It was the kind of offer that encapsulated Peter Alexander’s philosophy of legal education – he lent Fort Wayne attorney Dennis Geisleman use of his facility to practice opening and closing statements before a focus group in exchange for students being allowed to observe.
As dean of the Indiana Tech Law School, Alexander trumpeted the school’s curriculum with its heavy focus on experiential learning and bringing practitioners and real-world, hands-on training into the classroom. He made connections to Allen County lawyers and judges to have them mentor and advise the new students before the school opened.
Consequently, Alexander’s surprising resignation as dean has many in the Fort Wayne legal community questioning what happened. But attorneys said they will maintain the relationships with the school that were fostered by the former leader.
“I’m sad and disappointed by the news, but I intend to continue to support the school, and I am looking forward for the accreditation process to be completed successfully,” Allen Circuit Judge Thomas Felts said.
Indiana Tech made the announcement May 23 that Alexander had stepped down as vice president and dean of the law school May 21. The university did not reveal the reason behind Alexander’s departure, but in a statement Alexander said he has achieved the goals he established for the institution and he has a desire to pursue other employment opportunities.
Although he also resigned his tenured faculty position, Alexander will remain with the school in a consulting role. The school did not detail what his specific duties would be going forward.
Associate Dean for Academic Affairs andré douglas pond cummings has been named interim dean. He sought to reassure the community that the direction of the law school would not be changing.
“While Peter is and was a dynamic and charismatic leader, the vision is completely shared by me and the folks we hired,” cummings said, adding the vision and goals are not different just because Alexander left. “I think we’re totally and completely on track as far as what we set to do in the very beginning.”
Indiana Tech Law School is planning to add two or three new faculty members to its current staff of 11, cummings said. The school is taking applications and has set a goal of having 40 to 50 students in its second class.
A committee of administration officials and law school faculty will be established soon to begin the search for the new dean.
Alexander joined Indiana Tech in January 2012 to help the university start what is now the fifth law school in the state. He was involved in multiple aspects from the design of the new building and development of the curriculum to hiring the faculty and personally recruiting students.
Attorney David Van Gilder, of Van Gilder & Trzynka P.C. in Fort Wayne, credited Alexander with getting the legal community talking about legal education and thinking about what a law school could do to assist the bench and bar.
“I just wish him the best,” Van Gilder said. “We’re going to miss him. He added a dimension to the legal community here that was sorely needed.”
Alexander also gave an opportunity to students who want to be lawyers but felt law school was way out of reach, Van Gilder said. Alexander impressed upon the students they could be successful.
In turn, Van Gilder believes those students will benefit Fort Wayne by practicing locally and bringing the diversity that is currently lacking in the legal community.
Prior to his tenure at Indiana Tech, Alexander was at Southern Illinois University School of Law. He served as dean from 2003 through 2009 and then remained on the faculty until 2012. He often said he was not actually looking to lead another law school but was attracted to Indiana Tech because he could build the school from scratch and put his ideas in practice.
cummings emphasized he understood Alexander’s vision for legal education and helped craft the new curriculum that incorporates collaborative and experiential learning.
“Peter and I were in lockstep all along,” cummings said.
Before Alexander’s resignation, the law school had started the process of seeking accreditation from the American Bar Association. Obtaining provisional accreditation in the spring of 2015 is vital for the school to continue since their graduates would not be allowed to sit for the Indiana Bar Exam without the institution having ABA approval.
Again, cummings pointed out other faculty members besides Alexander were preparing the school for the accreditation review and they will carry on with their duties.
cummings said he has been captaining the process since it started and is co-chair of the committee that is compiling the self-study report due in August. In addition, Indiana Tech President Arthur Snyder has contacted the ABA and informed it of Alexander’s resignation.
“We think it’s going to be pretty seamless as far as the accreditation application is concerned,” cummings said.
The law school summoned the students back to campus May 23 to tell them about Alexander’s departure. Many in the legal community found out after they returned from the Memorial Day weekend.
Allen Superior Judge David Avery said the news was unexpected and shocked the bench and bar. He could not speculate on what the resignation will mean for the school, but he did not anticipate it would negatively impact the school’s relationship with local attorneys and judges.
The school enlisted lawyers to mentor the students and invited members of the bar to lecture or make presentations to the students. From Avery’s perspective, it made sense for the new law school to cultivate that relationship and gain as much support as it could.
“I think Dean Alexander did a nice job when he was here,” Avery said. “He’s certainly the type of person if I was planning on going through this type of process of opening a law school … he’s the type of individual I would want to lead it.”•