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Ave Maria Law School to Purchase Vineyards Campus as Permanent Home

The Ave Maria School of Law, which moved to Florida so it could be located on the same campus as Ave Maria University, has abandoned those plans and announced it intends to purchase its 12-acre campus at the Vineyards development in North Naples.

The Vineyards campus now is owned by Ave Maria University, which purchased it more than a decade ago as a temporary campus for the university while the town of Ave Maria and the new AMU campus was being built.

The law school and AMU are separate and independent, but both were founded by Tom Monaghan who has said he initially wanted to have them as part of the same institution that he was planning in Michigan. He said that even though the two schools had separate governance, it was vitally important to him to have them co-located. "From the beginning, I put so much money into Ave Maria School of Law because it was to be the flagship for AMU," Mr. Monaghan said in a recounting of the history of Ave Maria five years ago. "I could live with the fact it was a separate entity, as long as it had the same name and was on the same campus."

When Mr. Monaghan was unable to establish AMU in Michigan due to zoning difficulties, he decided to move both the law school and what was then Ave Maria College to Florida. The decision to move the law school caused enormous turmoil with many professors, students and alumni arguing that since the schools were independent of each other, there was no need to co-locate them and the law school could remain in Michigan. In the ensuing years before the law school moved, many of the better students transferred out, several professors resigned, some professors sued the law school contending they were unjustly fired for opposing the move, and the school's once sterling reputation was tarnished.

Land was set aside on the AMU campus in Ave Maria for the law school so that it would be the first building people would see on the campus as they drove north on Ave Maria Blvd.

Although the original intent was for the law school to move from Michigan directly to a new facility on the AMU Ave Maria campus, the economic downturn coupled with other difficulties at the law school derailed that plan. The Vineyards campus was available because a deal for AMU to sell it to a Chicago-based Catholic organization for use as a retirement home fell through in 2007. The law school announced in 2008 that it would move temporarily to the Vineyards, leasing the campus from AMU. The first law school class in Florida arrived in the fall of 2009.

A spokesperson for the law school said that she could not disclose the purchase price. The property is currently appraised by Collier County at about $15 million.

For AMU, the sale is one of a series of moves to shed assets either to trim costs or to raise cash. In the last few years, the university has divested its Latin American campus, closed its Institute of Pastoral Theology and sold its radio station to an evangelical Protestant organization.

The law school is having a noon-time reception Thursday to celebrate its purchase of the campus as well as other developments including:

- The launch of a $3.2-million capital campaign, seeded with a $1-million donation from a donor wishing to remain anonymous;

- The granting of a "Decree of Recognition" from Bishop Frank Dewane designating the law school as a Catholic institute of higher education;

- Strong performance by the dozen law school graduates who took the Florida bar examination in February.

The law school said it is proud that 83.3 percent of its students passed the bar exam, although the number of students who sat for the exam – 12 – was fewer than most other law schools in Florida.

The bar passage statistics for all schools is available here in PDF form.

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