Friday, December 16, 2011
[O]n Dec. 8, Mr. Powers abruptly demanded — and received — the resignation of Lawrence Sager as dean of the School of Law. Mr. Powers, who had formerly held the post, said the move was necessary to quell unrest among a deeply divided faculty. “You can’t have a unit be productive, frankly, both on the teaching and on the research side, if there’s not a sense of common enterprise,” he said. “And for whatever reason, that has broken down.” ...
Tensions at the law school spiked following the distribution of 75 pages of documents requested from the university by three faculty members. The records, which have since been made public online, reveal complaints about gender equity at the school and detail the use of money from the University of Texas Law School Foundation, a separate nonprofit organization, to supplement faculty salaries — including a $500,000 “forgivable loan” made in 2009 to Mr. Sager.
One of the ugliest, and most unjust aspects, of recent turmoil at Texas is that allegations of gender discrimination have surfaced. "Patriotism" may still be the first refuge of scoundrels, but at least at the University of Texas School of Law, the demand for "gender equity" has taken on that role.
There are women on the Texas faculty who don't perform any institutional service or committee work, who barely publish, who publish but whose work isn't very highly regarded, and/or who are poor teachers. There are men who fit those descriptions too, unsurprisingly. And in looking over the public salary data, I am struck by how equitable the under-performing men and women are treated, with a few exceptions in both directions (and of both genders). By the way, that is what "gender equity" means: it means faculty are treated equally without regard to gender, not that women are paid as much as men, regardless of their job performance or scholarly reputation.
Recently there have been questions raised as to the manner in which The University of Texas Law School Foundation (the “Foundation”) directs funds to supplement salaries of faculty and deans of The University of Texas School of Law (the “Law School”). The precedent for that function of the Foundation began 60 years ago.
While Page Keeton was Dean of the Law School, a group of individuals made a decision to form a foundation to support the Law School. Keeton said that our faculty pay was wholly inadequate to place the law school in a competitive position with the other law schools in the country. One of Keeton’s first priorities was to improve the financial support given to the Law School.
Faculty salaries were far below salaries of the best law schools. And so, one of the areas where financial support was most needed was in relation to faculty salaries. Through successive Deans, this process of support from the Foundation has continued.
Austin American-Statesman, UT's Powers, Law Dean Differ on Circumstances of $500,000 Loan:
In February 2009, the president of the University of Texas announced that salaries for all deans and vice presidents were being frozen, effective immediately, because of a "difficult economic climate."
Three months later, with the salary freeze still in effect, the dean of UT's School of Law, Larry Sager, received a $500,000 payment in the form of a forgivable loan from the UT Law School Foundation. UT President William Powers Jr. said he learned of the payment in the past couple of weeks. On Thursday, Sager resigned as dean under pressure. ...
Sager recounted events differently. "I have a distinct recollection that when I spoke with Bill about other deans' salaries on campus and across the country, he mentioned there was a loan in the works," Sager said Wednesday, adding that he assumed foundation officials had briefed Powers. "My recollection is clearly different from Bill's." ...
Marilyn Phelan, a former general counsel for the Texas Tech University System and the author of a book on nonprofit organization law, criticized elements of the relationship between the UT School of Law and its foundation. She described the foundation's role as little more than rubber-stamping the dean's recommendations. By structuring payments to professors as forgivable loans, the foundation avoids disclosing to the public how much each professor received, she said.
"I think it's definitely unethical," she said. "A forgivable loan to a UT law professor and to its dean obviously is a disguised salary payment from a public charity. It is, however, characterized as a loan so that it need not be reported as salary on the Form 990 the foundation files with the IRS."
Austin American-Statesman, Former UT Professor Reflects on Law Dean’s Ouster:
Brian Leiter has been monitoring developments at the University of Texas School of Law from afar with a mixture of fascination and sadness. He taught at the law school for more than a dozen years before joining the faculty at the University of Chicago in 2008.
Like many observers, he doesn’t understand exactly why UT President William Powers Jr. forced Larry Sager to step down as dean last week. “My impression is people had some legitimate criticisms of Larry Sager’s deanship,” Leiter said of his former faculty colleagues. “But people have legitimate criticisms of every deanship in America. The question is, how did we reach the point of this explosion? I have a very high opinion of Larry Sager, and I have a very high opinion of Bill Powers. Obviously, something went awry.”
Leiter guessed that perhaps 25% of the UT law faculty had campaigned against Sager, that 25% to 50% supported him and that a significant number didn’t have strong feelings one way or the other. ...
Leiter, who emphasized that he doesn’t know all of the relevant facts, said it’s nevertheless clear that some members of the faculty are “behaving badly” in this affair. In particular, he doesn’t buy complaints about gender inequities.
“Whatever Larry’s faults, it wasn’t gender discrimination,” Leiter said. “People playing that particular card ought to be embarrassed. More than half the people he hired were women or minorities, and almost half were women. He had the best track record in that regard in the history of the school.”
It’s clear that some foundation money was directed to established or rising stars who could have gone to another top-flight law school “in a heartbeat,” Leiter said. But he’s not sure whether other recipients had to be rewarded to keep them on the faculty. ...
Leiter said faculty compensation records obtained by the three professors and the American-Statesman show that the 10 most highly paid professors don’t correspond with the 10 most outstanding professors. They also don’t correspond with Sager’s friends, because some on the list campaigned against him.
“So that tells me he isn’t vindictive,” Leiter said.
Some complaints about compensation seem self-serving, while others seem legitimate, Leiter said. He added, “If you took any top law school in the country and you unleashed all the data you unleashed at Texas, you’d have an uproar, guaranteed.”
And although 19 UT law professors make $300,000 or more a year, that isn’t out of whack with what’s going on in the rest of the nation’s elite legal academy, he said. Texas’ “crazy obsession with transparency” could make it harder to recruit faculty members, some of whom might prefer a private school, where compensation records aren’t disclosed, Leiter said.
Texas Tribune, UT Law School Interim Dean Prioritizes Salary Equity:
Nearly a week after faculty unrest led to the sudden ousting of Dean Larry Sager from the University of Texas School of Law, his interim replacement told The Texas Tribune one of her top priorities will be a review of faculty compensation. “I certainly hope I can turn it around,” said Stefanie Lindquist, previously an associate dean. “That’s my job. That’s the reason I was selected to do this job.”
Prior TaxProf Blog posts:
- University of Texas Law School Dean Resigns Immediately in Wake of Faculty Division Over Compensation
- University of Texas Chancellor Orders Review of Use of Foundation Funds to Pay 19 Law Faculty Over $300,000
- Leiter on the Turmoil at the University of Texas School of Law