Friday, December 9, 2011

Turmoil at Texas

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.

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