Law Schools

Montana law school dean resigns after complaints about the oversight of Title IX allegations

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Paul Kirgis, dean of the University of Montana’s Alexander Blewett III School of Law, has resigned from his post.

In a Thursday email to the law school community, Kirgis wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that the school of law and its students would be best served by a change in leadership.” The email also stated that Sally Weaver, an associate dean at the law school, is stepping aside from her position. Kirgis became dean in 2015, and before that was professor at St. John’s University School of Law, according to his website bio.

The school has come under fire for accusations that the administration dissuaded students from filing administrative complaints alleging Title IX violations. Kirgis’s email came less than a week after he announced that the law school’s reporting structure for making Title IX complaints would be reorganized, and it was bringing in an outside reviewer to assess climate.

Kirgis and Weaver did not immediately respond to ABA Journal interview requests. The Daily Montanan reports that Kirgis will remain a tenured faculty member at the university, and the school’s provost will temporarily lead the law school while it finds an acting dean.

A statement from Seth Bodnar, president of the university, was provided to the newspaper. It reports the decision to step down was made by Kirgis.

“UM is taking steps to support our students in every way possible, and that begins through a collaboration with law school faculty, staff and students to have a successful transition of leadership. We respect Dean Kirgis’s decision and are thankful for his commitment to the success of the law school and the broader university,” Bodnar said.

According to Jennifer Robichaud, a third-year law student, she and two other students were dissuaded from filing administrative complaints alleging repeated use of slurs in the classroom and sexual misconduct allegations involving a classmate. An internal investigation commenced in the summer of 2020, which Robichaud says was after she spoke with Kirgis regarding the sexual misconduct allegations.

She and the two other students asked for apologies from the administration for the way it handled reports of alleged misconduct, and clarification on how and when to make Title IX complaints. Earlier in the month, Kirgis told the ABA Journal he could not comment on the investigation; Robichaud says it was closed in July 2021 with no findings of wrongdoing. She has filed an administrative appeal, which is being handled internally.

Additionally, Robichaud claims students who complained about the alleged sexual misconduct were told the grievances could be seen as harassing the accused student, and might hurt their character and fitness applications to practice law.

In emails for an earlier ABA Journal article, both Kirgis and Weaver denied all allegations.

Besides the law school allegations, a Title IX lawsuit was filed against the university in August. The Montana U.S. District Court action, brought by former administrators and a current professor, alleges repeated efforts to alert the school about safety concerns for students and faculty were often discarded. It also claims there was a retaliatory culture at the university, and “female professionals” were at risk of punishment for “expressing challenging or dissenting statements.”

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