Former UM law dean is asked to refund $60,000

$410,000 in questionable payments referred to state attorney general's office

February 26, 2010|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

State university system officials have asked the former dean of the University of Maryland School of Law to return $60,000 in unauthorized compensation and have referred questionable payments totaling $410,000, which were revealed by a state legislative audit, to the attorney general's office for review.

Chancellor William E. Kirwan revealed those actions and apologized for the audit's findings at a hearing Thursday before the House subcommittee on education and economic development. He pinned responsibility for the $410,000 in payments on the recipient, former law dean Karen Rothenberg, and on David J. Ramsay, departing president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

"The fact that policies were not followed in these instances was a human failing representing bad judgment by two individuals," Kirwan said.

"This is a troubling report," he said. "And all of us at the university system are deeply regretful and apologetic that the matter has risen to the level of a General Assembly hearing."

Subcommittee Chairman John L. Bohanan Jr. said he found the audit troubling, but he added that system officials spared themselves harsher questioning by taking swift action and showing contrition. The St. Mary's County Democrat said the $410,000 in payments "does appear to be isolated rather than the reflection of a broken system."

Bohanan said the panel will ask Kirwan back later in the legislative session to update the system's progress on addressing the audit issues. He said the committee could recommend withholding some of UMB's $182 million budget, pending action on the audit items.

Clifford M. Kendall, chairman of the university system's Board of Regents, told legislators that the audit revealed some "very troubling issues" but said they should not overreact by treating the whole system as if it were rotten.

Kendall said the regents had acted swiftly to investigate the problems and fix them. He linked Ramsay's announcement that he would leave the UMB presidency on Monday to the audit, saying Ramsay would otherwise have stayed until July. The system announced Ramsay's replacement, Dr. Jay Perman, on Tuesday.

Bohanan asked Kirwan why the university system had demanded only $60,000 back from Rothenberg rather than the whole $410,000. Kirwan replied that the system hasn't ruled out asking for the other $350,000 but is waiting for advice from the attorney general before proceeding.

Rothenberg could not be reached for comment Thursday. The university said Ramsay will not be granting any interviews.

The chancellor said after the hearing that the system felt comfortable demanding the $60,000, a repayment for disbursements between fiscal year 2007 and fiscal 2009, because Rothenberg had instructed a subordinate to file for summer research payments without following proper procedure. The paperwork for the payments incorrectly listed Rothenberg as a 10-month employee rather than a 12-month employee, and the dean failed to submit required reports on her research, Kirwan said.

Rothenberg and Ramsay disagree on whether he gave her permission to take the summer payments.

The $350,000 was different, Kirwan said, because the payments were clearly authorized by Ramsay. He said the system referred the matter to the attorney general because "we felt there were unresolved questions that needed further analysis."

Some law school employees have said that Ramsay was justified in paying Rothenberg $350,000 to keep her in her job during a vital fundraising campaign. But Kirwan said Ramsay violated system policies by failing to notify the Board of Regents or the attorney general's office of the payments.

Several delegates said they were troubled that no one at UMB alerted university system officials to the payments.

Kirwan replied that the guidelines were clear and that the questionable payments did not demonstrate glaring flaws in the system's oversight.

"In well-run organizations of this size and complexity, there are instances where people violate policies and bad things happen," Kirwan said. "This was truly an exception."

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