Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Sixteen Miami Faculty Demand Answers To Questions Surrounding Firing Of Dean Tony Varona

Following up on Thursday's post, University Of Miami Appoints Acting Law School Dean; Faculty Demands Investigation Into Firing Of Tony Varona:  Open Letter to the Miami Law Community, The Termination Of Dean Varona (July 5, 2021):

Miami Law (2020)An Open Letter to the Miami Law Community
The abrupt termination of Dean Anthony Varona, and the upheaval that has occurred in its wake, has been a terrible blow to our community. Dean Varona’s appointment less than two years ago expressed our collective vision for Miami Law: an institution committed to inclusion, innovation, and integrity in the practice and the study of law. In his short time in the position, Dean Varona worked tirelessly to achieve that vision. He recruited and retained talented staff and faculty who have already raised Miami Law’s profile and expanded our international and comparative reach. He shepherded the law school through an unprecedented and terrifying pandemic. He laid the foundation to achieve the excellence to which the university aspires and that we hope is consistent with its aspiration for the law school.

Despite the faculty’s repeated meetings with the administration, we have been given no plausible explanation for Dean Varona’s firing. While we welcome the appointment of our colleague, Professor Stephen Schnably, as acting dean, we still have no assurances that the decanal process moving forward will be transparent or accountable. We write this letter to provide a summary of where we are, express our continuing objections, and assure our students of our commitment to their legal education and their welfare.

The decision to terminate Dean Varona was done without consultation with the faculty. Removing a popular and successful dean so early in his term and in this way has led to a chorus of condemnation from Miami Law faculty, students, alumni, and donors, as well as from lawyers, law professors, and law school deans across the country. This includes the May 25, 2021 resolution of the tenured Miami Law faculty; the May 27, 2021 resolution of the University of Miami Faculty Senate; and letters from the Miami Law Alumni Association, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) Section on Minority Groups; the Society of American Law Teachers; and the Board of Directors of LatCrit (Latina/o Critical Legal Theory, Inc.). 

The administration’s only publicly offered reason for firing Miami Law’s first Hispanic, openly gay dean not even two years into his five-year term—namely, that his removal from the deanship as of July 1, 2021 was necessary to fulfill the goals of the university’s capital campaign—raised far more questions than it answered. 

Since May 25th, the faculty has repeatedly sought answers to these questions. Was this decision made at the behest of one or more members of the Board of Trustees? Is the decision the first step in a larger plan for the Board of Trustees to breach the wall between board governance and daily management of the university? Did racial bias, sexual orientation bias, ideological bias, or any combination of the three, play a role in the decision?

These questions carry particular urgency in our current historical moment. We are witnessing a growing and highly coordinated assault against institutions of higher learning and on the development of critical thinking skills, increasing corporate domination and interference in education, and backlash against the values of equity and inclusion. We are deeply disappointed in the administration’s failure to answer the questions raised by their actions or to dispel the troubling impressions they have created.

We write this letter in part to reassure our Miami Law student community that the faculty’s commitment to intellectual freedom, professional excellence, and to preparing our students for the rapidly evolving demands of the legal profession remains unchanged, as does our commitment to the values of diversity, inclusivity, and justice. We have clearly and repeatedly communicated these principles to the administration, and will continue to fight to have them honored.

The identity — and ultimately, the power — of Miami Law is larger than any one person or one decision. It is the faculty, staff, alumni, and most importantly, the students. We remain dedicated to our students’ success and well-being, and to cultivating the courage and integrity necessary to withstand the headwinds of political and institutional forces.

(The list of tenured and emeritus faculty signatories below may evolve; updated list will be available here)

Kenneth M. Casebeer, Professor of Law Emeritus
Donna K. Coker, Professor of Law and Dean's Distinguished Scholar
Caroline Mala Corbin, Professor of Law and Dean's Distinguished Scholar
Marc Fajer, Professor of Law
Zanita Fenton, Professor of Law
Mary Anne Franks, Professor of Law and Michael R. Klein Distinguished Scholar Chair
Tamara Rice Lave, Professor Law
John Mark Newman, Professor of Law
Jessica Owley, Professor Law
Bernard Perlmutter, Professor of Law
Keith S. Rosenn, Professor of Law Emeritus
Rebecca Sharpless, Professor Law
Kele Stewart, Professor of Law
Scott E. Sundby, Professor of Law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar
Stephen Urice, Professor of Law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar
Francisco Valdes, Professor of Law and Dean's Distinguished Scholar

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