UM law student: Dean's compensation out of line

February 23, 2010

I take issue with Professor Larry Gibson's letter to the editor, written in response to your article "Ex-dean of UMB law is audit target" (Feb. 20). As a former student of Professor Gibson's, I have great respect for his contributions to the school of law and the city of Baltimore. However I believe he willfully attempts to steer the focus away from important questions involving Karen Rothenberg's compensation. In doing so, he provides irresponsible justifications for compensating individuals who ultimately provide a public service to our state. As I, and all students of the school, have been asked to do, I will attempt to withhold judgment until all the facts are known. As such, I will attempt to limit my criticisms to the contents of the good professor's letter.

Primarily I want to draw attention to an aspect of the professor's narrative which I find quite disturbing. Professor Gibson notes that the $410,000 retention package Ms. Rothenberg received to continue her service as dean was "significantly less than she deserved" and she "could have received more had she chosen to bargain hard with the university." Professor Gibson then goes on to explain that certain incentives, including sabbaticals, research grants, stipends and special funds are used to compensate university employees because the universities "tend not to have a discreet budget category called 'keeping your best people.'"

Beyond demonstrating an insensitivity to an already sizeable and publicly subsidized salary, Professor Gibson's underlying assumption seems to suggest that public institutions are justified in using shadowy funding practices to compensate valued employees. Accepting that position as true, it follows that: any valued state worker could be told by a boss, "We appreciate you and your candor in not hiring a high-priced attorney to negotiate for you; so despite the fact that the state government has limited the public's money that can be expended on your salary, we'll compensate you generously with funds intended for other purposes." In a time of financial crisis, such an assertion is nothing less than irresponsible, especially when the disparity between executive compensation, state budget deficits and overwhelming student debt is considered.

I would also like to address The Sun's use of the word "questionable" in describing the payments to Ms. Rothenberg. This provocative term has generated a great deal of the controversy because some see it as a preliminary indictment of the former dean before the full factual picture is known. In the spirit of the law school's plea to its students, I think it is only prudent that all representatives of the law school refrain from entrenching in a position and try and not be responsive to necessarily provocative language. I'd suggest terming the payments as questionable is generous; more slanderous terms abound. As there is a legitimate "question" as to where the money came from and why it was paid, the term meets the writer's need and fulfills his duty as a journalist. Whether or not the pay received by former Dean Rothenberg is exposed as acceptable or inappropriate will be discovered.

Dennis Robinson, Baltimore

The writer is a student at the University of Maryland School of Law.

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