Law dean sues University of Cincinnati over ouster, seeks reinstatement

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Jennifer Bard, the University of Cincinnati College of Law dean who in March was placed on administrative leave after faculty members discussed a vote of no confidence, has filed a lawsuit against the university.

The federal complaint (PDF), filed Friday in the Southern District of Ohio, alleges denial of due process, breach of contract and First Amendment retaliation. It seeks reinstatement for Bard as dean, and unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. She joined the law school in July 2015 and has a five-year contract for the dean position, which pays $300,000 annually. Her counsel filed a preliminary injunction motion (PDF) Monday, seeking to return Bard to the same position she had before being placed on administrative leave.

“We are reviewing the suit by Dean Bard, and we welcome the opportunity to present the truth in court,” Greg Vehr, the university’s spokesman, told the ABA Journal in an email.

According to Bard, a specific job responsibility as dean of the law school was to reduce its deficit. Her complaint alleges that a group of law professors, most of whom held endowed chairs, threatened to take a no confidence vote about her to the press following a November 2016 meeting, where Bard disclosed that the law school’s operating funds were being used to pay salary supplements for the endowed professorships. Endowments are supposed to fully cover the additional pay, according to Bard’s complaint. Professors contacted by the ABA Journal were not available for comment at press time.

Other proposed cost-cutting measures reportedly included integrating the law library with the university system, as well as written pre-travel approval and receipts for law school faculty. According to Bard, there was an agreement to bring in a mediator, who would address the work she was hired to do, coupled with faculty concerns.

“The concerns of faculty reflected ordinary tensions between faculty and administration. Some of the concerns were entirely self-serving, and many were based on inaccurate information and fears about anticipated conduct,” the complaint reads.

Both the former university president and the provost who hired Bard have since left those positions, according to the complaint. Peter Landgren, the interim provost, is named as a defendant. Bard’s complaint alleges that he delayed contacting a mediator, and looked at a proposed six-month plan as a way to force the law school dean out, rather than improve her communication with faculty.

Neither Bard nor the law school have disclosed how much the law school is in debt, the Cincinnati Business Courier reported in March, but Bard reportedly described it as “multimillion-dollar” in a March 15 letter to faculty.

Much of a March 19 article by the Cincinnati Business Courier came from an open records request to the university, according to Bard’s complaint. After than piece was published, Bard provided the publication with additional information about “underlying tensions” at the law school, including the March 15 letter. The paper wrote a follow-up piece, with Bard’s response, on March 21. The next day, she was placed on administrative leave.

Bard, a Yale Law School graduate who also has a master’s degree in public health and a PhD in higher education, is the first woman to serve as the law school’s dean. Under her leadership, the law school rose 22 places on the 2017 U.S. News & World Report law school rankings list, to No. 60, an earlier Courier article reported.

“I came to UC in good faith, deeply committed to addressing the college of law’s failure to adapt to a rapidly changing legal market,” Bard said in a statement. ”Although I enjoyed the support of the students and many highly talented faculty and staff, the university now seems committed to seeing a small, entitled minority of faculty hijack reform efforts that should be dedicated solely to the welfare of its students. I have no recourse but to protect my good name and encourage an open discussion of the deeply rooted and ongoing problems that existed here well before my arrival.”

The Monday filing includes an affidavit (PDF) from Christo Lassiter, at professor at the university’s law and graduate criminal justice schools. Lassiter attended a law school faculty meeting a few days after Bard was placed on administrative leave, his affidavit states, and when the interim dean was asked about the decision, he responded that Bard “had no skeletons,” had done “nothing illegal” and there were no “ethical or moral issues” regarding the situation.




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