MISSOULA, Mont. - The dean and associate dean of the University of Montana law school announced they will resign from their roles after UM announced plans to launch an independent review of the law school's handling of sexual harassment and assault victims, and students held a walkout calling for change.
In a letter to the law school Thursday, Dean Paul Kirgis said he believes the school would be best served by a change in leadership. "My priority is to make that transition in a way that minimizes disruptions for students, faculty, and staff. I will work with those groups and the Provost to plan the process and timing for this transition."
Kirgis also announced Associate Dean Sally Weaver will step aside from her position.
The resignation announcements follow a walkout and rally at the law school on Tuesday, where students demanded a change in leadership at the school. Several speakers at the event called on Kirgis and Weaver to resign.
Students allege the both Kirgis and Weaver contributed to a toxic environment at the school by discouraging women from reporting sexual assault and sexual harassment allegations to the school's Title IX office.
Earlier in the week law school faculty and staff sent letters voicing their support for students. "We refuse to let our school be defined by these events or this moment. To every member of our Law School community, particularly those angered, hurt, dispirited, confused, or otherwise distressed by these events: We hear you. You are not alone. We are firmly committed to working together to heal and to build the transparent, safe, inclusive environment we all value and deserve," reads the October 3 letter from law faculty.
An October 5 letter from law school staff echoed the sentiment of the faculty. It reads in part, "This is a challenging time. Each of us is here for each of you in support of and solidarity with the community we love."
University of Montana director of strategic communications, Dave Kuntz said UM's independent review of the law school is not underway yet, but the university expects the review start as soon as possible.
Kuntz said UM President Seth Bodnar will help choose a "acting leader" for the law school, with input from other university leaders. Bodnar will also appoint a search committee "that will launch the formal, national search for a new dean," according to Kuntz. The search will begin as soon as possible.
Thursday's letter from Dean Kirgis is included below:
To the Blewett School of Law Community-
I have come to the conclusion that the School of Law and its students would be best served by a change in leadership. Consequently, I have decided to step down as Dean. My priority is to make that transition in a way that minimizes disruptions for students, faculty, and staff. I will work with those groups and the Provost to plan the process and timing for this transition.
Associate Dean Sally Weaver has informed me that she will also step aside from her position. We will provide further information on that transition in the coming days and weeks.
I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to serve the University of Montana and the Blewett School of Law for the past six and a half years. Leading this law school has been the greatest privilege of my professional life. I look forward to assisting in every way possible to ensure the School of Law continues to serve its vital function as the academic center for law and public administration for the State of Montana.