One thing has remained constant in F. Michael Higginbotham’s 23 years at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
“We’ve never had enough money around here, at the law school and the university,” Higginbotham said Tuesday, hours after he was formally named interim dean of the law school. “It’s been a longstanding concern among the law school faculty and, I think, university officials.”
Higginbotham replaces Phillip J. Closius, who resigned last week citing longstanding differences with university President Robert L. Bogomolny over the amount of law school revenue the university keeps for itself. John A. Lynch, a professor and associate dean, had served as acting dean.
Higginbotham called the issues between Closius and Bogomolny a “family dispute.”
“It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten out,” Higginbotham said. “We’ve made big strides in the last four years. I wouldn’t want this dispute to hinder or stop that momentum in any way.”
At the same time, however, Higginbotham will be working with Bogomolny on a report due in March to the American Bar Association’s Accreditation Committee with a detailed explanation about the law school’s contributions to the university. The request was part of the committee’s report, delivered to the school last week — one day before Closius was asked to resign.
“I will be advocating with the university administration to make sure we have transparency for budget matters,” Higginbotham said. “I have assurances from senior leadership that it will be forthcoming.”
Higginbotham said he was offered the dean’s position Friday and spent the weekend mulling over the decision with his parents visiting from out of town. But, he said, Closius’ resignation and the reasons surrounding it were not a factor in his decision.
“I love teaching, I love scholarship,” he said. “Administrative matters are not what I like to do.”
Higginbotham accepted the position Monday afternoon after a meeting with Bogomolny.
“It’s been a good place to me,” he said. “I’ve done a lot for the school and the school has done a lot for me.”
Byron L. Warnken, a longtime UB law professor, called Higginbotham “even-keeled” and “well respected” by students and faculty.
“You couldn’t come up with a better person,” said Warnken, who will start his 35th year teaching later this month. “Michael is the kind of guy people will rally around.”
Higginbotham, the Wilson H. Elkins Professor of Law, is a nationally known expert on equal protection law, race relations and human rights. His latest book, “Ghosts of Jim Crow,” is scheduled to be published early next year. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and also serves as chairman of the Maryland Attorney General’s Task Force on Electronic Weapons.
“He is among the most respected members of the UB law faculty, and his natural leadership skills and unquestionable integrity will maintain the School of Law’s forward momentum during this transitional period,” Bogomolny said in a statement.
As the national search for a permanent dean gets underway, Higginbotham said he will offer Bogomolny recommendations as to who should serve on the search committee. However, he said his name will not be among the candidates for the job.
“I don’t want to be a dean and I look forward to going back to academic life,” he said.
Higginbotham said he spoke to Closius, who he described as helpful and supportive. He praised Closius’ efficiency and expected a smooth transition.
“People care about the school and want me to do well,” he said.
In related developments, University System of Maryland Chancellor William E. Kirwan declined to comment on the dispute between Bogomolny and Closius because it involves confidential personnel issues.
“Moreover, this personnel issue is the responsibility of the University of Baltimore campus,” Kirwan wrote in an emailed statement. The University of Baltimore is part of the University System of Maryland.
Some members of the law school community are hoping to undo the former dean’s forced resignation. Bradley S. Shear, a 1998 alumnus, has circulated a form letter among alumni seeking Closius’ reinstatement as well as an investigation into how the university spends law school revenue.
Shear, a Bethesda solo practitioner, noted the ABA report followed a state audit citing the university for lax financial controls and spotty student record keeping.
“We want to find out what the bottom line is,” he said. “Too many questions are unanswered.”
A protest planned by current students in front of the law school building throughout Tuesday attracted a handful of participants. Students planted signs around the plaza, including ones that read “Keep Accreditation/Lose Bogomolny” and “Reinstate Closius.”
Warnken said he hoped strength of the law school would make the outcry from students and alums short-lived.
“My guess is, it will be a short-term blip,” he said. “Things will level out and we’ll be off to a new school year.”