- The Washington Times
Thursday, July 15, 2021

Arkansas lawmakers are asking why a distinguished teaching chair at the state’s law school in Little Rock has come to be named for former President Bill Clinton.

“There’s a lot of folks in academia today who seem to believe they are above the law and can do whatever they want,” said state Sen. Jason Rapert, a Republican. “They don’t think they need to adhere to guidelines or the law, and it seems to have something to do with their mindset and worldview.”

Mr. Rapert’s Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs will meet Aug. 10 to hear why a chair called the University of Arkansas Bowen School of Law’s Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy was recently renamed, after 20 years, the William J. Clinton Professor of Constitutional Law and Public Service.  

The change, first reported in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, involves professor John DiPippa, a dean emeritus who has held the seat since it was created in 1999.

In an email the Democrat-Gazette obtained through a public records request, law school professor J. Thomas Sullivan raised a series of questions about Mr. DiPippa‘s sudden attachment of Mr. Clinton’s name to the chair.

Mr. DiPippa, a stalwart supporter of Mr. Clinton during his impeachment, did not respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Sullivan confirmed the accuracy of what had been reported but declined to comment further.

Another faculty member, Robert Steinbuch, also raised questions about the process. He said neither he nor Mr. Sullivan had received any satisfactory answers from the Bowen administration.

When Bowen Law School received the money for the endowed professorship, the intent was to name it after Mr. Clinton, Mr. Steinbuch said.

The name was never formally adopted for reasons that remain unclear. Given all that transpired during Mr. Clinton’s presidency, it seems misguided to do so now, Mr. Steinbuch said.

“My position is it is inappropriate to name a chair at the law school after a lawyer who was found in contempt of court and disbarred and then suspended from practicing both in Arkansas and before the Supreme Court,” he told The Washington Times. 

“It’s one thing to name a school of politics after Bill Clinton,” Mr. Steinbuch said about the University of Arkansas’ Clinton School of Public Service. “It’s another thing to name one at a law school after a guy who had so much trouble with his law license.”

The Democrat-Gazette reported that Mr. DiPippa was told last summer that he could attach the Clinton name to the chair.

None of the parties disputed the contents of Mr. Sullivan‘s email, in which he asked why the change was made without any notice to or approval by the law school faculty. He said it was a dubious choice for the University of Arkansas‘ law school to name a distinguished teaching chair after a man who was disbarred and held in contempt of court.

“I simply do not think it appropriate for a law school to honor a disbarred lawyer — it strikes me as hardly sending a deterrent message to law students or practitioners,” Mr. Sullivan wrote. “But beyond the disbarment, I have grave concerns about Bowen being aligned with significant policy decisions taken by Clinton that have [caused] irreparable damage to our legal system.”

Mr. Sullivan’s email also raised questions about why the change was made without any notice to or approval by the law school faculty. In particular, Mr. Sullivan cited legislation signed by Mr. Clinton that he said led to increased incarceration rates and sentences for Black defendants.

The University of Arkansas law school in Fayetteville also has a tenured chair in Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility named after Vincent Foster, a longtime associate of the Clintons and former partner at Little Rock’s Rose Law Firm with Hillary Clinton. Foster, a deputy White House counsel early in the Clinton administration, died by suicide in a park near Washington in 1993.

The law school kerfuffle erupted less than a month after the abrupt resignation of Joe Steinmetz after six years as chancellor of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Mr. Steinmetz left days after a local television station reported that questionable photos of someone who appeared to be the chancellor were posted on the internet.

The university said the photos were not of Mr. Steinmetz and that he was the victim of a hoax. Mr. Steinmetz did not mention the scandal in his resignation letter.

Some state lawmakers, however, said they viewed the photos before the site was disabled and were convinced that they involved Mr. Steinmetz.

In his resignation, Mr. Steinmetz cited a “polarized” atmosphere that developed after state lawmakers criticized his decision to move a campus statue of former Sen. J. William Fulbright, who died in 1995.

Fulbright, a legendary Democratic politician in the state and a major donor to the university, has become increasingly problematic for the school. As a U.S. senator, he signed the Southern Manifesto opposing the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision, which desegregated public education.

Mr. Rapert said legislators had questions for Mr. Steinmetz that mirrored those raised by Mr. Sullivan, and they plan to uncover exactly why Mr. Clinton’s name was added to the chair and who was behind the alteration. He promised new evidence at the hearing but declined to elaborate.

“I believe there’s going to be some information made public there, and it’s going to be interesting to see how they respond,” he said.

“It does seem strange,” he said of the change. “I would like to know if the protocol and process is being ignored, and this is one of the significant themes in the University of Arkansas systems that has drawn the attention of the legislature.”

Although the witness list for the August meeting has not been finalized, Mr. Rapert said, he hoped it would include Bowen Law School Dean Teresa Beiner, Mr. DiPippa, Mr. Sullivan and another Bowen Law School professor, Robert Steinbuch, who told the Democrat-Gazette that the school had “affirmatively decided not to name the professorship for Clinton after he was disbarred.”

“This makes sense, as it’s a bit absurd to have a professorship at a law school named after a disbarred attorney,” Mr. Steinbuch said.

• James Varney can be reached at jvarney@washingtontimes.com.

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