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Mystery shrouds law dean's departure

Indiana Tech insists school's future bright

Peter Alexander, the Indiana Tech law school dean, and Indiana Tech President Arthur E. Snyder discuss in early 2012 progress toward opening the new law school.

– With very little fanfare late last month – in sharp contrast to how his hiring was announced – Indiana Tech announced the founding dean of its fledgling law school was gone.

The news release announcing Peter Alexander's departure came late on the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day.

In contrast, when Alexander was hired in November 2011, the university introduced him at a news conference attended by staff, faculty and students at the school.

Alexander, a former professor at Southern Illinois University School of Law, came to Indiana Tech with the task of building not just a law school, but a new kind of law school.

Though Alexander's departure was sudden and shrouded in mystery – no one will say why he left and his attorney Mark Paul Smith said he could not comment on the matter – university officials said the law school remains on solid footing as it looks to begin its second year.

Adding to the mystery is the not-publicized decision by the school and Alexander for him to remain on as a consultant from a distance, which school officials confirmed.

Brian Englehart, vice president of university relations, said Alexander's departure was not something the school would have foreseen, but said the former dean had his reasons for doing so.

“The reasons they have are the reasons they have,” Englehart said. “We respect his decision and appreciate all his efforts here.”

Englehart credits Alexander with building a strong foundation on which the school can continue to grow.

“We're sorry to lose the experience of Dean Alexander, but the law school is about much more than one person,” he said.

After Alexander's departure was announced, the university appointed andré douglas pond cummings as interim dean of the law school.

Guadalupe Luna assumed cummings' position as the assistant dean on an interim basis.

“We've started the process (of looking for a new dean),” Englehart said, adding that the position has been advertised and is receiving interest and applications.

A search committee has also been formed, he said.

Alexander and the university hired a dynamic faculty for the law school, cummings said.

That faculty remains and is in “lock step” toward the university's goal and vision for the law school, cummings said.

“Changes in leadership are never easy,” cummings said. “The end game is absolutely the same and we are completely on track to realize it.

“We've hired well and our charter class is terrific,” he said.

With 28 students having completed their first year at the yet-to-be accredited school on Fort Wayne's east side, there is a lot on the line.

Because the school is not accredited by the American Bar Association, those credits earned in that first year would not likely transfer to other law schools should a student get cold feet and not want to wait it out.

“When you have a time of change, there's going to be concerns,” Englehart said, adding that when the news of Alexander's exit was made public, there were few questions from potential students about it.

Law schools cannot even apply for provisional accreditation until they have been in operation for one year, according to the American Bar Association.

After they apply, within the early fall of the second year, but before Oct. 15, a site visit is scheduled, according to the ABA.

As part of that process, the school must complete a detailed “self-study” which describes the school and provides an evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses, outlines its goals and how it will get there, according to the bar association.

Cummings has been working on this process for more than a year, beginning before he was made the interim dean.

“Nothing has really gone off track,” Englehart said.

Cummings echoed Englehart.

“We actually believe we haven't skipped a beat,” he said, “in terms of accreditation.”

The ABA will want to see that the school has substantially complied with its provisions, and university officials are doing their best to demonstrate that compliance, cummings said.

There has been no panic, and no worrying, he said.

“It's an all-hands-on-deck sense that I would say we have had all along,” he said.