Payments to UM law dean 'worth every penny'

February 22, 2010

Your article "Ex-dean of UMB law is audit target" (Feb. 20) about an audit that labeled payments to former law school dean Karen Rothenberg as "questionable" is an unfortunate example of the adage "no good deed goes unpunished ." The University of Maryland, Baltimore is being criticized for payments that secured great value and were clearly in its best interests. I have some first-hand knowledge about this matter and cannot be silent while others are unfairly criticized.

Karen Rothenberg became dean of the University of Maryland School of Law in 2000. By 2006, the universal assessment was that she had done a fantastic job. She had moved the law school up into the top tier of the nation's law schools, she had raised incredible amounts of money, she had significantly increased alumni involvement, and she had strengthened the faculty.

Dean Rothenberg was poised to move on to higher opportunities. But, we at the law school and at all levels of the university wanted desperately to hold on to her as dean for another few years. Because her compensation was already significantly below that of other veteran deans of Tier 1 (top 50) law schools, I urged Dean Rothenberg to use professional representation in any negotiations she had with the university. I recommended the best expert on negotiations I know, Ronald Shapiro.

Rothenberg met with Mr. Shapiro once. But, out of loyalty to the university and her admiration and respect for UMB President David Ramsay, she declined Mr. Shapiro's help and decided to negotiate on her own. The retention package she received, totaling $410,000, was significantly less than she deserved and could have obtained had she chosen to bargain hard with the university.

As to the budget categories used for the payments, universities tend not to have a discreet budget category titled "keeping your best people." Consequently, university presidents and deans who wish to retain their top talent draw the funds from existing compensation categories, such as sabbaticals, research grants, stipends and special funds.

Whether this flexibility should be retained or the compensation categories should be restructured raises legitimate issues for the future. But the payments that kept Karen Rothenberg as dean of the law school for another four years were worth every penny.

Larry S. Gibson, Baltimore

The writer has been a member of the University of Maryland School of Law faculty for 36 years but does not speak for the university.

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