Former UMB law dean was employee who received 'questionable payments'

Audit found that a high-ranking administrator received $350,000 for sabbatical that was never taken

February 19, 2010|By Childs Walker |

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.

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 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.

Officials from UMB, the state university system and the office of legislative audits declined to identify the administrator. But state Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, a Democrat who represents Howard and Baltimore counties, said Friday that the former law dean was the administrator in question.

Rothenberg, who left the dean's job last year but still works as a professor at the law school, did not respond to calls and e-mails seeking comment.

University officials have not commented on the details of the payments, but the audit says of the $350,000, "We were advised by UMB management personnel that these payments were to compensate the employee since, while eligible, the employee's duties and responsibilities precluded the employee from being able to pursue academic growth by conducting sabbatical research."

The House appropriations committee and Senate committee on budget and taxation plan to hold hearings on the audit Feb. 25 and March 1, respectively.

Though legislators are still gathering information on the audit, several have said it raises serious concerns about payroll oversight in the university system.

"It's hard to believe there's any good explanation for why this occurred," Kasemeyer said. "You would think there would be some kind of check or balance that would set an alarm off. I haven't heard any answers for how this could have been so isolated."

Kasemeyer said he expects university officials to face aggressive questioning from legislators.

Chancellor William E. Kirwan said he was "deeply concerned" about the issues raised in the audit and was investigating the matter at the request of the university system's Board of Regents.

Ramsay issued a statement Thursday, saying that "the leadership of UMB is working diligently to address every issue."

The audit says none of the payments to the administrator were supported by overall policies on bonuses, summer research or unused sabbatical; the university has since created policy on summer payments and is working on one regarding bonuses. The administrator also did not submit the materials required by the university to document sabbatical research, according to the audit.

Sabbaticals are designed to give professors time away from teaching and administrative responsibilities to conduct research that will benefit the university and enhance their academic standing. Under university system guidelines, sabbaticals are generally granted for one half of an employee's work year at the employee's normal rate of compensation or for a full work year at half the normal pay rate.

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