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Stepping down at Ave Maria's School of Law

Students: 320 Faculty: 34 Campus: The 12-acre campus, consisting of six major buildings, is located in the Vineyards community, northeast of Naples.

History: Ave Maria School of Law was founded by Thomas S. Monaghan in 1999.Monaghan, who founded Domino's Pizza in 1960, also started Ave Maria University, located in the city of Ave Maria, about 25 miles from the law school.

'First Love'

Ave Maria School of Law Dean Eugene R. Milhizer is returning to the classroom.

This summer, Eugene R. Milhizer will step down as president and dean of the Ave Maria School of Law. During his six-year tenure, Milhizer oversaw a slew of initiatives, from creating a critical thinking department and launching an international law journal to hiring more professors.It was also under his watch that Ave Maria sued the federal government, challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act's mandate that employers offer health insurance coverage for contraception and abortion inducing drugs, which the Catholic law school finds unacceptable. The case remains in federal court.Milhizer might end up being best known, however, for overseeing the law school's move from Michigan to southwest Florida in 2009 — a move that "was unprecedented," says Milhizer, a retired Army judge advocate, who joined Ave Maria in 2001 to be a law professor. "No other law school has ever moved from one part of the country to another. We had hundreds of individuals and families that we had to move. And that's aside from the institutional move, which involved 38 moving vans and moving to buildings that were being retrofitted to accommodate a law school. It reminded me of the type of planning that you'd do When you're deploying a unit overseas. It was like a large scale military operation."

As for the health care lawsuit, "We didn't joyfully get involved with it. I don't think anyone relishes the idea of suing their government, suing their country. But the health care mandate, the Health and Human Services mandate, requires employers to provide, among other things, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception and sterilization to their employees, and that is completely contrary to our mission and what the Catholic Church teaches. We were put in a position where we had to sue to protect our own religious liberty and our religious identity."

Milhizer says he views the suit "as an act of patriotism because we're defending the First Amendment against an unwanted government intrusion."

Milhizer says the major reason he's stepping down is that he "missed being in the classroom as a professor.The time is right for me to return to the faculty and return to my first love."

His legacy, he says, "has been to strengthen the law school's Catholic identity.We're different than other law schools. We really have made a conscious decision, everyone on the faculty, to integrate the natural law and the Catholic intellectual tradition into their classes. But it's more than just what you have in the classroom. It permeates our entire culture, and it causes us to look at law as a very honorable profession, as a vocation, and not just a way to exercise will or to get your way. It's a way to serve the common good and the dignity of every person."