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August 21, 2009

Ave Maria law school dean resigns

By Dave Breitenstein
dbreitenstein@news-press.com

Ave Maria School of Law announced today that founding dean and President Bernard Dobranski has resigned. Dobranski has been on medical leave for more than one year, but the announcement of his official departure comes just three days before Ave Maria opens its new campus in North Naples.

In the interim, acting dean Eugene Milhizer will take on the additional role of acting president. Milhizer has overseen a majority of operations since April 2008, helping set up the Collier County campus.

Dobranski was part of Ave Maria’s team that led the law school’s controversial move from Michigan to Florida. It convinced the Board of Governors, and then the American Bar Association, to approve the change in locale. Dobranski will continue serving the school as Dean Emeritus and appointed him to a seat on the Board. Dobranski will also continue as a full member of the faculty, and will be actively involved in the school’s strategic planning and development efforts. One of his initial projects will be to explore the establishment of a special center that will reflect the unique mission of the Law School.

Below is the official announcement distributed this morning by Ave Maria School of Law:

Ave Maria School of Law Founding Dean and President Steps Down
Bernard Dobranski Resigns as Dean and President, but to Continue Active Role in
Law School’s Strategic Planning and Development

NAPLES, Fla. – (August 21, 2009) – Eleven years ago, Bernard Dobranski received a once-in-a-lifetime phone call. Thomas S. Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza and former owner of the Detroit Tigers, was contemplating starting a new law school in Michigan, and he wanted Dobranski to be the dean and president. Since accepting that position a decade ago, Dobranski has led the school through an incredible evolution. From a conceptual plan to a fully accredited law school, Dobranski has been at the forefront of Ave Maria School of Law’s (AMSL) growth and development.

Today, AMSL Chairman of the Board, Thomas S. Monaghan, announced that Dobranski, who has been on medical leave for more than a year, has stepped down as the dean and president of the Law School.

“Both personally, and as chairman of the board, I am greatly appreciative for all Bernie has done for Ave Maria School of Law,” Monaghan said. “His leadership, vision, perseverance and steadfast dedication to Catholic legal education have been unparalleled. It is with much esteem that the board of governors accepts his resignation.”

Reflecting on his time as dean and president, Dobranski noted the fundamental characteristics of the Law School, and how important they have been to him.

“For nearly 40 years I have committed my professional life to legal education,” Dobranski said. “And, throughout the last 10-plus years, Ave Maria School of Law has not only been my job, but it has been my passion. Educating a new generation of lawyers, and providing them an atmosphere to learn the finest professional skills, balanced with a deep commitment to faith and morality, has been a driving force in my life.

“After much prayer and reflection, I have decided to resign my positions as dean and president. My dedication and loyalty to Ave Maria School of Law are unwavering, but I feel that due to some current personal health matters and the need to continue ongoing physical therapy, it would be best if my service to the Law School took on a new form.

“My family, colleagues, friends and each student who has come through Ave Maria have been part of my support system, without which I could not have accomplished all that I have.”

Though no longer holding the titles of dean and president, Dobranski will remain active and engaged at AMSL. The Law School’s Board of Governors has named him Dean Emeritus and appointed him to a seat on the Board. Dobranski will also continue as a full member of the faculty, and will be actively involved in the school’s strategic planning and development efforts. One of his initial projects will be to explore the establishment of a special center that will reflect the unique mission of the Law School.

Since that initial phone call in 1998, Dobranski knew that AMSL was going to be something very unique in the field of legal education. Before a single student application was even taken, he was hard at work developing the direction and mission for the school. Monaghan had assured him that AMSL would be distinct in its mission, providing both a first-rate legal education and rooted firmly in the rich moral tradition of the Church.

“Bernie was the ideal person to start and lead the Law School,” Monaghan said. “Before the announcement about AMSL was made, he had already committed to help lead an institution that would be academically rigorous, would compete with the best law schools in the country and would be infused with Catholic tradition and teachings.”

Under Dobranski’s leadership, the Law School has achieved many milestones.

In September 2000, AMSL opened its doors for the first time and began its inaugural academic year. With Dobranski’s direction, the Law School immediately began taking incredible strides in growth and accreditation. Full accreditation by the American Bar Association (ABA) is the most critical designation a law school can receive. Not only did AMSL receive full accreditation in 2005, but it did so in the shortest time frame possible. This truly was a remarkable accomplishment for a new law school.

Though receiving full ABA accreditation was a paramount achievement, the list of additional successes of the Law School under Dobranski’s guidance is remarkable on its own accord.

At its inception, former U.S. Supreme Court nominee, The Hon. Robert J. Bork, agreed to join AMSL’s faculty to teach the Moral Foundations of Law class.

“Having Judge Bork on the Law School’s faculty from the beginning was simply incredible,” Monaghan recounts. “Bernie was key in attracting Judge Bork to our faculty. In addition to Bork’s presence, there has been a litany of prestigious names associated with the law school. Both Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas have visited. Bernie’s vast experience and ties nationally and internationally have served the law school in countless ways.”

Dobranski’s leadership and direction were invaluable to AMSL and allowed others to learn from his example. In April 2008, Dobranski took a medical leave of absence and Associate Dean and Professor Eugene R. Milhizer was appointed as the acting dean. Milhizer remembers that he felt better able to undertake his new responsibilities having watched Dobranski for so many years.

“Bernie’s leadership qualities are founded on his faith and vast experience,” Milhizer said. “Watching Bernie interact with students, faculty, staff, board members and members of the community has provided me with a great example of how to lead confidently, while still taking the time to listen to every person I encounter.”

Though his achievements as AMSL’s founding dean and president hold distinct merit, Dobranski’s previous legal and educational endeavors are highly notable.

Dobranski came to AMSL from Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, where he was dean and professor of law. He also held these same positions at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. He taught at the University of Notre Dame and Creighton University law schools and served on the Accreditation Committee of the American Bar Associations’ Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.

Before becoming an educator, Dobranski was legal advisor to a member of the National Labor Relations Board, general counsel of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission, professional staff member to the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (the Kerner Commission), and administrative assistant to a member of Congress.

As an arbitrator, Dobranski rendered more than 350 arbitration awards and has held memberships in a number of national arbitration panels, including: the National Arbitration Panel of the United States Postal Service and the American Postal Workers Union; the Supplementary Expedited Panel of General Electric; the National Futures Association Arbitration Panel; and the National Association of Securities Dealers Arbitration Panel.

His professional memberships have included: the Virginia Bar; the board of editors of the American Journal of Jurisprudence; board of regents for Orchard Lake Schools; board of directors for the Culture of Life; endowment advisory board of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist; the board of governors of the Linacre Centre in England; the board of the Church Resource Institute and he served as president of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars.

Dobranski holds a bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Notre Dame and a law degree from the University of Virginia.

At its meeting where the Law School’s Board of Governors accepted Dobranski’s resignation, it set into motion a formal search process for a new dean and president. In the interim, Milhizer was appointed acting president, in addition to his current duties as acting dean, which he has held since April 2008.