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How an Eccentric Right-Wing Pizza Billionaire's Attempt to Build Catholic Law School Ended in Disaster

Tom Monaghan, Domino's Pizza founder, took advice from God and Antonin Scalia on the creation of of a Catholic Law school in Florida. It hasn't gone very well.

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Meanwhile, in June, the U.S. Department of Education reported that Ave Maria School of Law had failed its financial responsibility test, the only law school in the nation to do so. Even more troubling, the school ranked sixth to last among all American institutions of higher learning on the department’s financial responsibility index, thanks partly to its multimillion-dollar deficit. With its finances in disarray, the school has shelved plans for the $30 million building across from Mansion Row. When Ave Maria School of Law finally opened for business in Florida this August, it was in a former retirement home on the outskirts of Naples.

Many who have lived through the turmoil at the law school and Monaghan’s other educational institutions believe that the root problem is his inability to grasp the difference between running a fast-food business and an institution of higher learning. “He views these schools as franchises that he can open and close at will like a pizza shop,” says Thomas Woods, a former dean of St. Mary’s. “He has this Cartesian view of the world—that you can dream up an idea in your head and impose it on the plastic substance of reality, like a cookie cutter on dough. But academic life is messier than that. Things have to be done by negotiation and persuasion. They have to be worked out over time.” Unfortunately for the professors and students who wagered their futures on his educational ventures, that kind of give and take simply isn’t Monaghan’s style.

Tim Murphy contributed reporting to this story.

Mariah Blake is an editor of the Washington Monthly .

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