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February 22, 2010


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Mary Dudziak

Readers might also want to see Larry Gibson's defense of Dean Rothenberg, here:,0,5980258.story

Jennifer Bard

I've reviewed the "Above the Law" post and have two observations--1) Dean Karen Rothenberg is a highly competent, ethical and successful legal academic/administrator and good for her if she was able to draw a salary close to(although still substantially lower) than that of a college president, provost or many medical school professors! Whose business is that beyond, possibly, Maryland taxpayers? I doubt she is the highest compensated individual on the University of Maryland campus (don't they have a Basketball Coach or two?) and 2) The comments from people who claim to be law school graduates are remarkable for the anger and pain they express. These people don't know Dean Rothenberg and have nothing substantive to say about her. Rather, what they are expressing is outrage that a law school dean should be paid almost $800,000 when they cannot get a job. That pain has nothing to do with Dean Rothenberg and it is something for us all to look at. And by "look at" I really mean study.

1. Dean Rothenberg
To the extent this anger is directed to a specific dean for an amount of salary it is misplaced. College Presidents are almost all in the "Million Dollar Man Club" (and who knows, maybe her trying to join that club is part of the outrage) and many medical school deans are pretty close--certainly in the $600,000-$800,000 range. Putting aside the clumsiness with which the university chose to structure her compensation, she was more than worth that amount to the University of Maryland and to its alumni. In the six years she was Dean she took an under-rated state law school and turned it into an institution which is now perceived as an academic powerhouse. Success followed success and its rise in the US News rankings was of direct benefit to all its alumni.
It's unfortunate and unfair that the way the University of Maryland chose to express its gratitude has back-fired to the detriment of a highly ethical and successful legal academic.

2. Law Students
The anger expressed is real. Law students and recent graduates are hurting. What can we, as legal academics, do to help?
It's nearly impossible to fix a problem until you really understand it. For example, common sense suggests that graduates of public law school come out with less debt and therefore are less burdened by the inevitable "bi-modal distribution" which leaves them earning half of what those 'lucky' enough to get into Big Law are paid. In other words, what do we know about how the bimodal salary distribution combined with the debt loads they face affect their lives and futures? beyond the NALP study confirming that it exists
Does that mean private law school is never a good buy? Should everyone in Massachusetts turn down Harvard for the new public law school? Should everyone in Connecticut turn down Yale for UCONN? We don't know that. Neither "common sense" nor "gut beliefs" have much validity. What are the other variables? Are the students from private law schools more able to find a job--even though they carry a higher debt load?

Comparisons are hard with law schools because of the extreme regional variations in both job availability and salaries, but if indeed people are borrowing more money than they can reasonably hope to repay then of course they are angry. It's easy enough to sit back and say what they "should have known" but the other research question is the availability of this information. All of us publish and report "averages" which probably do even-out a lot of variation.

In this internet era where every Google search of her name will turn up an implication that she has behaved unethically--when in fact nothing of the sort happened-this is a very unfortunate and unfair event. Any of us (and our alumni) would be lucky if a Dean came to our school and in six years did what she did for the University of Maryland.

But to the extent it is a measure of the anger law students shouldering heavy debt levels harbor perhaps we, as a profession, should be more concerned and should see this as a wake-up call for all of us to reassess what we're doing and how it is working for our students after they graduate.

Eric Rasmusen

How funny! It's pretty amazing that law professors are willing to defend Dean Rothenberg. The defense that "Well, college presidents and medical school deans are paid this much" doesn't cut it. She's not a college president or medical school dean is she? From your defense, I gather she's paid far more than law school deans are.

And of course you law professors aren't really addressing the way the extra money was paid. $60,000--- no small sum--- was paid by violating the rules outright by pretending she was eligible for summer research grants. Why isn't that criminal fraud? (if so, would whichever faculty committee authorized it be guilty too?)

As for the other $350,000 as compensation for untaken sabbatical,how ethical is it to accept that favor from the president when no other faculty member can do that?

There's another problem, one I haven't seen mentioned. At every university I know of, sabbatical pay is one term of full salary or two terms of half salary. That woudl be between 140,000 and 240,000 for her, depending on the year she took the sabbatical. How come she's getting $350,000? See,0,5980258.story

Eric Rasmusen

ps. I'm an economist, so perhaps I should add that perhaps the Dean's market value or value to the school was indeed much higher than what she was paid. But that's a separate question entirely. If a dean were underpaid, so the president told the campus cops to look the other way while the dean held up the university cashier's office at gunpoint, we oughtn't approve.

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