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Interim Dean of St. Louis University Law School Talks about First Semester

Tom Keefe Jr. spent this fall as the dean of St. Louis University’s law school while also working as an attorney with a plaintiff’s practice. He spoke with The Madison-St. Clair Record recently about working both positions.

“That really is what I go by now,” Keefe said. “We don’t waste a single motion. It’s a balancing act more than anything, but we make everything work.”

Keefe spent this past fall as the interim dean of the law school and students are finishing their final exams this week. Keefe noted that he has learned a lot about the academic world while also being able to resolve close to $25 million in cases since the beginning of September.

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Keefe was named the interim dean in August of the law school. He said that adjusting to life in the academic world was difficult.

“In academia, they tend to make decisions by consensus and after a lot of committee work,” he said. “I am used to making my mind up and doing it so it was a cultural shock for me. I’m sure I’ve been a cultural shock to them. Some people think I’m, dare I say, unconventional.”

Keefe did say that his work as the dean was enjoyable in the aspect of interacting with the students at the law school. “I think they alone make the whole job worthwhile,” he said. He mentioned that he jumps at the opportunity to teach classes.

As interim dean, Keefe has been able to speak about student debt, which he did at the Illinois State Bar Association last month. “When you have the title as dean you get an opportunity to speak your mind,” he said. “You have a platform.”

Keefe was named the interim dean for the law school after Annette Clark resigned from the position in a letter that was sent to school President Rev. Lawrence Biondi and Vice President of Academic Affairs Manoj Patankar. The letter claimed that they did not include her when making major decisions. Clark joined the school as the dean just last year.

“One of the challenges I had was to build trust with the faculty as the person who came in and replaced her on an interim basis,” Keefe said. “It wasn’t an easy position to be in.”

Keefe said that even though “things at the law school have calmed down, there continues to be a lot of turmoil at the university now” between Biondi and the faculty.

During all of this, Keefe has been working to raise money for the law school so it can move to a downtown location in the summer. “It’s a terrific opportunity for the school and the students, but that’s a big job to raise that money,” he said. “I’m definitely juggling a lot of balls at once.”

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