Ex-UMB law dean apologizes for audit's findings

She agrees to repay $60,000 in 'questionable' payments

March 01, 2010|By Childs Walker | childs.walker@baltsun.com

The former dean of the University of Maryland School of Law has offered to repay $60,000 in compensation questioned by a state audit and is "deeply sorry over any negative impact" the audit's findings have caused, according to a letter released Monday by her attorney.

The letter says that former dean Karen Rothenberg offered to return the $60,000 to David Ramsay, outgoing president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, upon learning on Feb. 16 that the audit had raised concerns about payments she received for summer research between fiscal 2007 and fiscal 2009.

The letter, the first public response to the audit from Rothenberg, also says she regarded a $350,000 payment that nearly doubled her compensation in fiscal 2007 as a "retention package to keep her as Dean."

The state audit deemed the combined $410,000 in compensation "questionable" and state university leaders have sharply criticized Ramsay and Rothenberg for ignoring guidelines in agreeing to the payments.

William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the state university system, asked Rothenberg to repay the $60,000 last week as part of his response to the audit. The system also referred questions about Rothenberg's compensation to the attorney general for further review.

Kirwan reiterated that the payments were inappropriate at a state Senate hearing on Monday. He said that Rothenberg erred by asking a subordinate to process the summer research payments. He also noted that she was incorrectly portrayed as a 10-month employee in paperwork.

In the letter, Rothenberg's attorney, Shale D. Stiller of DLA Piper, writes that she believed the payments were approved by Ramsay as part of her annual review process. He adds that she did not see the inaccurate paperwork, filed on her behalf, until a week ago.

The letter says it was "regrettable" that auditors did not speak with Rothenberg before issuing their report and says she would have offered to return the $60,000 sooner if they had shared their concerns with her.

University officials said it's less clear whether Rothenberg acted inappropriately in accepting the $350,000. Ramsay approved those payments, referring to them in internal memos as compensation for sabbatical that Rothenberg never took. But Kirwan said an interview with Ramsay revealed that the money was intended to keep Rothenberg, whose contract was nearing an end, in her job.

In a letter released last week, the school's Board of Visitors lauded Rothenberg's many achievements as dean and defended Ramsay's efforts to keep her. Other students and faculty members have also spoken out on her behalf.

Asked Monday if Rothenberg did anything wrong by accepting the $350,000 from her boss, Kirwan said, "We're going to have to wait to hear from the attorney general on that."

"He did something wrong," he said, referring to Ramsay, who retired as president on Monday. Kirwan said Ramsay violated several university policies when he failed to submit Rothenberg's compensation agreement for review by the attorney general's office and the university system's Board of Regents.

After listening to several legislators praise Ramsay's work over 15 years as UMB president, Kirwan said, "That's why this has been the most difficult week of my professional life."

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