Fessio staying at AMU in reduced role

Fessio staying at AMU in reduced role

Father Joseph Fessio is apparently now staying at Ave Maria University, but not in the same capacity. Here is the text of an email sent out to the AMU community this afternoon.

From: Nick Healy
Sent: Thu 3/22/2007 6:22 PM
To: Fla-Faculty; Fla-Staff; FLA-Students
Subject: Father Fessio - update

We expressed yesterday that the separation of Father Fessio from the University’s administration had nothing to do with our shared commitment to our mission as a Catholic university ex corde ecclesiae. As a sign of our esteem for his great gifts and abilities, we have asked Father Fessio and he has agreed to continue a relationship with us. This will include the following:

(i) He will be designated a theologian in residence and maintain a room on campus.

(ii) He will join us for the Commencement exercises.

(iii) He will teach the planned summer program for high school students.

(iv) He will explore a semester abroad program in Rome and how our Austrian semester abroad program might be continued. It is expected that in developing plans for study abroad programs Father Fessio will be spending a significant amount of time in Europe.

(v) It is anticipated that beginning in the spring semester, Father Fessio will assume teaching responsibilities at AMU, although the precise schedule for the teaching hours will need to be worked out.

We are pleased that we can confirm the continuing association with Father Fessio and his commitment to the ongoing development of Ave Maria University in a non-administrative capacity.

So he will be staying on in a reduced capacity and will be “spending a significant amount of time in Europe.” Sorry, but it smacks of crisis control. The administration evidently did not anticipate the amount of emotion and angst that dismissing Fr. Fessio would have on students, parents, and benefactors of the university and now they’re scrambling.

I can understand the pleasure some are feeling, but I can’t help but think that Father will remain marginalized at the school, stripped of the influence he had. It doesn’t seem to solve anything.

Technorati Tags: | | | | |

  • Speaking of Fr. Fessio, there was a very nice interview with him on the Hugh Hewitt show on 3/19/07.  If anyone is interested, this can be listened to on Hugh’s podcast.  It sounds like Fr. Fessio is a guest on Hugh’s show about once per quarter.

  • Fr. Fessio is a good publisher and a brilliant speaker and defender of Catholic Church teaching.  This is one reason he was chosen by Monaghan to be the public face of Ave Maria University.

    None of those skills have anything to do with college administration. By any measure, Fr. Fessio is an unmitigated, total and absolute disaster as a college administrator. Fr. Fessio participated in some ruthless behavior that seriously damaged some very good people at St. Mary’s College, Ave Maria College and Ave Maria University.

    None of this is “news” to insiders at Ave Maria, who have been aghast at the mismanagement there for years.

    In 2003 the well-known Catholic lay leader Ralph Martin was on the Board of Trustees of Ave Maria University and headed up an investigation into widespread reports of mismanagement at Ave Maria College. He and fellow trustee recommended that Fr. Fessio and Nick Healy be removed, immediately. They weren’t,and Ave Maria has become a laughing stock, floundering from one crisis to the next. Last summer, one-third of the student body transferred out of the school.

    Below is an excerpt from the April 2003 report by Martin to the board of trustees in which he recommends that Fr. Fessio be removed.

    “Our preliminary conclusion is that there is a serious clash of culture and expectations between the entrepreneurial mentality that is characteristic of our top leadership team, and the more restrained, process oriented, leadership characteristic of successful academic institutions. This has resulted in very wide-spread frustration which has produced a serious morale problem.
    We believe that the testimony to this is so clear, wide-spread and convincing that it would be a mistake to wait any longer in responding. We recommend that we immediately launch a search for a President or Provost of AMU who has significant academic leadership experience.”

    “We continue to be excited and hopeful about what this project could mean to the Church but believe that this leadership issue must be promptly addressed for the endeavor to be successful and a widespread morale problem be resolved.”

    Who were the President and Provost of AMU back then? – Nick Healy & Fr. Fessio.

    Martin resigned from the board shortly after this report, when it became clear that the board was not going to remove Fessio or Healy.

  • Re the post by Jay McNally: 1) Was Fr. Fessio provost when that report was written? He originally was named Chancellor of Ave Maria in the summer of 2002 and at some point was given a new title. When was that? My recollection is after 2003, but that might not be correct. 2) You state that the report recommended “that Fr. Fessio and Nick Healy be removed, immediately.” But when you quote from the report, it appears to be recommending EITHER a new president or a new provost. Which was it? AND or OR?

  • Dom,
    this (jay’s comment) is why I said what I did. I think Nick has been gone long enough from here (FUS) that the person who told me it’s not all monaghan knows what he’s saying.

    I do think however that it is a clash between ideals that has been and will be Ave Maria’s undoing. This is a sad mark on Catholic Higher Education and what it truely could be.

  • DX,

    As I recall it, Fessio was both chancellor and provost, at different times. When Martin issued his report, it was calling for Healy and Fessio to be removed, and the urgency was in the word “immediately.”

  • Why is everyone here *surprised* that AMU is having these leadership problems?

    Knowing what we *do* know about Mr. Monaghan, Fr. Fessio and Mr. Healy (much less what we don’t know), I’m surprised this hasn’t happened sooner!

    May they all find peace somehow.

  • As someone who doesn’t know the background of this AMU problem and who sincerely hopes that the university is successful, I urge Dom to give us a “backgrounder” or links to articles that we can trust to describe the problems.

    I remember that there was dissent about moving the school from Michigan to Florida—is this part of the continuing conflict?

  • M. McC: I’m afraid I’m not going to be much help there. I’ve been following the controversies tangentially but frankly I have been avoiding it because there are people I respect and admire on both sides of the issue. And there are few dispassionate observers of the situation so you’d be hardpressed to find a single objective viewpoint.

    For the Fessio/AMU administration point of view you can read this 2004 article from CWR by Fr. Fessio.

    Perhaps other folks like Jay McNally or Ed Peters can offer some pointers from the other side.

  • M.Mc, first, you ask: “I remember that there was dissent about moving the school from Michigan to Florida—is this part of the continuing conflict?”

    There was no “dissent” between Monaghan, Healy and Fessio about closing down Ave Maria College in Michigan and opening the totally new Ave Maria University in Florida.  They were all in agreement on that matter and worked together to destroy the opposition in Michigan, which they succeeded in doing.

    The firing of Fessio by Monaghan last week, as far as I can tell, had nothing whatsoever to do with Michigan. Fessio has said he has no idea why he was fired. Monaghan’s PR guy issued a statement claiming “irreconcilable differences.”

    My post on this thread was only intended to demonstrate that Fr. Fessio—despite his widely acknowledge brilliance as an academic, speaker and wonderful defender of the Church—has been a total disaster as an administrator, and Monaghan has been even worse.

    What does it say when the KEY fund-raiser and in many regards the public face of the university is fired on the spot by Monaghan, told to leave the campus immediately, and he claims he has no idea whatsoever why he was canned? 

    I only wanted to point out that this kind of dysfunction—abrupt firings for no good reason, etc.—was noted by members of the Board of Trustees of AMU back in 2003. They issued the statement of which I quoted, in part, saying AMU need to get rid of Fessio and Healy, quickly.

    Many of those who have dealt with Monaghan, Nick Healy and Fr. Fessio firmly have felt for a long time that AMU is destined for utter failure. Now, four years into the adventure, when Monaghan personally fires his second top guy in charge—Fr. Fessio—the world is getting a glimpse of how totally unfit Monaghan and Healy are for the academic world.

    The school LOST one third of its student body last summer as students got the hell out of the place. 

    AMU is failing, big time, and Monaghan’s firing of Fr. Fessio could be a desperate move by Tom to blame someone for the mess.

    I’m well aware that there is a tendency to discount complaints against wealthy people like Monaghan. This is one reason that I try to quote people who have worked for Monaghan and who were fired by him in my commentary about the dysfunction of the Ave Maria enterprises.

    You don’t have to trust me at all about Ave Maria, but any halfway honest person would have to say that the caliber of some of the people who have gone on record against Tom is amazing. Some of these people were seriously wounded by Tom financially.

    Here is a list of only some of them. I would be happy to email to you or to anyone else documents written by these people.


    * Charles Rice, Notre Dame law prof and one of the first people Monaghan courted when he decided to create a law school. Charlie was on the board of governors of the law school and was dismissed rudely by Monahgan.
    * Janet Smith, professor of philosopy at AMC
    * Ralph Martin, founder of Renewal Ministries, former board member of AMU
    * Ed Peters, profess or AMU
    * Andrew Messaros, professor at AMC
    * Guillermo Montes, chairman of the econ dept. at AMU
    * Kelley Bowring, professor at St. Mary’s College
    * Jon Hittinger, academic dean at St. Mary’s College
    * Christopher Beiting, the first professor hired for Ave Maria College
    * Kate Ernsting, director of public relations and director of financial aid at AMC.

    Google search with the names of these people along with “Ave Maria, Monaghan” will reveal much.

    Web sites that have information are:




    There have been many articles published in the Wanderer, New Oxford Revew, Cruxnews.com and other sites that detail the dysfunction of the Ave Maria operation.

    Feel free to contact me if this is not enough, or if you would like more iformation. My email address is .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

  • Just to pile on a little bit – my daughter attended the Ave Maria Law School open house for admitted students last weekend.  As a result of her visit, she has decided not to attend there, despite a very significant scholarship offer. In short, the entire move to Florida is completely FUBAR. The personnel she spoke with as much as admitted that ABA approval of the move is not a sure thing and that “not all” professors may move down to Florida.  Of course that begs the question of what will happen this year and next if some of those “not all” get offers to teach elsewhere before the move?  Who is going to teach just for a year or two? Not a top quality professor, that’s almost assured. 

    It was evident to her that there’s quite a bit of sentiment against the move.  Some even went so far as to point out that it’s theoretically possible that a hurricane could wipe out the new law school while its under construction.  Hope springs eternal.

    And then there is the issue of housing.  Graduate student housing probably won’t be completed by the time the law school moves to Florida. So law students will have to commute from Naples. Now THERE’S a nice low cost of living area.

    But if all this is too much, students can rest assured that they can apply to be a visiting student at another law school for their final year of law school (when the move is scheduled to occur) and still get an Ave Maria diploma.  That’s supposed to be a selling point?!  That’s like saying “If you don’t like Domino’s pizza, don’t worry. We’ll put a couple of slices of Pizza Hut pizza in the Domino’s box for you.”

    I know the criticism of Monaghan has been that he’s a good businessman but a lousy academic, but after this, I’d question his business sense as well.