Since Annette Clark took the helm of Saint Louis University School of Law last year, attorney Howard L. Adelman said he believed she steered his alma mater in the right direction.
"I found her to be what we needed at (the law school) to move us to the next level," said Adelman, a partner at Adelman & Gettleman Ltd.
But Clark stepped down as law school dean on Wednesday, writing in her resignation letter that she lost confidence in the leadership of the university and its financial relationship with the law school. But she said she plans to continue working as a tenured law professor at the school.
Clark accused the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, the president of Saint Louis University, of restricting summer research stipends and acquiring a new downtown law school building without consulting the law school leadership.
"You have failed to make good on your assurances to me when I accepted the deanship that you would fully support the law school and our efforts to enhance its program of legal education, national reputation and rankings," she wrote in her resignation letter. " … You have evinced hostility toward the law school and its faculty and have treated me dismissively and with disrespect."
Clark alleges in the letter that Biondi transferred $800,000 from the law school building fund to the president's opportunity fund and $260,000 from the law school annual fund for summer research stipends to his own discretionary fund.
Financial tug-of-wars between law schools and their universities occur throughout the country as some universities shift resources, said Glen Weissenberger, who served as dean of DePaul University College of Law for seven years before the university terminated him in June 2009 over a dispute with law school financing.
"These kinds of problems and disputes over revenue between a law school and university administration put a huge amount of stress and pressure on a law school dean," Weissenberger said.
" ... As a consequence, I think people would not understand a very vocal reaction from a dean because they don't know all the circumstances."
Biondi responded to Clark's statements in his own letter to the law school's faculty and staff on Wednesday. He wrote that he intended to fire Clark at a meeting Wednesday morning, but she never attended it. She instead e-mailed Biondi and Vice President for Academic Affairs Manoj Patankar her resignation letter.
Clark's statements, Biondi said in his letter, "demonstrate a lack of clear and comprehensive understanding of the duties, obligations, autonomy and authority of a modern-day dean at a large and complex university."
Biondi said he strongly disagreed "with many of (Clark's) interpretations of the facts."
If Clark's complaints prove true, the law school could face a faculty recruiting problem, said Brian Leiter, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and author of the blog, "Law School Reports."
"Summer research stipends are a standard part of faculty compensation at the vast, vast majority of law schools," he said. "The president's actions are going to send productive faculty out the door."
Thomas Q. Keefe Jr., a St. Louis trial attorney and 1978 graduate of the law school, will serve as interim dean. Keefe said he found several flaws with Clark's assertions.
But overall, he said law schools across the country often misplace their priorities.
"One of the biggest problems is this ridiculous concern from law schools about how they've been rated by U.S. News and World Report," he said. "Since when has a weekly news magazine become the Quran of law schools?"
One of Clark's complaints involves the university's plans to move the law school into a building in downtown St. Louis that requires extensive renovations.
Attorney Joseph P. Thornton, a 1977 graduate of Saint Louis University's law school, said he suspected this plan "could become a powder keg."
"The change in location and the fact that there would be an expectation to raise money, and renovate the building when it had not been part of the vision of the law school, was bound to cause trouble, and obviously it did," said Thornton, senior division counsel at the American Medical Association.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the university said it intends to still move forward with the building renovations and work toward an August 2013 opening of the law school.