Law School Deans, Law Schools

Is a Maryland Law School Dean Worth $800,000?

University of Maryland School of Law at Baltimore.jpgWhat is Baltimore known for? We think of The Wire, John Waters movies, a world-class aquarium, and crabs (the seafood, not the parasites).
The city is also known for high crime. And some folks think Maryland taxpayers got robbed, by the former law school dean at the University of Maryland at Baltimore. From the Baltimore Sun:

Karen H. Rothenberg, former dean of the University of Maryland School of Law, was the administrator who received $410,000 in what a state legislative audit called “questionable compensation payments,” according to university payroll records.

The routine audit of the University of Maryland, Baltimore says that in fiscal 2007, a high-ranking administrator received four payments totaling $350,000 for sabbatical time that was apparently never taken. The payments, approved by UMB President David Ramsay, came on top of a $360,000 salary.

But wait, there’s more….
UPDATE: A reader poll has been added, after the jump.

Karen Rothenberg Dean University of Maryland Baltimore Law School.jpgThe Sun article continues:

The audit, which was released Thursday, also says that between 2007 and 2009, the administrator received three summer research payments totaling $60,000. These payments were approved by a subordinate rather than by a supervisor, it says.
University payroll records show that Rothenberg (pictured) received a $350,000 payment on top of her base pay of $371,387 in fiscal 2007. Her total compensation that year was $787,387, up from $365,668 the previous year. The records also show research stipends of $30,000 in 2007, $20,000 in 2008 and $10,000 in 2009, which add up to the $60,000 described in the audit.

Three quarters of a million? That kind of compensation seems more appropriate for Biglaw than legal academia.
The controversy over Karen Rothenberg’s compensation was brought to our attention by numerous UMD students and alumni. The typical response was anger. Some representative comments from ATL sources:

“Students and recent graduates of UMD law are disgusted. We all knew the Dean was slimy.”

“Many of the students I’ve spoken to at school are fuming over the alleged payout. Many of us have no choice but to take out tens of thousands in loans just to pay for tuition while the head of the school was handed money for a fraudulent sabbatical and some summer research.”

For even harsher commentary — warning: no punches are pulled — see Big Debt, Small Law.
But there’s another side to the story (as there almost always is). Professor Larry Gibson of UMD defended Dean Rothenberg as “worth every penny,” in a letter to the editor of the Balitmore Sun:

Karen Rothenberg became dean of the University of Maryland School of Law in 2000. By 2006, the universal assessment was that she had done a fantastic job. She had moved the law school up into the top tier of the nation’s law schools, she had raised incredible amounts of money, she had significantly increased alumni involvement, and she had strengthened the faculty.
Dean Rothenberg was poised to move on to higher opportunities. But, we at the law school and at all levels of the university wanted desperately to hold on to her as dean for another few years….
[U]niversities tend not to have a discreet [sic] budget category titled “keeping your best people.” Consequently, university presidents and deans who wish to retain their top talent draw the funds from existing compensation categories, such as sabbaticals, research grants, stipends and special funds.

That was done in Dean Rothenberg’s case, according to Professor Gibson, and it was proper.
But perhaps dangerous, according to Professor Dan Filler over at the Faculty Lounge:

[W]hile retaining a dean is an ordinary concern, this particular method of reality simulation seems extraordinarily risky. Call it what you want, but since most other faculty aren’t offered the option of skipping their sabbaticals in exchange for balloon payment, this does look an awful lot like a pay raise. Or to put it more bluntly, when a highly paid employee of a state university receives an extra 350 large in a single year, and nobody tells the legislature, shouldn’t a state university president expect a report like this to follow ? That’s why some schools might choose to fund the bonus in a more opaque (and arguably more problematic) fashion, such as via the law school endowment.
I don’t think you can blame Rothenberg for any of this noise. But perhaps David Ramsay, the UMB president, should have seen it coming.

For further discussion, see below — links to blogosphere and newspaper coverage, and two internal Maryland Law emails (one from the dean and one from the Student Bar Association president).
UPDATE: Take our reader poll:

FURTHER UPDATE: More about this story appears here.
Former Maryland Dean Under Fire for Payments in Lieu of Sabbatical [Tax Prof Blog]
Simulating Reality Part I: The Paid Sabbatical That Never Was [Faculty Lounge]
“Dean” Karen H. Rothenberg, Come on Down! [Big Debt, Small Law]
Ex-dean of UMB law is audit target [Baltimore Sun]
Payments to UM law dean ‘worth every penny’ [Baltimore Sun]
Karen Rothenberg bio [University of Maryland School of Law]

Subject: UMB Legislative Audit
Date: Sat, February 20, 2010 12:54 pm
To: “LAW-All Students”
Cc: “LAW-Deans”
Dear Students:
As some of you are aware, the Maryland Office of Legislative Audits recently completed an audit of UMB. A copy of the audit is attached. Among the findings of the audit are several related to compensation of a senior executive within the University. Today an article from the Baltimore Sun identified the employee whose compensation is discussed in the audit. A link to the Sun article is below:,0,1787985.story
An investigation of the findings is underway. The Chancellor has directed us not to comment on the findings or the audit report while the investigation is pending. I think it is important to withhold judgment, as all the facts are not known to us. I will be meeting with the leaders of the SBA to determine the best way to provide a forum for you to express your concerns on the issues raised.
Most importantly, I urge us to stay focused on the work of our Law School. This past week has been a rich one. We were privileged to host Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson in our Distinguished Visitors program, the IP Program featured a speaker on current federal legislation, students held the 35th annual BLSA banquet, and this morning the Law School is overflowing with college students participating in a mock trial tournament. As I attended the BLSA banquet last night with its honoree, newly appointed Fourth Circuit judge, Andre Davis, I was reminded again of the intellect, passion and commitment of our students.
I am proud of this Law School. I remain enthusiastic for all the opportunities that lie ahead and appreciate your support and wonderful work as we continue to move forward.
Phoebe A. Haddon
Subject: SBA and recent article
From: SBA President
Date: Sat, February 20, 2010 12:02 pm
Hi, everyone. I hope you’re all having a great weekend. Just a heads up that Dean Cobb and possibly Dean Haddon will be stopping by our meeting tomorrow to discuss the recent Sun article. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the article:,0,1787985.story
We will then discuss the SBA’s position on this; for now, the stance is that although students are concerned about any potential misuse of their tuition and fees, the student body will await the results of the investigation. In the meantime, please bring any concerns/questions students have to the meeting tomorrow.

(hidden for your protection)

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