Paul L. Caron

Monday, June 28, 2021

Renaming Of Endowed Professorship For President Clinton Roils Arkansas Law School

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Flap Over 'Clinton' Change:

Arkansas Little RockIn 1999 the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Bowen Law School established an endowed professorship called the “Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy.” It’s since been available for a five-year term to UALR faculty members who apply, though held solely since inception by soon-to-retire Professor John DiPippa.

I’m told DiPippa and the dean of the law school several months ago began calling this appointed position the “William J. Clinton Professor of Constitutional Law and Public Service.” It appears the decision to rename (and seemingly refocus) the professorship after Clinton was made without the current faculty’s involvement.

Now a flap over the change has resulted among some Bowen faculty members, best illustrated by a lengthy email from well-regarded (believe I'll just refer to him as distinguished) Professor Tom Sullivan. Below is an edited version of Sullivan's lengthy May 22, 2021, email addressed to the faculty (acquired via FOIA). ...

"I simply do not think it appropriate for a law school to honor a disbarred lawyer--it strikes me as hardly sending a deterrent message to law students or practitioners. But beyond the disbarment, I have grave concerns about Bowen being aligned with significant policy decisions taken by Clinton that have [caused] irreparable damage to our legal system. ...

I asked DiPippa to explain how Clinton's name became inserted into the professorship. ... . Last summer, I received word that the original documents were found in the files on the main campus and was told I could use the name."

Professor Robert Steinbuch, a widely respected (and equally distinguished) Bowen School colleague of Sullivan's widely known for straight talk and legally pursuing transparency causes in the public interest, takes issue with that version.

He said the records at the time demonstrate, "Dean Rod Smith informed the full faculty that Bill Clinton approved the naming in 1999. ... As I had been told, the school affirmatively decided not to name the professorship for Clinton after he was disbarred. This makes sense, as it's a bit absurd to have a professorship at a law school named after a disbarred attorney. ...

Sullivan amplified Steinbuch's thoughts. "Of general importance is the usurpation of faculty governance by the law school administration. At a minimum, the question of re-designating a named professorship should be announced to the faculty for purposes of eliciting legitimate concerns. The faculty originally adopted the rule regarding named professorships that was altered to give the dean sole authority for designation--apart from specific directions given by a donor.

(Hat Tip: Glenn Reynolds)

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