Ave Maria University, the struggling—and extremely conservative—Catholic university in Naples, Florida, is under new management. The school announced Thursday that,
Jim Towey will be the university’s next president. Towey will be responsible for the day-to-day operations as president when his term begins on July 1, 2011. Thomas S. Monaghan, who currently serves as Chancellor and CEO of AMU will remain Chancellor, but will relinquish the responsibilities of CEO and hence the oversight of the daily operations of the university.
Monaghan wasn’t just Ave Maria’s chancellor. Monaghan, the billionaire founder of Domino’s Pizza and former owner of the Detroit Tigers, created Ave Maria with $250 million of his own money in 2003. The school was originally located in Ypsilanti, Michigan. According to Monaghan, “We wanted to build a major Catholic university in the southern part of the United States with the highest standards.”
It hasn’t worked out so well. As Mariah Blake wrote of Ave Maria for the Monthly back in September/October 2009:
Most of the original faculty have fled or been pushed out, and the quality of the students has tumbled. One current professor told me, “Our student body now is one of the four or five worst in America.” The instability has also wreaked havoc on the school’s reputation: in the 2009 U.S. News & World Report law school rankings, Ave Maria tied for last place in the peer-assessment category, the most important measure in determining a school’s standing. (The school was not officially ranked because U.S. News doesn’t rank schools that land in the bottom tier.) Meanwhile, there are signs that Monaghan’s foundation, which funds the law school and the university, is on the verge of running out of money, in part because Monaghan bet his fortune—and the future of his nonprofits—on the now-crumbling Florida real estate market. Earlier this year, Ave Maria University’s second-longest-standing professor resigned, but not before sending a letter to administrators expressing his alarm at the school’s financial straits. “I fear that all of us (to different degrees) are participating in something that we may later deeply regret,” he wrote, “namely selling to young people and their families [an] educational product that we do not have sufficient reason to believe can be delivered.”
Towey, who served as director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives under George W. Bush from 2002 to 2006, is the former president of Latrobe, Pennsylvania’s Saint Vincent College, another extremely conservative Catholic institution.
During his tenure staff, alumni, and students accused Towey of heavy handedness and in February, 2008 nearly three-quarters of the school faculty signed a letter sent to the school’s board of directors that stated:
The faculty at Saint Vincent College is gravely concerned about the current President’s systematic and pervasive disregard for collegiality and shared governance.
We, the tenured faculty of Saint Vincent College, declare to you, the Board of Directors that Mr. H. James Towey as President, has through his actions brought about an unparalleled crisis in the history of this institution. Much damage has already been done the academic integrity and collegial atmosphere that have been hallmarks of Saint Vincent College. Much worse threatens if you do not intervene.
In the absence of clear and decisive action on your part, it is unclear how long this faculty, or the dedicated staff and administrators of Saint Vincent College, can continue to do the jobs we love so well, and this institution will be damaged beyond recognition.
Towey resigned from his position at Saint Vincent in 2009.