Paul L. Caron

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Miami Law Alumni Slam Firing Of Dean; AALS Section Demands Investigation To Determine Whether Tony Varona Was Targeted Due To His Gay And Hispanic Status

Following up on my previous posts (links below):  Miami Herald, ‘A Historic Act of Arrogance’: UM Law Alumni Slam Frenk After Dean’s Firing, Pen Letter:

Miami Law (2020)Taking a decisive stand over the whirlwind affecting their alma mater, about 60 University of Miami law school alumni sent a letter to top university administrators Friday strongly criticizing the firing of law school Dean Anthony Varona and requesting a meeting, an unprecedented move. ...

“As alumni leaders and supporters of the University of Miami and our School of Law, we are surprised and saddened over the termination of Dean Varona,” reads the letter, signed by Timothy A. Kolaya, president of the alumni association, Julie Braman Kane, president-elect of the group, and Daniel Newman, vice president. “We are particularly concerned by the lack of process and the failure to consult with important stakeholders, including the faculty and alumni leaders.”

Frenk first announced Varona’s removal in an email Tuesday, sparking an outcry among faculty — who weren’t consulted prior despite UM policies stipulating otherwise — along with students, alumni and other law professionals. Although he didn’t divulge specific reasons for the termination, Frenk alluded to problems with fundraising. A decline in national rankings and low UM passage rates for the Florida Bar exam might have contributed. ...

Miami-Dade County Public Defender Carlos Martinez, who graduated from the law school in 1990, said he didn’t sign the letter because he doesn’t occupy a position in the alumni association. But, he noted, “it’s a good letter” and if he were to have written it, it “would have been a hell of a lot stronger.” ... “For decades, the UM administration has ignored, underfunded, and micromanaged the UM School of Law. However, to fire a Dean who was broadly admired by his students and faculty without even conferring with the faculty is a historic act of arrogance,” Aronovitz wrote in the email, which he shared with the Herald.

“Taking this abrupt action after our diligent Dean was only at the helm of UM Law for 18 Covid-19 hectic months is stunning. Further, your timing of terminating a respected Dean who is the first Hispanic and member of the LGBTQ community Dean during the UM Fundraising Campaign is a tone-deaf act,” he added.

Letter From University of Miami Law Alumni Association (May 28, 2021):

Dear President Frenk, Provost Duerk, and Ms. Bass:
We are proud of Miami Law and of the work of Dean Anthony Varona.

As alumni leaders and supporters of the University of Miami and our School of Law, we are surprised and saddened over the termination of Dean Varona. We are particularly concerned by the lack of process and the failure to consult with important stakeholders, including the faculty and alumni leaders.

Having worked closely with Dean Varona, we are impressed with his passion, enthusiasm, and ability to connect with and advocate on behalf of the Law School, its students, and its alumni. His many successes as Dean should not go unacknowledged. Seven months into his tenure and faced with the onslaught of COVID-19, the Law School not only adjusted but thrived under his leadership as it tackled new pandemic challenges and the transition to online learning. In addition to his extraordinary work supporting student summer placement efforts, Dean Varona established a Student Emergency Fund to assist our students facing financial hardships during the pandemic. In total the Law School has raised over $8 million under Dean Varona’s leadership during the last 22 months. This figure is impressive for the Law School, especially so during these times.

We are convinced that the future of Miami Law is bright. The entering 1L class in the fall of 2020 – Dean Varona’s first class of incoming Miami Law students – had the most competitive credentials of any entering Miami Law class during the past 30 years. Additionally, Miami Law has emerged as a center for thought leadership, attracting prominent speakers, faculty, symposia, and conferences. These successes have improved Miami Law’s reputation across the academic and legal landscape in South Florida, as well as nationally.

The greater Miami Law alumni community rises and falls with the successes of our beloved Law School. On behalf of our alumni – your alumni – we ask to meet with you in the coming days to express our concerns and to address how this decision will impact our students and alumni moving forward. We will make ourselves available at your convenience.

Miami Herald, ‘A Historic Act of Arrogance’: UM Law Alumni Slam Frenk After Dean’s Firing, Pen Letter:

At least one other organization also criticized UM for forcing Varona to step down: the Executive Committee of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Minority Groups.

In an open letter released Thursday, the group called for an “independent and credible investigation into the actual reasons for Dean Varona’s firing,” partly because of Varona’s identity as a gay and Hispanic man.

AALS Section on Minority Groups Executive Committee, AALS Section on Minority Groups Executive Committee Open Letter in Support of Miami Law Dean Anthony E. Varona FINAL with SIGS (May 27, 2021):

Friends, colleagues, and other interested persons:
We, the Executive Committee of the AALS Section on Minority Groups, condemn and protest the University of Miami’s summary firing of its first Latinx law dean, Anthony E. “Tony” Varona. We are shocked and dismayed that the University leadership, particularly University President Julio Frenk, has acted so egregiously against Dean Varona and so improvidently for the University of Miami School of Law (Miami Law).

Compounding the situation, President Frenk announced to the Miami Law community that he had asked Dean Varona to “step down” effective on July 1, 2021 without any prior consultation of the Miami Law faculty. Purporting to explain his decision, President Frenk cryptically wrote, “The historic events of the past 16 months have revealed both challenges and opportunities that highlight the need for a dean with the required vision and effectiveness of execution to bring the school to new levels of excellence.” He continued, “In particular, the current capital campaign—which will culminate in four short years—presents a rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to mobilize significant resources on behalf of Miami Law.”

The inadequacy of President Frenk’s “explanation” was immediately apparent: internally, the tenured Miami Law faculty adopted a resolution protesting and asking for reconsideration of the University’s decision. Externally, other law professors, in Florida and across the nation, apprehended and protested the improvidence of this decision. For example, on The Faculty Lounge, Professor Ediberto Román, of Florida International University College of Law, wrote, “This rash decision in the midst of a pandemic in only his second year as law dean was nothing short of absurd, unsound, rash, and ignorant."


In our view, President Frenk’s suggestion that “the current capital campaign—which will culminate in four short years” motivated his decision to terminate Dean Varona’s leadership of Miami Law makes no sense: in 2019, the Miami Law faculty voted overwhelmingly to invite Dean Varona’s leadership, and he began his deanship in August of that year. A little over a year later, Miami Law publicly extolled Dean Varona’s vision and effectiveness in engaging with and exciting the Miami Law community and its stakeholders, including his leadership in obtaining over one million dollars to establish the Miami Law Student Emergency Fund. More generally, Dean Varona has a reputation for being an excellent fundraiser.

If the University leadership sincerely desires for Miami Law to realize the “rapidly narrowing window of opportunity to mobilize significant resources on behalf of Miami Law[,]” it seems foolhardy at best to interrupt the plans initiated under Dean Varona’s leadership less than two years into his deanship. With four more years before the culmination of the current capital campaign, a university with wise leadership would patiently await the fruition of Dean Varona’s plans rather than force the Miami Law faculty to rely on an interim dean for all or part of the 2021–22 academic year, conduct a new dean’s search, and hope that the new dean can make it rain in the face of a “rapidly narrowing window of opportunity” and the patently unfair requirement to fundraise phenomenally in less than half of the typical five-year decanal appointment or else suffer summary dismissal.

Experience instructs that something more is at play.

Rather than wait for litigation to illuminate the real reasons behind the University leadership’s decision, we therefore raise our voices in support of the May 25, 2021 Resolution of the Miami Law Tenured Faculty. In particular, we endorse their urgent request to meet with President Frenk, Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jeffrey L. Duerk, and the Executive Committee of the University’s Board of Trustees.

Principles of academic freedom and self-governance require that University leadership account to and genuinely consult with the Miami Law faculty regarding this egregious and improvident decision. Hopefully, upon reconsideration, the University will reverse itself. Indeed, unless compelling credible evidence militates otherwise, the University should follow the Miami Law faculty’s direction. Who knows better than the faculty what leadership they need in order to excel individually and collectively and thereby provide the best possible education to current and future Miami Law students?

In any case, the University must immediately initiate independent and credible investigation into the actual reasons for Dean Varona’s firing. The need for independent and credible investigation is urgent and vital, particularly given the patently pretextual reason proffered by President Frenk; the current political climate of Florida; and Dean Varona’s identity at the intersection of constitutionally- and statutorily protected groups, including inter alia his homosexuality and Hispanic (Cuban American) ethnicity. In light of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol and the recent proliferation of state voter suppression laws, independent and credible investigation is necessary to discern whether Dean Varona has been targeted for silencing or retaliation because of his powerful voice and staunch support for the protection of civil, and other human, rights.

In closing, Dean Varona has earned deep admiration, respect, and friendship throughout the legal academy of the United States. It is unfathomable that the University of Miami should take such an arbitrary, capricious, and unilateral action against him. The asserted rationale for this action is even more impenetrable in light of the highly capable leadership and energetic commitment that Dean Varona has so amply demonstrated at Miami Law—and throughout his prior decades of sterling work as a law school administrator, professor of law, and attorney.

Individual endorsements follow. Institutional affiliations are indicated for identification purposes only and do not represent institutional endorsement of this letter. ...

If, after reading this letter, you would like to endorse it, you may submit your name, title, and affiliation(s) here. As of 11:00am ET, Saturday, May 29, 2021, this letter has been endorsed by 150 colleagues and other interested parties, including those above. Additional signatures follow in order of receipt.

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