Before we get into the rumor circus — and it’s a complete circus right now — let’s get some facts straight:
A) Larry Sager was already on his way out. We reported in August that Sager had decided to step down at the end of the year.
B) Sager was forced out yesterday. UT President William Powers Jr. told the Austin American-Statesman: “We asked him to step down and he did.” Stefanie Lindquist takes over as interim dean, immediately.
If some reports are to be believed, it’s not an accident that a woman will be replacing Dean Sager. Allegations of gender inequality when it comes to pay are hounding Sager as he makes this hasty exit.
Let’s delve into it and get some student reaction…
The Texas Tribune does a fantastic job breaking down all of the allegations swirling around Dean Sager’s departure. 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. From the Texas Tribune:
[Power's decision to remove Sager] comes as extensive open records request relating to Sager’s handing of compensation is causing significant unrest and distraction among professors at the law school. “There are some deep divisions among the faculty,” Powers acknowledged, saying it had reached a point where a change was necessary to allow the faculty to “look forward and be more productive as we went ahead.”…
There are also several sexual discrimination complaints filed by women at the law school in the 75-page long open records document that point to a gender pay gap. In a letter to Sager included in the documents, Professor Lynn Blais expresses concern that women are underrepresented on all the major governing committees at UT Law, including the budget committee responsible for setting faculty compensation.
The Tribune has the full, 75-page document dump so you can see for yourself the pay gap that some are complaining about.
Even assuming that the gender inequality on pay is a real legacy of Sager’s tenure and a fireable offense, Texas Law students are questioning the timing. Female UT law professors didn’t start getting paid less than male UT law professors yesterday. It’s the middle of finals period. These aren’t the weeks we’re particularly worried about faculty productively looking forward.
One student who emailed in wished that the UT Law faculty had been a little more considerate of their students this week:
I am tremendously impressed with the caliber of faculty members I continue to encounter here at UT Law and I damn well know that I am getting a good deal paying in state tuition when a similarly ranked private school might be running me double…and those schools are not in Austin. I also understand that everyone’s gotta “get theirs” and I do not at all begrudge any faculty member for trying to get a raise or voicing concerns about equality of pay. That said, I think the faculty ought to be pretty embarrassed. The fact that this went down on a Thursday must have meant that things got waaay out of hand in faculty [presentation] land this week…so bad, in fact, that former Dean and current President Powers had to make a move today. That would be fine, except that this comes in the middle of exams. So while the students they are theoretically here to teach are slaving away in the library to impress our extremely well paid (by any measure) faculty members, our esteemed professors are apparently not worried about attempting to even act like they care. Put another way, the two most important weeks of the semester for the students apparently barely make it onto the faculty radar screens beyond the fact that they probably get more emails from neurotic students than they would prefer.
Really, you’d only expect this kind of immediate departure to be forced this week if there was some kind of breaking scandal. You know, if Dean Sager was accused of gender discrimination and had an ALIEN DEATH RAY pointed at the school. Here, the best breaking scandal anybody has been able to come up with is a $500,000 payment (which can be seen on page 24 of the document dump) that seems to have a reasonable explanation. From the Texas Tribune:
At the center of the conflict is the law school’s practice of awarding substantial salary stipends and “forgivable loans” to recruit and keep faculty members. The loans listed in the open records request, obtained by the Tribune, include a $500,000 payment to Sager himself…
Sager described the loan arrangement in a letter he sent to faculty Thursday afternoon:
“We, too, have frequently included non-salary commitments, in the form of one-time loans. These have been accompanied with a promise on our part to defray the costs of repaying the loan in annual installments of five or seven years, provided that the recipient of the loan remains on our faculty. Typically, these loans are aimed at the purchase of a home, and have helped to settle our new colleagues and their families in Austin. In exchange for these loans, I have asked and received from the recipients a moral commitment to remain members of our community for at least five years.”
Sager emphasized that the practice had been in place long before he took over as dean, and that it was prevalent among many law schools. In his letter to faculty, he noted that he himself had raised more than $10 million for the purpose of recruiting and retaining faculty —the bulk of the funds that went toward the loans.
He said the UT Law School Foundation made the $500,000 payment to him in recognition of his strong performance as dean — and in acknowledgment that his salary was lower than many of his counterparts at other schools.
If anything the $500,000 doesn’t suggest any kind of actionable scandal, but it does go to the heart of the long term issues between Sager and President Powers: You have to pay a lot of top professorial talent.
Sager has moved the school up in the U.S. News rankings, and helped change the perception of the school from a regional powerhouse to a national player. He’s done that with money: Money he’s raised, and money he’s paid to top notch faculty. I would join many others in criticizing that system, but I don’t hate the player, I hate the game.
This email to Above the Law from a recent UT Law graduate captures a lot of the student support that has coalesced behind Sager:
This is a real shame. I don’t know what’s going on behind doors, but I personally think it’s that certain faculty and administrators at UT don’t like what it takes to advance UT as a national law school, after having hired Sager to do just that. I guess some Texans just don’t like someone from New York City (New York City!?) coming in and telling them what to do; especially when they’re right (UT to 14!).
There have long been rumors of friction between Sager and the “good ol’ boys” network at UT. But many students who have benefited from Sager’s policies — in the form of better employment options at a wider range of firms and geographic locations — have acknowledged that Sager is doing what it takes to get ahead in the law school world.
For Sager, who would probably have a statue erected for him at Emory, or USC, or any school looking to break out of regional typecasting, it seems like his relationship with the president has been difficult. From the Tribune:
In an hour-long interview, Sager said that gender equity was a cause he was “very attached to” and that he’s pushed hard to hire and retain women at the law school. He also said his efforts to attract star professors to the law school in a highly competitive market was complicated by an “increasingly estranged” relationship with Powers, the man he followed as dean of the law school.
“It’s very hard to talk about, and especially for me without saying things that are really pretty damaging and sharp,” he said. “The least one can say is that there has been a very intense personality conflict between the two of us and that undermined our relationship entirely and that is a circumstance that I deeply regret.”…
Powers also said that faculty compensation had to be competitive, especially because UT must compete with private schools for top academic talent. But he conceded, “That has been a concern of many faculty over the last year or so at the law school today.”
There will undoubtedly be more to this story that becomes clear in the days and weeks ahead.
But in the meantime, Texas Law students, get back to studying! While the administration and professors seem wholly unconcerned with the timing of their faculty hissy fit, we know what time it is. Get back to work, and get the grades that will allow you to take advantage of Dean Sager’s policies before it’s too late.
UT law dean steps down under pressure [Austin American-Statesman]
UT President Asks Law School Dean to Resign Immediately [Texas Tribune]