UI law dean returning to faculty

UI law dean returning to faculty

The dean of the University of Illinois College of Law is stepping down after five years  marked by two ethics investigations of the law school.

Bruce Smith, who was appointed just before news of the "Category I" admissions scandal broke in 2009, will return to the law school faculty, according to a UI news release.

John Colombo, the Albert E. Jenner Jr. Professor, has been named interim dean effective June 1, pending approval by the UI Board of Trustees at its May 14 board meeting in Springfield. A member of the Illinois faculty since 1988, Colombo primarily teaches tax law.

A national search will be conducted for a permanent dean.

"I am grateful to Bruce for his leadership that saw the College of Law move forward through some challenging periods," said Ilesanmi Adesida, the vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost of the Urbana campus. "He successfully completed the $50 million Brilliant Future capital campaign, instituted the Chicago Program and increased the number of endowed faculty positions and endowed scholarships. The college is well-positioned for future success."

Adesida also said Colombo has the "skills, the experience and the wisdom to ensure that this trajectory for excellence continues without interruption."

Smith, previously associate dean for academic affairs for the law school, became dean in February 2009. He replaced Heidi Hurd, who had stepped down in 2007 after five years to return to the UI law faculty. Two law school professors had served as interim deans until Smith's appointment.

In June 2009 both Smith and Hurd were called to testify before a state commission investigating the admissions clout scandal, in which trustees and top administrators pressured campus officials to admit dozens of politically connected students over more qualified applicants over several years.

Testimony showed the law school was forced to admit 24 students who otherwise would have been denied. Hurd said she protested the decisions but worked out a deal with the campus to provide scholarship money so she could recruit top students to offset the damage to the college's academic rankings.

At the time, Smith pledged that he would resign rather than be forced to admit an underqualified student. He later revamped the college's admissions rules, placing a "firewall" between the dean's office and the admissions office to ensure integrity.

But in 2011, an investigation found that an assistant law school dean, Paul Pless, had manipulated test scores and other data for six entering law school classes to boost the school's academic profile and preserve its top 25 national ranking, winning substantial raises in the process.

The American Bar Association levied an unprecedented $250,000 fine and public censure against the law school for placing too much authority in Pless' hands and lacking adequate oversight. Pless resigned, and the college made structural changes to bring more oversight to admissions.

The law school's ranking took a hit as a result, and Smith's term also coincided with a drop in law school enrollment nationwide.

Columbo was as associate dean of the college from 1995-98, 1999-2000 and 2010-12. He served as acting dean during 1998 and 2001, and interim dean in 2002. He was the Thomas M. Mengler Faculty Scholar from 2004-06.

A tax specialist, Columbo is the author of numerous scholarly articles and co-author of two books on the theory of tax exemption for charitable organizations, the exemption standards for nonprofit hospitals and commercial activity by charities. He has testified before Congress about the legal rules for tax exemption under Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code, the rules for exemption of nonprofit hospitals, and issues regarding commercial activity by exempt charities. His work on tax exemption for nonprofit hospitals has been cited by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and the Illinois Supreme Court.

In 2010, his article "The NCAA, Tax-Exemption and College Athletics" received national attention and, in 2009, was part of a presentation to the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.

Colombo has been recognized as a UI College of Law Distinguished Graduate, and has received the college's John E. Cribbet Award for Excellence in Teaching. He also is the recipient of the Campus Award for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Teaching and the Delta Sigma Omicron Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Colombo earned his bachelor's degree and law degree with highest honors from the UI.

After graduation, he clerked for Judge Phyllis Kravitch, of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and worked for six years at an Atlanta-based law firm.