UM: Paul Kirgis to be ‘strong addition to the law faculty’

Transitions underway, national search for new dean to launch

By: - October 10, 2021 9:38 am

A hallway in the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at UM. (Keila Szpaller/The Daily Montanan)

An independent review of the University of Montana Alexander Blewett III School of Law will begin as soon as possible, and UM plans to launch a national search for a new law school dean.

“The search committee for a new dean will include students, faculty, staff, administrators and community leaders,” said Dave Kuntz, UM spokesperson, in an email Friday.

Transition discussions are underway after Paul Kirgis stepped down as dean this week and also said Sally Weaver will step aside. Kuntz said Weaver will depart the law school after this semester, although the terms of her employment are still being ironed out; Kirgis will move into a faculty role, and the timeline and salary for his teaching role have not been set.

“Mr. Kirgis has a contractual option to return to the faculty upon the end of his term as dean,” Kuntz said in an email. “Mr. Kirgis’ record as a faculty member prior to administration is exceptional, and he will be a strong addition to the law faculty. This is an arrangement that is supported by both President (Seth) Bodnar and Acting Provost (Reed) Humphrey.”

The administrators announced their resignations this week after a push from students. A student demonstration Tuesday followed a detailed investigation first reported by the Daily Montanan that the dean and associate dean of students had deterred students from taking sexual assault allegations, including rape, to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX, which handles sexual misconduct on campus. Kirgis and Weaver denied the claims.

Former faculty and staff of the law school raised separate questions about leadership.

The problems at the law school and administrators’ resignations made national headlines after the Daily Montanan report with the Daily Beast, the ABA Journal of the American Bar Association, and Above the Law, a publication for the legal community.

Although many students pushed for new leadership, they also voiced loud support for faculty members and staff. At the demonstration organized by students, at least three faculty members wore T-shirts with the word “Solidarity” printed across the front.

Friday, Kuntz said no decision had been made on interim or acting leadership. Humphrey will direct the transition for the time being.

“UM Administrators are gathering insight from the faculty and will oversee any leadership transition,” Kuntz said. “They are prepared to launch a national search for a new permanent dean. Acting Provost Humphrey will engage the law school faculty and other stakeholders to collaboratively develop a plan.”

Last week, Kirgis announced in a letter to the Blewett School of Law community that an independent review would take place. Kuntz said Friday the timeline for the assessment has yet to be determined.

The sexual assault allegations at the law school were brought against law student and Missoula mayoral candidate Jacob Elder. Elder has maintained his innocence and said an independent investigation by a firm the university hired cleared him.

This week, some students expressed feeling vulnerable on campus given recent events. UM said safety is “of utmost importance to the university.” Some students have been advised to attend class remotely for the time being.

“The specific concerns in the law school will be addressed through the independent review of the law school,” Kuntz said. “If any student or employee feels threatened or unsafe, they should immediately report those concerns to UM Police or the UM Office of Equal Opportunity and Title IX.”

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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