In his first extended interview since he became dean of the Saint Louis University School of Law, Tom Keefe made it clear that he wasn’t about to change to suit anyone, including the university’s president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi.
“I don’t like coats, ties and authority. I don’t do well taking orders,” Keefe said.
Here are excerpts from the full story, available to Missouri Lawyers Weekly subscribers.
On his independence from Biondi:
At a Jesuit university with a history of clamping down on employees who make statements in opposition to Catholic teachings, Keefe is an outspoken Democrat, prone to quotable zingers and uncensored insights. So when he made it clear that he was thrilled about U.S. Rep. Todd Akin’s troubles for statements about abortion, Keefe wasn’t worried who knew.
“Does that sound like somebody who is Father Biondi’s butt boy?” he asked.
During a nearly two-hour interview with Missouri Lawyers Weekly, the terms “butt boy,” “trained monkey” and “yes man” cropped up many times as examples of what Keefe said he has been called and what he adamantly says he is not.
“[Biondi] can’t afford me. … I get to make way too much money lawyering to be his trained monkey. He doesn’t have enough money to do that, and he doesn’t want to.”
“I’m an important alumni. I’m a source of future funding. Why in the heck would I step and fetch for a guy who wants my money?”
On his predecessor
Keefe arrives on the heels of a scandal that made national headlines for the school. In early August, Keefe’s predecessor, Annette Clark, quit her post as dean, sending out her resignation missives to faculty, staff, Biondi and Vice President for Academic Affairs Manoj Patankar.
“The story wasn’t her allegations against Father Biondi,” Keefe said. “The story was that a university dean called a university president a no-account son of a bitch. That was the story.” He accused Clark of manipulating public opinion: “She didn’t write a letter to the faculty with a copy to the media, she wrote a letter to the media with a copy to the faculty.”
On his politics
Keefe proudly declared his political leanings, including donations to one political party.
“I mean, I am a Democrat. Am I allowed to say I’m a Democrat?” he said. “Well, if I’m Father Biondi’s butt boy I guess that’s going to get me in trouble.”
At the time of Keefe’s conversation with Missouri Lawyers Weekly, on Tuesday evening, political junkies were waiting to see if Missouri congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin would bow out of the Senate race on the heels of his controversial statement that “legitimate rape” doesn’t cause pregnancy.
Akin had backpedaled on his comments after a media firestorm, but those clarifications did not satisfy Keefe, he said.
“When’s [Akin] going to say something about the mother, for Christ’s sake? “
Like many Democrats, Keefe said he was hopeful Akin would stay in the race.
“That’s why I say to myself over and over again, thank you God for Todd Akin. There is a God. We might actually keep control of the Senate,” Keefe said. “Does that sound like somebody who’s Father Biondi’s butt boy?”
On the law school’s move downtown
Biondi, Keefe said, brought him into the job for reasons beyond his money and connections.
“We’re getting ready to move this law school, literally and figuratively. We’re moving it from a university setting to a place where lawyers lawyer and judges judge,” Keefe said. “I think perhaps what Father thought is that it would make some sense to have someone who lawyers and who regularly appears in front of judges and who tries cases, who’s made his living in the courtroom to have a role in the process of moving us downtown.”
Here’s a look at litigation involving SLU that we’ve reported: