SLU Law Dean Tom Keefe Resigns Over Offensive Remarks: "If I Was Them, I'd Fire Me"



Update: When news broke yesterday that Saint Louis University Law School Dean Tom Keefe had resigned from his post -- full interview below -- officials at SLU did not respond to requests for comment or provide any official notice to the law school. This afternoon, after a string of media reports in which Keefe admitted he was resigning in the face of internal criticisms over inappropriate comments, Ellen Harshman, interim vice president for academic affairs, has publicly addressed the shake-up.

In a message to the law school, she says Michael Wolff, a current law professor, will be stepping up immediately as dean (as we reported this morning). Harshman's message does not acknowledge the inappropriate comments that Keefe says prompted his resignation.

"The University thanks Keefe for his service to his alma mater, for his commitment to the law school and its students, and for his fundraising efforts," her email to the law school says.

The full letter and our original interview with Keefe is below.

Original post, Tuesday, March 5, 6 a.m: This week brings news of yet another high-profile resignation at Saint Louis University -- but this time it's not in protest of Father Lawrence Biondi.

Thomas Keefe, interim dean of the university's law school, and a Biondi supporter appointed last year after the previous dean resigned, says he decided to step down after he learned that his colleagues were not pleased with inappropriate and politically incorrect comments he has made.

"I stuck my foot in my mouth," he tells Daily RFT. "I'm becoming the story and I'm not supposed to be the story."

What were his offensive comments?

See also: - Resigned Chair Jay Hammond On Lawrence Biondi: "He Creates a Culture of Fear" - SLU: More Faculty Protest As Theology Dept. Chair Jay Hammond Resigns - Lawrence Biondi: "To Those Of You Who Have Been Critical...I Have Listened"

In an interview last night, Keefe tells us that over the last several days, he's learned that members of the university were upset with a string of remarks he has made since he was appointed dean.

"'Life is a bitch. If it was easy, we would call it a slut,'" he says. "Apparently, I said that one time."

Another time, he says, he might have used the phrase "drunker than ten big Indians."

He says he has joked with students that "pot's gotten a lot better than when I was in law school."

An anonymous employee of the law school tells Daily RFT that some of the complaints against Keefe rose to the level of sexual harassment, an accusation the Post-Dispatch also cites.

Keefe, however, tells us that while he has likely said a lot of potentially offensive things, he does not believe he has ever made sexually harassing remarks.

Continue for more of our interview with Tom Keefe.

"That's a surprise. I would like to know what it is," he says of any possible harassment allegations. "That's the one thing I do take issue with.... I think sexual harassment is repulsive and I don't ever want to be...guilty of that."

In general, though, he says it's very plausible that allegations of inappropriate remarks are true.

"Did you say this or this or this? The likelihood is I did say it," he says. "I'm in the business of sticking my foot in my mouth."

President Lawrence Biondi - VIA
  • via
  • President Lawrence Biondi

Keefe says he doesn't always remember the things he says, but adds of allegations, "It sounds like the kind of stuff I'd say."

Keefe is a big fundraiser -- who agreed to donate his salary back to the university -- and a member of the Board of Trustees. Will he remain on the board?

"Unless they fire me," he responds.

He's not a great fit for academia, Keefe adds.

"I live in the real world," he says. "People don't get their feelings hurt so easily.... I'm not being critical.... Those folks all have a right to their feelings...but the learning curve just proved much too steep. It's a world that I'm just not familiar with. I tried, but tenured faculty and me are kinda like oil and water."

He adds, "If I was them, I'd fire me."

One inappropriate act involved an e-mail Keefe sent to faculty at the law school, saying there will be marijuana at a university event. In that e-mail, forwarded to Daily RFT by an employee, Keefe writes: "there is beer and wine available---light snacks---and ganja for our younger faculty and the old hippies."

This latest shake-up comes on the heels of a series of controversies for the SLU administration and President Biondi, who appointed Keefe after the previous dean of the law school resigned in direct protest of Biondi. The chair of the Department of Theological Studies also resigned last month in response to Biondi's leadership.

And SLU faculty across the university have overwhelmingly voted no-confidence in Biondi -- and pushed for his resignation.

Multiple university spokespeople did not respond to Daily RFT's requests for comment yesterday.


Keefe tells us that Biondi is in China. "I would invite people to take this as an example that he's listening.... He's recognizing it's a problem and I'm stepping down."

He says that he began to learn about the discontent through media inquiries late last week and eventually decided on his own that this was the best move. It's unclear what role top leadership played in this decision. Keefe says Michael Wolff, a law faculty member, is expected to take over.

"I never asked for the job. I did it for Father Biondi...and I think he's a great man," Keefe says of his short time as dean. "I almost made it to the finish line...but not quite."

He says, "I'm very optimistic about the law school," later adding, "They need a slightly better spokesperson than me."

UPDATED: Ellen Harshman's full e-mail to students announcing the new dean below.

Here's the full email from Ellen Harshman sent out Tuesday afternoon.

School of Law Dean

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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