," Vidmar said. "He's done things nobody thought anyone could do there."

Brett Ruby, a rising second-year law student from Rochester, N.Y., said he and his peers are outraged by Closius' forced resignation. He recalled how the dean met with him and a friend on short notice to help them find internships in the sports industry.

"What gets to me the most about all this … is that Dean Closius was forced out of UB Law for essentially doing his job," Ruby said. "He felt that UB Law students weren't getting the most out of their tuition dollars, and he pressed the administration on fulfilling the promise they made to him when he took the job. That promise, of course, was to work with him on fixing this problem."

Closius described the deterioration of his relationship with Bogomolny and other university leaders in his Friday email.

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