Keefe steps down, SLU names former Missouri justice as new dean

By Bethany Krajelis | Mar 7, 2013

Days after stepping down as interim dean at St. Louis University School of Law, Belleville attorney Tom Keefe said he feels “like the weight of the world has been lifted off my shoulders.”

“Am I happy to be finished? I’m delighted,” Keefe said Wednesday. “I’m home with my people again – lawyers, clients, judges and juries – and back in a world where you can say things without worrying about who you’ve offended.”

Keefe stepped down Monday from the one-year post he was tapped to fill in August, shortly after Annette Clark resigned and created a media storm when she criticized university leaders for leaving her out of major decisions.

The law school on Tuesday announced its selection of former Missouri Supreme Court Justice Michael Wolff as the new dean. A separate release thanked Keefe for his commitment to the school and his fundraising efforts. Neither explained Keefe's departure.

Keefe said he called it quits because he didn’t want complaints over some of the comments he has made during his stint at the school to distract students.

After sitting down with the administration on Monday, Keefe said that he received a run-down off four comments that he said were brought to the attention of school officials. He admits to making all of them, saying “my mouth is too big.”

The comments, Keefe said, included saying:

- ‘Life is a bitch and if it was easy, we would call it a slut.”

- “I used to smoke pot, but that it got too good so now I just get drunker than 10 Indians.”

-  Something about “shrinkage” and “having a problem finding the little guy” in reference to being late for a speech because he had to go to the bathroom on a cold day.

- “Hey, did you consummate your marriage?” to a recently-married colleague, who Keefe said told him she was not offended by the comment.

Comments aside, Keefe said he thinks the real issue had to do with his stance on law school education and debt.

He has been vocal in advocating for a curriculum that would require students to spend two years in the classroom and two in a clinic, something he contends would provide a more hands-on learning experience and help cut law school debt.

“I think members of the faculty were very threatened by my message and as dean, I had a platform for my message,” he said. “Law school costs too much, takes too long and professors are obscenely overpaid. My message was gaining traction and it would affect (professors’) livelihood so they wanted me out.”

Keefe said the administration asked him to continue his work with the university from his law office in Belleville, basically serving as “the dean in exile.” He assumes this option was offered due to his successful fundraising efforts.

“Rather than that, I quit,” he said. “I could have stayed if I wanted to, but why would I want to fight? I would remain the story and the shorter I could make this story, the better for the kids.”

Keefe, who continued practicing law during his time as interim dean, said he can now go back to focusing on his clients full-time. That, he said, also means returning to a 70 hour work week, as opposed to the 90 hours we said he was pulling doing double-duty.

“I know I am a better lawyer than a dean,” he said. “Academia is a world I am not familiar with. Oil and water are better kept apart.”

In regards to the time he spent in academia, Keefe said Grateful Dead lead man Jerry Garcia said it best, “It’s been a long, strange trip.”

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