Phillip J. Closius was still sorting out his emotions Friday afternoon, hours after informing the University of Baltimore School of Law community that he had resigned as dean. One, however, clearly rose above the others.
“I feel a relief,” he said.
Closius stepped down after four years leading the law school, citing longstanding differences with university President Robert L. Bogomolny over the amount of law school revenue the university keeps for itself.
In a highly unusual move, Closius detailed the circumstances behind his resignation in a lengthy email to “the law school community.”
“At some point, people have to know the truth,” he said Friday afternoon. “I was more comfortable telling the truth than not.”
Closius, who has been dean for four years, wrote about “increasing tension” between himself and university administrators “regarding the financial relationship” between the university and the law school.
According to Closius, the university keeps about 45 percent of the revenue generated by the law school’s tuition, fees and state subsidies — far above the 25 to 30 percent considered high by national standards, as recently reported in the New York Times.
Officials from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law were unable to determine Friday afternoon how much of its revenue is retained by the University of Maryland in Baltimore.
Closius declined to speculate Friday about how UB spent the money.
“Using any reasonable calculation of the direct and indirect University costs, the University was still diverting millions of dollars in law school revenue to non-law University functions,” his email said.
Reaction from some alumni was swift, with a “Concerned UB Law Alumni” group on Facebook attracting more than 100 members in just a few hours Friday afternoon.
“I read the letter, and [my reaction] was basically, ‘What the hell is going on here?’” said Andy Gross, a 2008 graduate and one of the Facebook group’s organizers. “Why is 44 cents of every dollar going to UB?”
Current students have organized an all-day protest on campus Tuesday.
“I feel as though we are the oil well for the rest of the university but see little in return,” Nicki Szeliga, a member of the Student Bar Association who is starting her third year as an evening student in the fall, said in an email.
Bogomolny’s request that Closius resign came one day after UB received its final report of the American Bar Association Accreditation Committee on Wednesday.
The ABA report praised the law school in general but noted, and shared, the law school’s concern about how much money it was contributing to the university with “no clear rationale expressed” for how much the university took.
“Although it was reported that the President and Provost [Joseph S. Wood] share concern about this issue, the record is silent as to how it will be resolved,” the report states.
The ABA Committee asked Bogomolny and Closius to submit a report by March with a more detailed explanation for the law school’s contributions to the university.
“The day after receipt of the ABA report, I was asked to resign,” Closius wrote.
“I thought people in the law school community, particularly the students, had a right to know what happened,” he said in an interview hours later. “I didn’t want them thinking I somehow abandoned them.”
Bogomolny, who had issued a statement earlier in the day announcing Closius’ resignation and praising his accomplishments, did not respond to requests for additional comment. A subsequent statement from the university said it could not legally comment on personnel matters.
Posts on the current students’ message board called for more disclosure.
“I sincerely hope [the university administration] does not take this news lightly and they shed more light on the problems expressed by the Dean with a formal response,” one student wrote. “As a student I feel that we deserve to at least know more from the administration.”
Provost Wood, in a separate email to law school students, said he and Bogomolny would “respond appropriately” to Closius’ email but reiterated he could not discuss personnel matters.
|Watch our Newsmakers interview with Closius in Novembe|
“Moving forward, I remain committed to maintaining the professional standing and best interests of the School of Law and the University of Baltimore and to working with you during this transformative time at UB,” he wrote.
Closius’ resignation comes little more than two weeks before the law school’s orientation for the upcoming school year. John A. Lynch, a professor and associate dean, will become acting dean until an interim dean is appointed in the coming weeks.
A national search committee has been formed to find Closius’ replacement, the university said.
Closius came to UB in the summer of 2007 from The University of Toledo College of Law, where he also served as dean.
During his four years in Baltimore, he wrote, “Our US News ranking has jumped from 170 to 117, with another jump projected in March 2012. Our new building is on schedule to open in January of 2013.”
The new, $107 million building is to be named, like the current building, for the parents of attorney Peter G. Angelos. However, Closius revealed that he had brokered a naming rights deal for the school itself with a price tag, set by Bogomolny, of $10 million.
While Closius said he protested that the price was too low, he proceeded with those terms and obtained a commitment from attorney Stephen L. Snyder, keeping Bogomolny advised on his progress every two weeks.
“When I informed the President that Steve and his family had committed to the $10,000,000 and we needed to get their pledge on paper, the President and the system decided to reject the gift, informing Steve that the price for naming the school would have to be $20,000,000. Mr. Snyder declined,” Closius wrote.
“Shortly thereafter,” he continued, “I was informed that I could no longer have regular contact with a number of key prospective donors. My relationship with the University administration was altered for my remaining years as Dean.”
Closius wrote the incident was a “turning point.” On Friday afternoon, he said university officials treated him differently afterward, the change in the relationship like “night and day.”
Snyder, in an interview Friday afternoon, said he was “solely involved in discussions” with Closius about the naming rights but had heard Bogomolny was “in the loop.”
Willing to give
Snyder, of Snyder & Snyder in Pikesville, in 2000 funded the law school’s Stephen L. Snyder Center for Litigation Skills with a $1 million endowment.
He said he will continue to give to his alma mater but called Closius’ resignation very disappointing.
“I hold him in very high esteem,” Snyder said.
Gross, the UB alum, said he would continue making donations to the law school as well. Now on mobilized active duty with the Army, Gross said he hopes to one day work as an adjunct at UB.
“It’s important to me UB does well,” he said.
Garrett Epps, a nationally known constitutional scholar who had been recruited by Closius and came to the law school in 2008, was saddened by news of the resignation.
“I’m puzzled by the reasons for Phil’s dismissal,” he said. “I think Phil did a wonderful job.”
Epps said he was not thinking Friday about his own future at the law school but was worried how Closius’ departure would affect the “brilliant junior faculty” the dean brought on, as well as the school’s growing academic reputation, particularly among prospective students.
“Phil was the face of that,” he said.
Closius was also the face of the law school for Bradley S. Shear, a 1998 alumnus. Shear, a Bethesda solo practitioner, met Closius at an alumni event a few years ago after moving back to the area from New York City. Shear praised Closius for starting the Center for Sport and the Law and rebuilding the career services center, among other accomplishments.
“Dean Closius rebuilt UB’s standing in the local, regional and national legal community and made UB law alums proud to be graduates,” Shear said.
Closius will take one year of administrative leave before returning to the UB law school as a full-time tenured faculty member.
“My family and I are committed to Baltimore and look forward to many years of working with all of you to assist the School of Law in fully realizing its amazing potential,” Closius wrote.
Friday afternoon, Closius praised and thanked the law school faculty, staff and students.
“I couldn’t have had a better reception,” he said. “This has been a remarkable experience.”