Why Baltimore dean went public after forced resignation

Philip Closius, dean of University of Baltimore School of Law, was forced to resign last week and didn’t go quietly — issuing a widely-circulated letter that explained his resignation was related to a conflict over the amount of law school revenue that gets funneled to the general university.

Closius said that while he did not expect the letter to go “viral,” he felt it was in the best interests of the community to take the matter public.

“I thought long and hard about it because I really didn’t want to do anything to hurt the school, but this issue had been bothering me for a while,” Closius said. “I really did it because I thought it was in the school’s and the students’ best interest.”

In the letter, Closius alleges the university takes up 45 percent of law school revenue, approximately $17 million per year.

“I do a lot of work with admissions and recruiting and it was becoming increasingly difficult not to tell anyone where 45 percent of their tuition money was going,” he said.

The university, in its own letter published a few days later, defended that figure, noting that $10 million went to operating costs for the law school.

At a school where tuition has increased over 70 percent for in-state and over 48 percent for out-of-state in the last seven years, the figure was hard for Closius to swallow.

“Law schools should pay their universities,” Closius said, but added that the “tax” that Baltimore was charging to its law students was unreasonable. He said that after the most recent tuition increase, law students paid an additional $1.455 million. However all but about $80,000 of that money went to the university, not the law school.

Closius said he wanted to work with university administration to come up with a multi-year plan to change the balance of revenue that went to the university, but they were unwilling to discuss any changes. He had been sparring with the administration over the matter for some time.

University President Robert L. Bogomolny said he had met with key alumni and faculty members about the change in leadership, a fact that some law faculty disputed.

Bogomolny wrote that Closius was off base in saying that the law school was not a funding priority.

"This stands in stark contrast to the facts of the School of Law's recent growth and development," Bogomolny wrote. "During my presidency, faculty has grown by more than 30 percent, while scholarships for law students have increased by more than 325 percent in the last five years alone."

Bogomolny said that of the 42 percent of law school revenues taken by the university, all but 13.7 percent are used to pay for law school operations. The president said the figure represented the "lowest percentage among UB's schools and colleges."

Closius said this argument obscures the real data through semantics.

“There’s no real dispute on the numbers,” he said. “They’re just trying to confuse the issue.”

Both sides agree that the law school sent approximately $17 million to the university in the last year.

Although Closius felt the revenue problem was particularly bad at Baltimore, he said the issue of revenue going from a law school to the university is a national one. Because law schools tend to be profitable for universities, with their continuous stream of high-tuition paying students, their revenue can also be a ripe source of conflict.

“When deans get together, this is a pretty frequent topic of conversation,” Closius said.

The reaction within the Baltimore community has been generally positive toward Closius, he said, from students, faculty and alumni.

“I’m really grateful for the support. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last week answering e-mils and phone calls,” he said.

This is not the first time Closius has left a dean position in controversy. He was demoted at the University of Toledo in 2005, after a run-in with that school’s provost over salary requests that the university could not meet.

The demotion was controversial at the time, as most students and faculty supported Closius, who had been at the school for six years as dean, 13 years as an associate dean, and seven additional years as a professor. He graduated from Columbia University School of Law in 1975. 

Closius was hired as the University of Baltimore dean in 2007.

Closius will take one year of administrative leave before returning to Baltimore, where he is a tenured professor, to teach. He has taught Constitutional Law at Baltimore.