Leap of Faith
Dominoes founder Tom Monaghan expected things to go smoothly when he began moving his Roman Catholic college from Michigan to Southwest Florida. But ...
"I think there’s a lot of people in the world that don’t like what I’m doing and don’t like what I represent. And they’d like to believe if there was anything bad I could do that I would do it. And they hope I would." — Tom Monaghan
[Photo: Ave Maria]
What Monaghan didn’t anticipate is how much friction moving the school to Florida would generate.
When he welcomed 100 students to a new interim campus for his university in The Vineyards, a Mediterranean-style subdivision in North Naples in August 2003, he pledged that Ave Maria College in Michigan would remain open until 2007 to allow the last remaining students to graduate.
But as Ave Maria University began to take root in Florida, the transfer of resources to the Florida campus accelerated. Books, money and other assets began to leave Ypsilanti, and the parents of some students complained publicly. Outspoken faculty members worried that southwest Florida wouldn’t offer the same intellectual environment as nearby Ann Arbor, which has a reputation as a kind of Berkeley of the Midwest.
In September 2004, the Rev. Neil Roy, then-academic dean of Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, sued the school and its board of trustees to try to halt the move, arguing that it would threaten the school’s accreditation and the students’ ability to receive financial aid. Monaghan responded that he simply didn’t have the financial means to support two schools, and he refused to back down. “I had no idea how much emotion would get into it,” he says. An Ann Arbor judge dismissed the lawsuit a year later.
Intramural controversy at the school has continued. Last October, then-university Provost Joseph Fessio wrote a letter to Ave Maria supporters stating that the Florida school was having trouble recruiting and retaining students. Without donations to a new scholarship fund, he wrote, the school would “incur deficits over the next few years which will be unsustainable.” In March, Monaghan fired Fessio for “irreconcilable differences over administrative policies and practices” then hired the well-liked official back as the “theologian in residence.”
More friction came when Monaghan announced plans to relocate Ave Maria School of Law from Ann Arbor to Florida in 2009. Students, faculty and alumni protested, worried that the move would damage the young school’s reputation and possibly endanger its accreditation. Thus far, their efforts to block the move have been unsuccessful.
Monaghan has tried to take all the discord in stride: “Well, it’s natural that people don’t like to uproot and move. There was a lot of controversy, but we were attacked a lot. We turned the other cheek. We kept moving forward.”