Monday, October 29, 2007

Father Orsi Hits It Out of the Park

Those who know Father Michael Orsi appreciate his candor and no non-sense approach - and know of his love for Ave Maria School of Law, especially the students. His column about the school's move to Florida is a homerun - and it is a good sketch of the history of recent events. These are some of the highlights and should be bookmarked as a primer of the situation:

  1. Rage makes it impossible to see the truth. The emotions of some here to fore supporters of the law school are very much like those of the old Brooklyn crowd. The attacks on Mr. Thomas S. Monaghan, the school's founder and principal benefactor, are reminiscent of those leveled at Walter O'Malley. But some pieces in newspapers, as well as on certain blogs - a platform of personal expression that didn't exist in 1957 - have far surpassed the vitriol of the old Brooklyn Eagle, the borough's newspaper.
  2. AMSOL is located in Ann Arbor, Mich., at a lovely facility practically across the street from the north campus of the University of Michigan. U of M has a very highly rated and much bigger law school. So at best, AMSOL would always be "that other law school in town."
  3. The original plan for AMSOL called for it to be moved, along with the Ave Maria College (then operating in the nearby town of Ypsilanti), to Domino's Farms, the prestigious Ann Arbor office park that houses the world headquarters of Domino's Pizza, which Monaghan had founded. Domino's Farms is a gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright-style complex surrounded by rolling fields of natural flora and fauna. Eventually, both AMSOL and Ave Maria College were to be part of Ave Maria University.
  4. However, integrating an educational campus into a property designated for office use required approval by Ann Arbor Township authorities. The Zoning Board rejected the proposal, claiming that it would negatively affect township revenues by converting taxable business property to tax-exempt educational use. (There was suspicion at the time that other factors might have been at work in this decision. Tom Monaghan, long known locally for his conservative views, had clashed many times with the powers-that-be in liberal Ann Arbor, and a Monaghan-sponsored university would only have given him a bigger megaphone to comment on local affairs.)
  5. Monaghan began to explore alternative locations, and during a trip to Naples, Fla., he received an offer of free land if the university would become the cornerstone of a proposed development. The idea was to design a modern university town with the flavor of a medieval European village. Florida politicians, the local bench and bar (legal community), as well as a considerable number of area people welcomed the idea. A partnership was established between Monaghan and the Barron Collier Companies, the biggest developer in Southwest Florida, to build the school facilities, along with housing, a shopping center, golf courses - in short, a whole new town: Ave Maria, Fla.
  6. A feasibility study was completed, and - like Brooklyn and L.A. in 1955 - the demographic trend of Michigan contrasted sharply with what the Naples area had to offer. The West Coast of Florida has a growing population, where Michigan is experiencing a net loss. In addition, the resources of Naples' (extremely affluent) population bode better for the long-term financial viability of AMSOL than the potential giving base in the Ann Arbor area. On top of that, there is no other law school even remotely close by. After due diligence was observed, a decision was reached by the board to relocate, with the opening of the new Florida facility set for fall of 2009.
  7. The new location will provide a very strong foundation for the law school's future. The mission of the School of Law will remain the same, yet the new location will help to ensure that the School of Law will be able to grow and prosper.
  8. Best of all, the university and law school would be the beneficiaries of money generated from the sale of single-family houses, townhomes, and condos, which in time, would put AMU and AMSOL among the best-endowed Catholic schools in the country.
  9. The warm welcome and rich source of potential funding made the move very attractive to the law school - particularly so, since up to this point, most of the school's expenses have been paid by the Ave Maria Foundation, the organization created by Monaghan to disperse funds derived from the 1998 sale of Domino's Pizza. Building a strong institutional support base normally takes many years, since the alumni of a new school can't be counted on for significant gifts until their careers have matured. Relocating to Florida and participating in the town development plan would be a major financial leap for AMSOL, even if with a lag in other giving.
  10. Ave Maria School of Law has recently experienced a good deal of internal controversy. And it must be acknowledged that not all the questions being debated among faculty, students and alumni are related to the Florida move. However - to use a legal concept - "but for" the move, I doubt that most of these other issues would have become as problematic and disputatious as they are. Certainly, we did not see the current level of acrimony when a brand new AMSOL was dazzling the legal profession with high bar-passage rates and receiving ABA accreditation in record time.
  11. [I]t takes money to have the kind of excellence that Ave Maria School of Law is committed to. AMSOL's Board of Governors had to make a choice for the long-term good of the school.