I've been in touch with some of my former colleagues about recent events, and hope to have more soon. I am hoping that the worst reports--about self-serving vendettas, a revolt by non-performers, and other petty ugliness--will turn out to be baseless. There are clearly some reasonable objections to the Deanship just ended (lodged by former colleagues for whom I have the highest regard), but an awful lot of the turmoil does seem to be a case of some very bad behavior by some faculty whom no peer or better school would hire--the "slave revolt" in academic values, as it were (to bowlderize a line of Nietzsche's). As one of my Chicago colleagues who read Larry Sager's resignation letter remarked to me: "Sager tried to improve the faculty, and they ran him out of town on a rail." Although I think it's a bit more complex than that, this is certainly how it is going to look to much of the legal academic world. Interim Dean Lindquist, a distinguished scholar of judicial politics, has her work cut out for her, and I wish her luck! I hope my former colleagues will help, not hinder, her.
DEC. 13 UPDATE: One of my esteemed former colleagues writes:
I think you went overboard about the revolt of the underperformers. Many of the lateral offers and salaries are justified (albeit one is so absurdly high that you have to wonder what was going on). But the side deals to insiders are something else. None of those had outside offers and none were likely to get one at a comparable school. That is where at least my wonderment is. Retention bonuses for those who would be retained anyway are simply a way of rewarding friends.
As I noted originally, some of the salaries and forgivable loans do seem to me inexplicable, and perhaps my Texas colleague is correct. On the other hand, at least some of those leading the charge at Texas are under-performers, and some of them, bizarrely enough, are also paid extravagantly.
CORRECTION: It's actually false that "none" of the insiders "had outside offers and none were likely to get one at a comparable school." I expect this was just e-mail hyperbole on the part of my former colleague, whose worry is that this was true about some of the insiders.
Carol West, Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law, passed away Monday. West was an active member of the faculty who taught courses in the areas of family law and women in the law. She had been on the Mississippi College faculty for 36 years, joining at the time Mississippi College acquired the Jackson School of Law in 1975. West was a graduate of the W and the University of Mississippi School of Law. She was 67 years old.
This is hardly a pleasant story to report on, given my great affection for the institution and many of the key players involved in these events. In any case, I assume no one will actually be misled by the high-minded talk about equity and fairness in compensation matters.
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.
I do hope my former colleagues who have been stirring the pot will take a break for awhile, so that they don't do more damage to a great institution.
UPDATE: This is an informative item, which confirms what I had heard, namely, that the private UT Law School Foundation had offered former Dean Sager a forgivable loan in order to improve his compensation relative to Deans of other leading law schools (his 2010-11 compensation, with the forgivable portion of the loan, was $405,000, hardly surprising). The list of the ten highest paid faculty makes clear the source of the bitterness: namely, that so many are among the recent lateral hires. In terms of seniority and/or competition from other schools, this is no surprise with respect to Bone, Rodriguez, and Spitzer. One thing that is absent from a lot of these stories is the fact that it was UT President Bill Powers, who was formerly Dean of the Law School (and a spectacularly good one I want to add), who began the aggressive use of Foundation monies in order to make the salary structure more market-sensitive, rather than seniority-sensitive. UVA salary information has been public for years, and anyone who has seen it, knows that's how theirs works. Powers brought Texas into line with UVA's practices (and that of other top law schools), and Sager has continued that. When what Powers did first came to light about five years ago (just as Sager was taking over as Dean), there was another burst of turmoil and resentment, and I do fear Sager inherited a lot of that. (A little anecdote: in 1999, the highest paid member of the UT Law faculty was the late great Charles Alan Wright. No surprise there. Here's the surprise: the second highest paid member of the faculty was not Sandy Levinson or Douglas Laycock or Russell Weintraub or L.A. Powe, Jr. or Jay Westbrook, or anyone you might have expected from the outside. I won't say who it was, but whenever I've told this story, everyone typically says, "Who's that?" And that was the problem Powers set out to fix.)
All that being said, and with all the financial data now in the public eye, it does strike me that some of the compensation packages are out of whack with any possible market rationale, but surely that is inevitable. Given how well-compensated Texas faculty are, one would think my esteemed former colleagues would receive this news with a bit more equanimity.
Professor David Bederman of Emory Law School passed away on Sunday. He was 50. Bederman, who received his JD from Virginia and his Ph.D from the University of London, was an international law scholar. He had been at Emory since 1991.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Valerie Couch, of Oklahoma City, has been named the new dean at Oklahoma City University School of Law. Couch, a 1983 graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Law, will take over on July 1.
The Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis has received a $24 million naming gift from retired banker and attorney Robert H. McKinney. The school will be renamed the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The Bloomington program is called the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. These big gifts are great for the schools, but now only insiders will be able to figure out which is which!