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Ave Maria law school going to Florida

February 21, 2007

BY KRISTEN JORDAN SHAMUS and DAVID CRUMM

DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

Ave Maria School of Law, founded by former Domino's Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan to train a new generation of Catholic attorneys, will leave Ann Arbor for Florida starting in 2009, Monaghan announced Tuesday.

The law school -- complete with its 18 faculty members and 50 staff -- will share a campus with Ave Maria University and become part of the town of Ave Maria, which shares its Catholic foundation with the schools and will be built near Naples, Fla.

While acknowledging the loss of jobs won't help Michigan's already struggling economy, Monaghan said Tuesday from Florida that "it's not as big a blow as Pfizer, and it'll be a couple years."

The law school has become a conservative lightning rod, drawing visits by nationally known political leaders, including Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

Law school student Brian Farkas, 25, of Livonia said that although it is bad news for Michigan, Monaghan had to go where he would be accepted.

"Florida is the place for Ave Maria to grow with the way the community was so welcoming," said Farkas, a first-year student. "Being local, I'm sad to see Ave Maria go for the state. But you only stay where you're welcome."

Farkas was referring to how Monaghan was thwarted in his attempt to build a Catholic university and law school on the grounds of his Ann Arbor home, Domino's Farms. In 2002, his plans were rejected by the Ann Arbor Township Board of Trustees.

Eugene Milhizer, associate professor of law and associate dean for academic affairs at the law school, said the decision was no surprise. "Students who were coming here were advised of the possibility," he said.

All of the students now enrolled at the Ann Arbor campus will be able to finish their studies in Michigan.

Next year's class will be the first to be affected. Faculty and staff will be able to keep their jobs if they're willing to relocate, said Bernard Dobranski, president and dean of the law school.

"Everyone is welcome to come here as part of the relocation," he said, adding that meetings today will answer faculty and staff questions.

For Monaghan, the man who turned a pizza shop in Ypsilanti into the Domino's Pizza chain, it is the next step in the realization of a dream.

Monaghan said southwest Florida is attractive because it's among the fastest-growing regions in the nation, doesn't have a law school and is in an area short of Catholic higher education.

Not everyone is thrilled with the direction the school is headed, however. In a letter of resignation, associate professor Kevin Lee said he is disappointed that amid the controversy of whether the school should move to Florida, among other things, Ave Maria has strayed from its mission and dedication to the teachings of the Catholic Church.