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AMU Administration Given Responsibility to Look Into Concerns

Ave Maria University's Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Michael Timmis, has announced that he is asking the university's administration to investigate and report back on a wide range of concerns at the school, some of which involve allegations about the administration itself.

When concerns about AMU's academic quality, marketing, student behavior and Catholic identity were first raised last month by two professors at a meeting of the board's academic affairs committee, the chair of the committee, Dr. Robert Kennedy of St. Thomas University in Minnesota, said there would be a "fair and impartial" investigation. In the ensuing weeks, dozens of letters citing examples of those concerns were sent to trustees by faculty, current and former students, parents, staff and donors.

Details of how the board is responding emerged Monday in a letter from Mr. Timmis to the university faculty, administrators and staff. He said that after consulting with Dr. Kennedy, he has tasked the university administration with the responsibility to look into all concerns, even, apparently, those in which actions and practices of the administration are central. Among other items, Mr. Timmis asks the administration to:

- Prepare an analysis of past and present students, looking at admissions standards, current conduct and other "qualitative indicators."

- Report on "what specific steps have been taken during the last four years to strengthen the University's Catholic mission and identity," the wording of which suggests that Mr. Timmis is not receptive to the suggestions, which are at the core of many of the concerns, that the university's Catholic character actually has weakened over the last four years.

- Have the board secretary, Helen Altomari, and AMU VP for Legal Affairs Bill Kirk -- both lawyers -- interview faculty members and employees who have made allegations to the board.

Mr. Timmis said the board is making these "information requests" of President Towey because it "is not inclined to involve itself in operational or personnel matters" due to the board's interpretation of the university's bylaws and principles of accreditation issued by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools that deal with separation of responsibilities between the board and the president.

Although almost all educational institutions clearly delegate operational authority to the school's president, it is not unheard of for boards to establish more independent investigations. The trustees of the University of North Carolina, University of Missouri and Penn State University, for example, have had outside law firms or investigators conduct independent inquiries into concerns raised in the last several years.

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