Ave Maria University (AMU) is a private Catholic university in Southwest Florida, United States, founded in 2003. The university moved to its permanent campus, situated in the planned town of Ave Maria, 17 miles (27 km) east of Naples, Florida, in August 2007. Ave Maria University shares its history with the former Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which was founded in 1998 and closed in 2007. The school was founded by Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino's Pizza.
The current enrollment of Ave Maria University is 1,072 students, 85 percent of whom are Catholic, with 1,019 undergraduate students and 53 graduate students on its campus. The university has seen little enrollment growth in recent years and hopes to grow to an enrollment of 1,500 by the year 2020. This is a significant drop from the school's stated enrollment goal in 2013, when it said in an offering memorandum for $60 million in bonds that the university had "set a goal of growing the University's undergraduate enrollment at its main campus in Florida to approximately 1,700 students by the fall of 2016." The university had a satellite campus in Nicaragua called the Ave Maria University-Latin American Campus, but sold the campus to Keiser University in July 2013. Ave Maria ran the Nicaraguan campus for 13 years. Ave Maria University fields athletic teams known as the Gyrenes. It is a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) and competes within The Sun Conference.
Academically, the university is rated in "Tier 2" by U.S. News & World Report, below 178 other liberal arts colleges in the US. It is included in The Newman Guide to Choosing a Catholic College. In 2015, College Factual ranked Ave Maria University as a Top 10 college in the state of Florida. In December 2015, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools renewed Ave Maria University's accreditation. Ave Maria University offers 34 majors.
Ave Maria College was founded by Catholic philanthropist and former Domino's Pizza owner and founder Tom Monaghan on March 19, 1998, occupying two former elementary school buildings in Ypsilanti, Michigan near the campus of Eastern Michigan University.
Monaghan's goal was to create a Roman Catholic university faithful to the magisterium of the Catholic Church. His original vision was a Catholic college providing a liberal arts education in a Catholic environment and constructing a full college campus on his 280-acre (1.1 km2) property in nearby Ann Arbor, known as Domino's Farms. The Ann Arbor campus also included plans for 25-story crucifix, a size about half the height of the Washington Monument.
After being denied zoning approval by Ann Arbor Township to build a larger campus near Domino's Farms, Monaghan decided to move the college to Florida. While occupying an interim campus in Naples, Florida, he focused efforts on constructing a new campus and planned community nearby known as Ave Maria, Florida. While the infrastructure of the new campus and town were being completed in early 2007, the Ypsilanti campus was also closing at the end of the 2006–2007 academic year. Monaghan planned to move most of the staff transferred to the Florida location. The Michigan location remained open until students graduated or transferred, leaving just three students for the final year and a number of the remaining staff.
After failing to secure the zoning rights in Ann Arbor, Monaghan initiated the founding of Ave Maria University with a donation of $250 million. The Barron Collier family donated the land in southwest Florida for the campus, joining Monaghan in the enterprise as 50% partner. In August 2003, the University opened an interim campus in The Vineyards in Naples, Florida, enrolling some 100 undergraduate students, 75 of whom were freshmen.
The university moved from the temporary facility to the new campus in 2007. In its first year at the new campus the university enrolled about 450 undergraduates and 150 graduate students. Bishop Frank Dewane, the local Catholic ordinary, formally dedicated the university in 2008.
Monaghan expects to continue expanding the university and hopes to one day have an enrollment over 5,000, Division I athletics and an academic reputation as "a Catholic Ivy,". In 2011, James Towey, former Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives and former President of Saint Vincent College, was named the president of Ave Maria University after a unanimous vote by the AMU Board of Trustees. He also assumed the role of CEO, in the place of Monaghan, who remains the Chancellor.
In a May 2004 speech, Monaghan expressed his wish to have the new town and university campus be free from pre-marital sex, contraceptives and pornography. This elicited sharply critical statements from the international press, who saw such proposed restrictions as violations of civil liberties. Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union branch in Florida, challenged the legality of the restriction of sales of contraceptives. He said, "This is not just about the sale of contraceptives in the local pharmacy, it is about whether in an incorporated town there will be a fusion of religion and government." An opinion column in The Wall Street Journal quoted an Ave Maria faculty member[according to whom?] who called it a "Catholic Jonestown". Frances Kissling of Catholics for Choice compared Monaghan's civic vision to Islamic fundamentalism, and called it "un-American". In response, Monaghan announced a milder form of civic planning in which the town could mostly grow on its own, except that it would not have sex shops or strip clubs, and store owners would be asked rather than ordered not to sell contraceptives or porn. Contraception and porn would still be banned from the university.
Ave Maria University currently offers 30 undergraduate and three graduate degrees. Undergraduate majors include Accounting, American Studies, Biochemistry, Biology, Physics, Business, Catholic Studies, Classics and Early Christian Literature, Elementary Education, Environmental Science, Exercise Science, Finance, Global Affairs and International Business, Greek, Economics, Health Science, Health Science Administration, History, Humanities and Liberal Studies, Literature, Managerial Economics and Strategic Analysis, Mathematics, Music with a concentration in Sacred Music, Nursing, Philosophy, Politics, Political Economy and Government, Politics, Theology and Psychology. Graduate programs include M.A. and Ph.D. studies in Theology and a Master of Theological Studies for non-traditional students. Undergraduate students must complete all courses in the core curriculum, with more than 10 required courses, including a full year of Latin or Spanish, courses in philosophy, theology, literature, science, math, history and political science.
In 2012 U.S. News & World Report reported that the university had a student–teacher ratio of 12:1, with 696 undergraduate students paying an average of $19,440 in tuition and fees for the school year 2011–2012, with some also paying $8,350 for a dorm room and meals. The university's rating was in "Tier 2", below 178 other American colleges ranked in "Tier 1".
Though they were both established by Monaghan, the Ave Maria School of Law and Ave Maria University are separate entities. The Ave Maria School of Law is controlled by a board that is independent of AMU. Ave Maria School of Law is a fully American Bar Association-accredited Catholic law school, located on a campus in Naples, Florida. It has a current enrollment of 375 students and offers a Juris Doctor (J.D.) program that complements a traditional legal education based on the Socratic Method with an emphasis on how the law intersects with the Catholic intellectual tradition and natural law philosophy.
After receiving accreditation in 2005, the law school was moved by Monaghan from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the north side of Naples, Florida. Many students chose not to continue their studies, and the school's high ranking with U.S. News & World Report dropped dramatically, down to the lowest ranked level (tier 4) from 2008 to 2011, then failing to achieve any ranking in 2012. In 2014, the law school regained its tier 4 position.
In June 2010, the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) declared that Ave Maria had obtained "accredited membership" status. This allows the university to award bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees accredited by the SACS. The university had previously received full accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education (AALE) in June 2008. On October 7, 2011, the local ordinary, Bishop Frank Joseph Dewane, formally recognized the institution as a Catholic university pursuant to the code of canon law. In December 2015, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools reaffirmed Ave Maria University's accreditation.
Ave Maria University initially had a study abroad program in two locations: the alpine village of Gaming, Austria, about an hour's drive from Vienna, and also in San Marcos, Nicaragua. Instruction was conducted in English. The Austrian program required an additional $1,750 beyond regular tuition, along with the added expense of airfare and ground transportation, while the Nicaraguan program required no additional tuition. The Nicaraguan program was closed in mid-2013.
To be eligible for study abroad, students must have spent at least one semester at Ave Maria University, be in good academic standing, and have no major infractions on their student life record.
Ave Maria University implemented the Mother Teresa Project  in 2014. The Mother Teresa Project educates students on the life and unique spirituality of Mother Teresa through a program of study that immerses them in her life and writings. The program engages students in the service of the farmworker community in neighboring Immokalee and throughout the area, especially children in need of mentoring and older residents longing for companionship, responding to Pope Francis' call to the laity – to reach out with love to those who suffer and be part of the New Evangelization of the 21st century.
Jim Towey, president of Ave Maria University, was legal counsel to Mother Teresa from the time he met her in Calcutta in 1985 until her death twelve years later. He had the opportunity to travel with her on numerous occasions and witness up close her faith in action. He continues to provide pro bono counsel to the Missionaries of Charity and leads a group of Ave Maria University students to Calcutta each year. Towey was the only American to be a member of the two U.S. presidential delegations that were sent to her state funeral in India (1997) and subsequent beatification at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome (2003).
Outside of Calcutta, there are two places in the world where a piece of Mother Teresa's actual sari is available for public viewing: In a display in Albania, her country of origin; and at Ave Maria University's Mother Teresa Museum. The rare relic complements an array of items on loan from the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta to Ave Maria, including a first-degree relic (a strand of her hair), a wooden cross made from the door that Mother Teresa opened each morning as she went out into the slums of West Bengal, India, and a piece of marble that fashioned her tomb. The Missionaries of Charity also provided Ave Maria dozens of storyboards – in Spanish and English – that include rare photographs of Mother Teresa and tell the story of her fascinating life.
The new campus is located in the new town of Ave Maria, Florida, which continues to expand 17 miles (27 km) east of Naples in rural Collier County, Florida. The town site occupies about 5,000 acres (20 km2), of which nearly 20 percent are designated for the campus. The Ave Maria Oratory, a large Gothic-inspired structure that serves as the parish church and university chapel and is located at the center of town. Several more master-planned communities are under construction or planned in the immediately surrounding area, north and south of the campus. Managed wetlands lie north and west of the campus. Wildlife preservation and restoration projects have also been instituted on the site, to preserve a degree of its natural state.
Ave Maria University won the 2007 'Digie Award' (Commercial Real Estate Digital Innovation Award). The $24 million Oratory won the 2008 TCA Achievement Award as well as an award from the American Institute of Steel Construction.
Dormitories are organized into same-sex communities. There are six dorms on campus: Sebastian, Maria Goretti, St. Joseph, Xavier, and the Megadorm, a building which contains both John Paul II and Mother Teresa dormitories. Not all dormitories are used to house undergraduates; for example, Xavier has been used as a conference center and guest house. Quiet hours (9pm–10am Sunday-Thursday, 11pm–10am on Friday-Saturday) are enforced by residence assistants and adjusted by residence directors, typically changed during midterms and finals. Visits between the sexes are permitted during certain designated hours throughout the week within individual dorm rooms as well as in residential common areas. Common areas are general meeting spaces in each dorm, where all sexes are allowed during certain hours of the day (9am-1am Sunday-Thursday, 9am-2am Friday-Saturday).
Chapels are located in each of the six dorms, each containing a tabernacle housing the Eucharist, and each but the Megadorm containing an altar for Mass. Members of the clergy, who live on campus, assist in maintaining spiritual life. A perpetual adoration chapel was added to the Library in 2009.
Social life on campus includes intramural sports, clubs, households, drama productions, talent shows, excursions, dances and many other events. Students are encouraged to organize and participate in social and recreational activities. Drinking is only permitted in private quarters to those 21 or over, or where deemed appropriate by the residence director(s). Men and women are encouraged to dress in modest attire and to avoid sexually suggestive or revealing attire. Televisions are only permitted in common areas, though students are allowed to use their computers to play videos in the dorms and common rooms. Social life also occurs at the pool, the volleyball court and the gazebos, all located near the dormitories.
Mass is celebrated in the Ave Maria Oratory, the landmark building on campus, which is located in the heart of the new town. The parish serves both the town and the university. Traditional liturgical actions are encouraged, including kneeling for communion, the use of Latin at Mass, the daily praying of the Angelus (especially at lunch and dinner time, when the Angelus bell is rung at noon and 6pm), the use of incense, and male-only altarboys at Mass. The chaplaincy has issued directives regarding the use of Latin, of the ad orientem posture (the priest facing the altar, the same direction as the congregation), and kneeling for communion. Other Masses are said in English with the priest facing the people. During the school year, there are three Masses celebrated each day of the week as well as one Mass on Saturdays and four on Sundays.
Ave Maria's official news publication is The Gyrene Gazette.
There are various campus organizations including: The Philosophy Club, Students for Life (Pro-life organization), Knights of Columbus, Sodalitas Pontificis Sancti Gregorii Magni – educates student body about the liturgy, Faith in Action – teaching the faith. Works with youth, Immokalee Outreach Club – help Immokalee residents in need, Operation Prayer Packages – Students pray for and send packages to troops overseas, St. Thomas More Debate Society, and Big Brothers Big Sisters among others. The university also offers intramural and club sport programs.
Ave Maria teams, nicknamed as the Gyrenes, are part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division II level, primarily competing in The Sun Conference, formerly known as the Florida Sun Conference (FSC). The women's lacrosse team will compete in the National Women's Lacrosse league (NWLL) in their first varsity season in the spring of 2015. In 2011, it became the first college in southwestern Florida to field a football team. The university sponsors seven men's and nine women's varsity sports:
On March 21, 2007, the original provost of the university, Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., was dismissed by Monaghan for undisclosed reasons. In a formal statement, Monaghan, in his role as chancellor, stated that the dismissal was because of "irreconcilable differences over administrative policies and practices." Immediately, the school's first-ever student protests were mounted in support of Fessio. Outside observers were critical: editor Philip F. Lawler of the conservative Catholic World News said the firing was "institutional suicide", that if a respected theologian such as Fessio could be fired then no others would want to fill the position. Monaghan reinstated Fessio the next day as theologian-in-residence. He was dismissed from that position in 2009, stating he was fired because of a conversation he had with Academic Vice President Jack Sites about administrative policies harming the university's finances. He said his firing was "another mistake in a long series of unwise decisions" but that he would continue to guide students to AMU. The provost position remains vacant.
The 2008 financial crisis has taken a toll on Ave Maria's finances. Monaghan said in 2012 that Ave Maria's construction cost estimates doubled over three years, requiring the university to cut back on planned buildings. The troubled Florida real estate market also meant that Ave Maria School of Law had to shelve its plans for a building in Ave Maria, as its existing campus was worth less than was paid for it. For a period of time the University survived through Monaghan's funding of a ten million dollar annual deficit. Through Towey's efforts at controlling financing costs, along with increased contributions, by 2014 the University was back on a firm financial footing.
In February 2012, Ave Maria made national news when it filed its lawsuit Ave Maria University v. Sebelius, suing the government over the US Health and Human Services mandate by claiming that it would force the university to forego its religious freedom. It became the second college to do so, and was followed by several others, including the Franciscan University of Steubenville and the University of Notre Dame. The lawsuit is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. In June 2012, President Towey wrote that the university would "vigorously prosecute its lawsuit". In 2016, the Supreme Court unanimously sent the case back to federal appeals court to find a solution that would both honor religious organizations objections and provide their employees with birth control. Ave Maria administrators celebrated the decision as a "great victory."
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