Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 14, 2021

Miami Searches For Interim Dean After Controversial Firing Of Tony Varona, Who Sought To Reduce Overhead Tax Law School Pays To University

Ediberto Roman (Florida International), More on Miami Law's Dean Firing Fiasco...:

[A] faculty committee at Miami is hurriedly soliciting internal and external candidates from faculty contacts for a one or two year interim dean position. One of the candidates approached told me that would be akin to crossing a picket line and academia is no more sacred a place than a field of grapes--either way it didn't feel right to that candidate.

Miami Herald, The Firing of UM’s Popular Law Dean Baffled the Legal Community. There Could Be Backlash:

The controversial firing of popular University of Miami School of Law Dean Anthony Varona could backfire on UM President Julio Frenk in his efforts to attract a top-notch dean and meet ambitious fundraising goals, say outraged alumni and faculty. ...

“This was such an out-of-order action, so odd and so sad that many qualified people will not apply for that job,” said Marc-Tizoc González, University of New Mexico law professor and chair of the Association for American Law Schools’ Section on Minority Groups, which wrote a scathing letter calling for an investigation of Varona’s termination.

“The applicant pool could be very small, which makes you wonder if there’s already someone lined up,’’ he added. “How will a new dean interact with professors and students when you’ve had an awkward removal of a stellar, well-liked dean, and the faculty members who would typically drive such a decision were not even consulted? How can a new dean successfully fund-raise given the time that will be lost and the anger of potential donors?” ...

The UM School of Law Academic Review Committee warned in a June 1 letter to Frenk that a new dean would be doomed in achieving Frenk’s own goal “to make Miami Law as strong and successful as it can be.” The independent panel of deans from three U.S. law schools — University of Houston, American University and Boston University — was selected by Provost Jeffrey Duerk to monitor the performance of Varona.

“But long term, our fear is that if you decide to continue down this route, it will be next to impossible to find a high quality replacement for Dean Varona and that replacement’s principle mission would be to heal the wounds from Dean Varona’s termination,” they wrote in the letter. “Given this scenario, we believe that it would be highly unlikely for him/her to lead a successful capital campaign, raise US News rankings, or improve the bar passage rate.”


[I]in a Zoom meeting with faculty last week and in another with the alumni association this week, Frenk said reinstatement of Varona is not being considered. He also dismissed rumors that Varona’s sexual orientation or Hispanic background had anything to do with his termination as dean, reminding the group that UM has three openly gay deans and that he himself is Mexican.

He indicated a rift in vision was why he decided to part ways with Varona so early in Varona’s contract, and that the Board of Trustees supported his decision.

“We are still hazy on the real reasons but we gathered that there was a series of issues between the president and the dean, including the philosophy of where the law school is headed,” said outgoing president of the UM Law Alumni Association, Miami attorney Tim Kolaya. “Dean Varona wanted to reduce the percentage of money the law school is required to give to the university general budget and keep more of it for improving the law school’s facilities, salaries and scholarships.” ...

“The University of Miami really has become a medical school with sidelines in other fields,” Klock said. “The law facility is old and tired. It’s a stepchild.”

Miami Herald op-ed:  by Carlos J. Martinez (J.D. 1990; Public Defender, Miami-Dade County):  UM Must Clarify That Respected Law School Dean Did Nothing Wrong:

I am a University of Miami School of Law graduate of 1990, a member of Iron Arrow Honor Society and employ UM Law School graduates. As Miami-Dade’s public defender, I have hired more than 100 UM Law graduates in the past 12 years.

The termination of Law School Dean Anthony E. Varona and the manner in which it was done are appalling. ...

While we do not know what went on behind the scenes, the public rationale was pretextual, and the way the firing was carried out seems intended to humiliate Varona and tarnish his professional reputation. ...

Varona’s record in just under two years was that of a successful dean. He deserves appreciation, not termination. ...

It is clear that UM will not reinstate Varona. If the recent meetings with alumni and faculty were intended to placate faculty, alumni and students concerned about the damage to UM, the law school and Varona, they have failed.

Those meetings have eroded trust and further alienated supporters of Varona and UM Law.

Varona was the overwhelming choice of faculty, students and alumni less than two years ago. Now, administration’s purported offer of more transparency and consultation in the selection of a new dean seems an empty gesture. ...

UM must correct the record. It is the bare minimum the university can do to begin restoring the respect of the faculty, alumni, students and the public for our great institution.

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