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Friday, December 9, 2011

University of Texas Law School Dean Resigns Immediately in Wake of Faculty Division Over Compensation

Texas LogoTexas Lawyer, Sager Out Earlier Than Expected as UT Law Dean:

On Dec. 8, William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin, says he requested and received the immediate resignation of UT School of Law Dean Lawrence Sager. Powers, himself a former dean of the UT law school, says Sager already had announced his plans to leave in 2012 and his decision-making was creating “a divided atmosphere among the faculty that is not conducive to being productive.”

Sager confirms he was asked to resign, but says, "This has been a wonderful deanship."

In August, Sager emailed law school faculty stating that he would “not ask to be appointed for an additional term” once his current six-year term expired in 2012. In the email, Sager noted accomplishments under his tenure, such as the appointment of 16 new professors, nearly $80 million in fundraising and UT’s rise in U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings from No. 17 to No. 14. ...

Powers says he had hoped Sager’s announcement that he would not seek an additional term as law dean would quell faculty concerns. But the dissension continued, Powers says, and faculty members “remained very concerned about some of the judgments of the dean [Sager].” So Powers says he decided to ask Sager to step down immediately. Powers declines to give specifics on the faculty concerns saying, “Leave that for another day.”

Making the matter more urgent, Powers says, is that the law school is engaged in recruiting new faculty members and the divisive atmosphere had threatened to hinder those efforts. Powers says recruiting will be easier now that prospective hires know “a change is under way.”

UT law professor Julius Getman says some faculty members “felt that the system of compensation was not fair” at the law school. “I don’t want to say bad things about Dean Sager. But I understand why President Powers felt he had to act when he did. There was the possibility of faculty dissension and the acting dean is someone the faculty trusts and who is not at all divisive.”

Three UT law school professors sent an Oct. 10 open records request to UT officials, confirms Jack Sampson, who along with Getman was one of the law professors who made the request. They sought detailed information about faculty compensation beyond salary figures, such as signing bonuses, tuition payments for spouses and children, and housing allowances, he says. UT officials responded on Nov. 15 with detailed financial information, Sampson says.

In a seven-page letter Sager sent to faculty on Dec. 8, before Powers asked him to resign, he wrote: “This has been a terrific run, and it has not been easy.” He identifies his “highest priority” as dean: to build and maintain faculty. In the letter, Sager wrote that he has used nonsalary commitments to attract and keep faculty, which other law schools do as well. 

“All that said, I may have not gotten every case right in the course of our sustained effort to build and hold on to our faculty. Given the importance of the objective, I was surely drawn to the side of generosity. And, whether perfectly calibrated or not, the compensation packages that have resulted from our hiring campaign have raised concerns about disparities in our overall salary structure, disparities which in some cases are attributable to long-standing, systematic judgments of the Budget Committee and former deans,” Sager wrote in the letter, which he provided to Texas Lawyer.

In an interview, Sager characterizes the faculty compensation issues as "circumstances that undermine" the success he has achieved at the law school. He says he became a dean at a time when nontransparency regarding faculty compensation was the norm at UT and other law schools. But during his tenure, he says, "transparency began rolling in" and "the transition between transparency and nontransparency" created problems. Specially, in the 2009-2010 academic school year, he says he shared compensation information with a budget committee composed of faculty members but due to privacy concerns, he allowed only a subcomittee to see one-time loan arrangements with certain faculty members. Subsequently, some faculty members sought and received the open records information regarding compensation, he says.

Update:

One of the issues apparently is Sager's receipt of a $500,000 forgivable loan from the UT Law School Foundation, a private group that provides salary supplements, mortgage loan assistance and other financial support to faculty members. Sager said there was nothing improper about that, and Powers agreed.

"There's absolutely no allegation by anyone of misappropriation of funds or anything of that sort," the UT president said. Asked whether more oversight of foundation money is needed, he replied, "We'll address that as we go forward." ...

The records show that some faculty and staff members at the law school have complained of being underpaid or discriminated against because of their gender, age or ethnicity. In some of those cases, sizable settlements resulted.

Linda Mullenix , a law professor who complained of "pay discrimination," received a $20,000 raise and a $250,000 forgivable loan. Laura Castro, who had been a spokeswoman for the law school, received $101,292, the honorific title of "visiting scholar" and use of an office for a year.

I'll just note one bit that struck me as especially telling: the revelation that one faculty member negotiated an arrangement with the Law School according to which she would be notified each year of who on the faculty earned more than she did. That gem captures rather well what this turmoil is really all about.

Elite state schools - and indeed, all elite law schools outside of the Atlantic and Pacific coastal corridors - struggle to recruit and retain those faculty targeted by the private school elites in the corridors. The fact is that Yale, Harvard, NYU, and their counterpart are fierce recruiters with lots of money and relatively little oversight in the allocation of those funds. The question a school like Texas must ask is whether it is willing to absorb the costs of competing with these schools. As is evident in this dispute, the costs go beyond mere dollars (and the risk of taxpayer outrage) and extend deeply into the culture and community of the institution.

While it certainly looks like this ouster has been months in the making, allegations about gender inequality over faculty pay appears to be the straw(s) that broke the camel’s back

The public portions of Texas law faculty salaries are here.

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Comments

Interesting concept for a university supported by taxpayers to be shelling out "forgiveable" loans. Somehow I don't think the average taxpayer in Texas would be very forgiving if this practice became widely known.

Posted by: Douglas Fletcher | Dec 9, 2011 6:50:23 AM

They're arguing over which one gets which deck chair while the ship is sinking.

Posted by: MPM (UC Law '89) | Dec 9, 2011 7:04:20 AM

Some of the Adjuncts and Clinicals are doing pretty well for (what I assume to be) part time work.

And I don't begrudge a nickel to Sandy Levinson, who I remember fondly from Vanderbilt.

Posted by: Ron | Dec 9, 2011 7:30:22 AM

Just what in the hell are my taxes and tuition paying for? What a bunch of rat bast_rds...

Posted by: Tex Lovera | Dec 9, 2011 7:42:05 AM

According to the story, the loans were not from the University. The loans were from a private foundation, which would not have public funds. Instead, it would be funded and operated by private donors, presumably alumni. The foundation would no more be supported by "the average taxpayer in Texas" than the Ford Foundation is.

Posted by: HM | Dec 9, 2011 7:50:05 AM

The Foundation is separate and funded by privately, right?

Posted by: anonymous | Dec 9, 2011 7:59:08 AM

The story notes discrimination complaints by professors who were not likewise compensated by the private foundation receiving raises, loans, titles and offices. Its possible this is on the backs of taxpayers.

Posted by: DG | Dec 9, 2011 8:57:28 AM

Even in the case of privates, we should bear in mind that these are heavily subsidized via tax expenditures. Their income from tuition, branding, portfolio income and the like is exempt from income tax. Gifts to them qualify for deduction for income, gift and estate taxes. And do not forget that they also receive exemption for property taxes. So, it seems right for governments to ask what is going on even at so-called private schools.

Posted by: Bill | Dec 9, 2011 9:04:41 AM

The football coach at UT makes over 5 million dollars a year.

Posted by: anonymous | Dec 9, 2011 2:45:53 PM

They can ask what is going on, but it does a make difference that these funds came from private donations. It would be problematic if these things were funded by taxpayers. The football coach at UT makes over 5 million dollars a year. The institution pays some people lots of money.

Posted by: anonymous | Dec 9, 2011 3:09:32 PM

Well that certainly settles it. If the football coach makes over $5 million a year, every professor in the University must make over $5 million a year.

Posted by: willis | Dec 10, 2011 2:45:58 PM