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Law students defend ousted Duquesne dean

By Mike Cronin

Friday, December 12, 2008

Duquesne University law students plan to announce today how they plan to show support for ousted dean Charles J. Guter.

"We're not sure if it's going to be a protest, a lawsuit or something else," said Brandon Neuman, 27, president of Duquesne's student bar association.

Duquesne President Charles J. Dougherty this week removed Guter because the dean failed to meet expectations, which school officials say they communicated to Guter. University spokeswoman Bridget Fare would not specify the expectations.

Guter said in a letter Wednesday to Dougherty that he was given no reason for his dismissal. Guter began a five-year term as dean in 2005.

Dougherty has named law professor Ken Gormley as interim dean.

Neither Guter nor Dougherty returned phone calls Thursday.

Neuman said his classmates deserve an explanation.

"It shows a lack of respect to the students that this decision needed to be so immediate, right in the middle of finals," said Neuman of Eighty Four, Washington County. "It would have to be a very significant reason to cause this great of a disturbance and have this weigh on students' minds."

Duquesne Provost Ralph L. Pearson released a statement yesterday stating that Guter's performance "indicated a consistent pattern of failure to meet expectations during his three full years in the position of dean. In addition, I expressed my concerns to him regarding his lack of leadership in several areas."

In his letter to Dougherty, Guter pointed to Duquesne's record bar-exam pass rates, which rose to 97.04 percent this year from 68.02 percent in 2005, as proof of his effectiveness.

Pearson, though, said in his statement: "While the university is certainly proud of the recent achievements of its students on the bar exam and in moot court competitions, it must be noted that the role of the dean is wide-ranging, with responsibilities and expectations that extend far beyond achievements more appropriately attributed to faculty and advisers, and in which he had no direct role."

An American Bar Association report published in 2007 could offer some clues about Pearson's reference to a lack of leadership.

"In interviews with the dean and the faculty, the site visit team found that beyond doubt, the faculty is badly divided," the report said. "The split is corrosive and is likely to be damaging if left unattended."

Law professor Kellen McClendon called Guter's demotion "unfair and incomprehensible," while Professor Robert S. Barker said the move was "a necessary step for the integrity and sanity of this institution."

Richard Schwab, president of the Council of Academic Deans from Research Education Institutions based at the University of Connecticut, said deans typically serve at the pleasure of a school's senior administration.

"In most universities, a dean's appointment can be terminated if his or her performance is deemed unsatisfactory," Schwab said.

That also is true at Duquesne, said Fare, the university spokeswoman.

Regional legal authorities said the change in law-school leadership would not negatively affect Western Pennsylvania's legal community.

Jay A. Blechman, president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, said the association "has always had good working relationships with Pittsburgh-area universities."

Because Gormley is Blechman's immediate predecessor as president of the association, Blechman said he expects such ties to continue.

State Supreme Court Justice Max Baer, a 1975 Duquesne law alumnus who is based in Pittsburgh, praised Gormley and said he would make a great dean.

"I'm too busy to teach, but I have such great esteem for Ken that if he thought it would be helpful, I would teach at Duquesne," Baer said, adding that he wouldn't want any money to teach.

Asked if he would have taught at Duquesne had Guter made the request, Baer said: "I couldn't answer that question."


Duquesne law school dean ousted

Wednesday, December 10, 2008
By Bill Schackner, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Without saying why, Duquesne University today announced its law school dean since 2005, Don Guter, is out, and the dean said he was given no explanation.

A statement issued by the university said Ken Gormley would serve as interim dean. The statement said only that Mr. Guter, a former Navy judge advocate general, would remain on the faculty.

During Mr. Guter's tenure, the law school has seen gains in a number of indicators including its bar-passage rate, which rose to 97 percent from 68 percent. But there have also been tensions between the law school and university President Charles Dougherty, including the president's initial refusal to grant tenure to professor John Rago despite a favorable faculty vote and backing of the dean.

The president's refusal sparked a student protest before Dr. Dougherty reversed couse and granted Mr. Rago tenure.

Reached today, Mr. Guter said he was given without explanation the option to resign in 24 hours or be removed.

"My reaction to this is shock. The school -- really by a lot of people's accounts, not just mine -- has never been in better shape," he said.

Bruce Ledewitz, a law school faculty member since 1980, called the move by the university unimaginable.

"This is an appalling decision. It shows that performance means nothing at Duquesne," Mr. Ledewitz said. "All that matters is if President Dougherty personally likes you."

A retired rear admiral, Mr. Guter, 60, became dean of the law school on Aug. 1 2005.

A Latrobe native, he is known largely for a career in the Navy that began in 1970. Between 1977 and 2000, he served as deputy judge advocate general and commander of the Naval Legal Service Command. He also headed the Naval Justice School.

In 2000, he became the Navy's 37th judge advocate general, a position in which he advised the secretary of the Navy, chief of naval operations and other top government leaders on legal issues. He oversaw 1,800 active duty, reserve and civilian lawyers as well as 1,000 paralegals.