Conservative law professors are taking an activist approach to block the move of their school from Michigan to Thomas Monaghan's new town development, Ave Maria, Florida.
The Chronicle of Education (Katherine Mangan) offers a glimpse into the turmoil at Ave Maria Law School (EIN 38-3519708 Form 990) in Ann Arbor, Michigan (no subscription required). Founder Thomas Monaghan is committed to spending his billion-dollar fortune (from selling the Domino Pizza chain) to advance conservative Catholic causes. He started the law school in 1998 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. But now he wants to move it to his new city of Ave Maria, Florida, in a rural area about 36 miles from Naples.
The professors are balking, even taking their case to the American Bar Association (business league EIN 36-0723150 Form 990). Even more notable from a governance perspective, the article claims that the governing board of the school instituted a two term limit on board members in order to get rid of board members opposed to the move. We have noted that short board tenure is a factor leading to the unaccountability of charity organizations, especially if other key players have an indefinite term.
Working against them, of course, is Mr. Monaghan's cash. The Ave Maria Foundation (EIN 38-2514364 Form 990) as of the end of 2005 had assets of only $121 million, but there's more where that came from. The foundation's report indicates that it made a $20 million payment in start up costs for the Florida location of Ave Maria University and has pledged $114,750,000 in future support.
To me it is telling that the
foundation return was self prepared by the treasurer of the foundation,
which suggests that the organization is unaudited, despite its size.
Already, Mr. Monaghan was responsible for the closing of Ave Maria College (EIN 38-3415373 Form 990)
in Ypsilanti, Michigan, whose Form 990 includes the documents
converting to a stock organization and granting the stock to the new
organization, Ave Maria University (EIN 03-0482006 Form 990)
in Florida. It is worth pointing out that Mr. Monaghan is the
principal donor to the foundation, president of the foundation, and
chairman of the university.
But the law school has already made more of a name for itself, and
the dynamic of professional schools is different because the faculty
members have highly marketable skills. The faculty doesn't have the
same power as the faculty of Harvard, but they can make a plausible stand.
Still, I don't think the ABA will stand in the way of the move. I
think the only prayer the law school faculty has is for the attorney
general of Michigan to step in on the basis of governance issues (and
to keep from losing another employer to the sun belt). And there's
slim chance of that.