Enrollment at the University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law is about 248 students, which is roughly half female. (Keila Szpaller/Daily Montanan)
Paul Kirgis stepped down late Wednesday afternoon as dean of the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana.
“I have come to the conclusion that the School of Law and its students would be best served by a change in leadership,” Kirgis said in a brief resignation letter. “Consequently, I have decided to step down as dean. My priority is to make that transition in a way that minimizes disruptions for students, faculty and staff. I will work with those groups and the provost to plan the process and timing for this transition.”
Kirgis remains a tenured faculty member at UM, where he was hired in 2015. UM said the provost will temporarily take the reins of the law school and oversee the transition to a new acting leader as soon as possible.
In an email Thursday to the Blewett School of Law community, Kirgis said Associate Dean of Students Sally Weaver also will “step aside from her position.”
“We will provide further information on that transition in the coming days and weeks,” Kirgis wrote.
In a walkout Tuesday that drew roughly 120 demonstrators, students from the law school called on President Seth Bodnar to request resignations from Kirgis and Weaver. Students had said the law school administrators were mishandling sexual misconduct allegations and destroying the reputation of students and faculty at the law school.
The resignation and demonstration followed reports from students that Kirgis and Weaver discouraged women from taking sexual assault allegations, including rape, to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX, as first reported by the Daily Montanan. The Title IX office handles sexual misconduct on campus.
Kirgis and Weaver have denied the allegations. UM said investigations found the administrators did not violate university policy but has not released any documents, citing confidentiality.
UM spokesperson Dave Kuntz said Dean Kirgis made the decision to step down himself and was not asked to do so by anyone in the administration.
The dean addressed his resignation letter to UM President Bodnar and Provost Reed Humphrey and sent it late Wednesday afternoon.
In a statement provided by UM, President Bodnar said he respects the dean’s decision.
“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,” Bodnar said. “We respect Dean Kirgis’s decision and are thankful for his commitment to the success of the law school and the broader university.”
Even before students started agitating for change, a prominent Montana lawyer raised concerns about the law school’s leadership. Former co-director of the Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic Maylinn Smith sent a letter to Kirgis in February 2019 declining an offer to stay on board as faculty.
“I am … troubled by the current direction the law school is headed,” Smith wrote. “Supporting an administration that vigorously advocates and promotes diversity and excellence in connection with the law school’s mission statement and strategic plan, thereby strengthening the unique educational experiences in this law school, would be an endeavor for which I might stay.”
Kirgis earned a salary of $201,630 as dean; his new pay was not immediately available.
In 2018, he served as interim provost for several months.
“I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve the University of Montana and the Blewett School of Law for the past six and a half years,” Kirgis wrote in his resignation letter. “Leading this law school has been the greatest privilege of my professional life. I look forward to assisting in every way possible to ensure the School of Law continues to serve its vital function as the academic center for law and public administration for the State of Montana.”
The Alexander Blewett III School of Law is the only law school in Montana. In his statement, Bodnar said he appreciates the law school’s contributions to the legal field in the state.
“The Alexander Blewett III School of Law is home to the leaders who make up Montana’s past, present, and future legal community,” Bodnar said. “We are grateful for the impact this community has had and will continue to have on our state.”
This story will be updated.
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