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SLU law school dean resigns, expresses loss of confidence in top leadership

A screen capture from a Saint Louis University video showing the exterior of what will be the University's new location for its law school in downtown St. Louis.
(via Vimeo/ Saint Louis University)
A screen capture from a Saint Louis University video showing the exterior of what will be the University's new location for its law school in downtown St. Louis.

Updated at 4:55 with comments from interim dean Thomas Keefe.

Updated at 4:20 with comments from current Student Bar Association president

Updated 3:58 p.m. with letter from Biondi to staff via Saint Louis University.

Updated at 2:40 p.m. with comments from former Student Bar Association vice president.

Will be updated.

Annette Clark, dean of the Saint Louis University School of Law, resigned this morning.

In two letters obtained by St. Louis Public Radio (which you can read below), Clark details her reasons for leaving. Clark says she "no longer [has] confidence" in the abilities of President Lawrence Biondi or Vice President of Academic Affairs Manoj Patankar to lead the University.

Clark says her decision was not made suddenly. 

Saint Louis University spokesman Clayton Berry provided a letter from Biondi sent to faculty and staff, in which Biondi says he was set to fire Clark today. Berry says the University will have no further comment beyond the letter:

Special Message From the President 8-8-12

The official Saint Louis University Twitter account seemed unaware of the development when we first reported it this morning.

Credit (TweetDeck screen capture/Kelsey Proud/St. Louis Public Radio)
A tweet from Saint Louis University's official account regarding the news of Annette Clark's resignation. The tweet has since been deleted.

Clark was in her post at SLU for approximately a year, having previously served in positions at law schools in Seattle and Washington, D.C.

The Law School recently announced a relocation project to downtown St. Louis - a project that Clark says Father Biondi undertook without "adequate investigation of its suitability and without any notice or consultation within the law school leadership." The building was initially expected to open before the start of this year, but that date has been pushed back.

Vishnu Singh, a 2012 SLU Law graduate who was vice president of the Student Bar Association in the 2011-2012 school year, says it was clear to students that Clark had concerns about the building.

"She was giving this good speech about it, and she was telling us what we would like to hear, bur we could see that Father Biondi was basically saying, 'this is what's going to happen' and she was just spinning it for us the best she could," Singh said, adding that Clark was always viewed as an advocate for students.

He says rumors about Biondi's management style had run rampant among the students.

"I'm from Los Angeles, so I'm a bit of an outsider to St. Louis, but immediately coming into SLU, all these rumors were gossiped about about him essentially being very autonomous, the word dictator has even been thrown about, he's not an easy person to work for," Singh said.

Clark is the third dean for the law school in three years. Singh says he's worried about the impact the turn over will have on the school's rankings.

It was a concern shared by Candace Ruocco, who is serving her second term as student body president.

"There's a lot of students right now that are worried that these developments might negatively impact the school's reputation or the alumni community, and people are concerned that their already strained job search might be jeopardized a little more by this," she said.

Ruocco said she was surprised by the allegations in Dean Clark's letter, especially of financial mismanagement.

The interim dean of the school, Thomas Keefe, says he's not concerned by the working environment.

"I guess what bothers or troubles me more than anything about [the letters] is the fact that it suggests that there's more of a concern on her part with a turf war with the president of the university when in point of fact, I would think that what everyone's concern should be about is giving these kids what they paid for," he said.

Keefe, a 1978 graduate of the law school, and a personal injury attorney in Belleville, Ill. says it's "not in his DNA" to say no to a Jesuit priest. He says he wants to focus SLU's curriculum on teaching students to be lawyers, "not how to become law students, not how to write learned law journal articles, not how to espouse all kinds of legal theory." He says he's also looking forward to being the first dean to wear shorts and T-shirts in the office.

Resignation Letter:

Annette Clark Resignation Letter 8-8-12

Resignation announcement:

Resignation Announcement Faculty Staff 8-8-12-1

Follow Kelsey Proud on Twitter: @KelseyProud

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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