Law School Deans, Law Schools

Former Maryland Law Dean Asked to Return ‘Questionable’ Compensation — But Will She?

University of Maryland School of Law at Baltimore.jpgToday brings some updates in the controversy concerning the compensation of Karen Rothenberg, former dean of the University of Maryland School of Law. From this morning’s Baltimore Sun:

State university system officials have asked the former dean of the University of Maryland School of Law to return $60,000 in unauthorized compensation and have referred questionable payments totaling $410,000, which were revealed by a state legislative audit, to the attorney general’s office for review.
Chancellor William E. Kirwan revealed those actions and apologized for the audit’s findings at a hearing Thursday before the House subcommittee on education and economic development. He pinned responsibility for the $410,000 in payments on the recipient, former law dean Karen Rothenberg, and on David J. Ramsay, departing president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

And Chancellor Kirwan really threw President Ramsay and Dean Rothenberg under the bus….

“The fact that policies were not followed in these instances was a human failing representing bad judgment by two individuals,” Kirwan said.
“This is a troubling report,” he said. “And all of us at the university system are deeply regretful and apologetic that the matter has risen to the level of a General Assembly hearing.”

(President Ramsay, by the way, announced his retirement earlier this week.)
Rothenberg has been asked to return $60,000 in “research stipends” for research that apparently never took place. In addition, according to the Sun, the filing for these payments did not comply with proper procedure.
But what about the $350,000 for a fictional “sabbatical”?

[Legislator John] Bohanan asked Kirwan why the university system had demanded only $60,000 back from Rothenberg rather than the whole $410,000. Kirwan replied that the system hasn’t ruled out asking for the other $350,000 but is waiting for advice from the attorney general before proceeding.

Will Rothenberg return the money? Maybe not. From one angry member of the UM community:

Please keep on this story. I want her to pay that money back to the students she stole from via tuition hikes to pay for her pricey home in Montgomery County.

Don’t hold your breath. According to public records, Rothenberg’s house, in an area of million-dollar homes in Bethesda, is worth about $1.2 million (per Zillow). She has to make those mortgage payments somehow, right?
Rothenberg has lawyered up in response to the legislative inquiry, retaining some high-powered counsel: Paul Tiburzi, managing partner of DLA Piper’s Baltimore office. (Tiburzi, by the way, is a UM alumnus who managed to make it into Biglaw — only 14 percent do.)
In a reader poll, some 80 percent of you opined that the $410,000 in payments to Rothenberg that were flagged by the state audit as “questionable” were indeed improper. One ATL reader contacted us to offer support for this conclusion:

There is, in my opinion, significant malfeasance involved. This is the public law school of the flagship public university in the state of Maryland. [The controversy] is well worth your continued serious attention.
Here are some facts. They are all a matter of public record and could be easily verified.
Rothenberg’s base compensation is listed in university records as being the following: 8/2003: $288,925; 8/2004: $304,161; 8/2005: $327,246; 8/2006: $365,000; 7/2007: $408,450; 7/2008: $485,778; 9/2009: $485,778.
The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on Median Salaries of College Administrators By Job Category and Type of Institution 2008-09. For law deans, the median salary reported is $266,895.
Rothenberg’s base salary, already above the 2008-09 median in 2003, increased 68% in the next 6 years. It increased 33% in just the two years between 2006 and 2008 (so much for the argument that the whopping additional payment in 2007 that was disguised as a sabbatical payment was somehow necessary as a retention bonus).
Her current reported salary ($485,778) nearly doubles the national average for the position. It is 2.33 times the salary earned by the next highest paid tenured faculty member at the law school (which is $208,055). It is 4.4 times the salary earned by new faculty members at the law school ($110,000).
Rothenberg never earned a salary greater than $200,000 at UMD before being named the interim dean. She never had a minute of administrative experience as a dean or an associate dean at any law school before her appointment. She never appeared as a finalist in any dean search at any other law school in the U.S. during her tenure. She left the UMD deanship without another administrative position anywhere to go to. And yet, in just 7 years of being the dean, she earned more than $2.5 million dollars, not including the extra sabbatical and research grant payments questioned in the audit, and not including the value of expense accounts and benefits….

[These numbers] are completely off the charts — they are wholly outside and beyond any standard industry practice or customary compensation policy at American law schools.

In fairness to Dean Rothenberg, she has her defenders, including several who emerged in the comments to our post. From a commenter:

Maryland Law student here. I like Professor (formerly Dean) Rothenberg both as a person and as an administrator, and was shocked when I heard about the audit results. Contrary to the allegedly representative comments quoted above, I’d never heard any student doubting Rothenberg’s ethics or her success as dean. She did a lot for this school–our extensive clinic offerings and highly respected health-care and environmental law programs have her to thank–and it’s hard for me to imagine that she’d engage in dishonesty toward a school that respects her and where she has worked so hard. Obviously, people can surprise and disappoint us, so I (like everyone else) am waiting to see how this turns out, but I’m hoping that Rothenberg’s name will be cleared.

And from a second:

I think people need to relax. While this certainly looks disconcerting as it’s being advertised in the press, we don’t know enough to really make a judgment yet. Dean Rothenberg did a lot for the Maryland during her tenure, and this very well could just be an accounting issue. She deserves the benefit of the doubt until a final report is issued. In the meantime, let’s get back to mass e-mails regarding cat sitting.

The most exhaustive defense — it’s rather long, so we won’t reprint it here — was offered by this commenter.
Professor Kaimipono Wenger wonders if some of the criticism directed at Karen Rothenberg could be due to her gender. We’re not sure about that. First, many of the Maryland students and alumni who contacted us to lodge complaints have been women. Second, there is a long history of men — from Wall Street fat cats to Fortune 500 CEOs to fellow academic administrators — being pilloried as overpaid. But it’s a possibility worth considering.
Feel free to add your two cents, in the comments
UMB’s Ramsay to step down Monday [Baltimore Sun]
Former UM law dean is asked to refund $60,000 [Baltimore Sun]
Maryland legislature looking into ‘questionable’ payments to former law dean [National Law Journal]
The Internet Pile-on over a Woman Dean’s Paycheck [Feminist Law Professors]
Earlier: Is a Maryland Law School Dean Worth $800,000?

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