Fallout continued last week from events that led to the resignation of a University of Texas School of Law Dean in 2011. On Nov. 15, UT System Board of Regents Chairman William Eugene “Gene” Powell said the panel will establish a new task force and seek “to identify and cease any impermissible direct payments, benefits, or reimbursements to UT employees for their work on behalf of UT from external sources and to assure that external support is not provided in the form of gifts targeted to specific individuals.”
The Regents’ actions followed the issuance earlier in the week of a legal review of the relationship between the UT School of Law and the UT Law School Foundation, a charitable organization formed by alums, and what happened when a former law school dean received payments from the Foundation.
Barry Burgdorf, the UT System general counsel and vice chancellor, authored that review. In it, Burgdorf describes a $500,000 forgivable loan that former UT School of Law Dean Larry Sager received from the Foundation after he allegedly requested it for himself. “Obviously, this lack of transparency and accountability is unacceptable and, at a minimum, it creates an impression of self-dealing that cannot be condoned,” Burgdorf wrote in his review.
In a Nov. 2 letter to Powell from the Texas Office of the Attorney General, First Assistant Daniel Hodge wrote that his office had read Burgdorf’s report and agreed with it. “We can advise only that the Foundation’s forgivable loan program, particularly as operated by Dean Sager, was both legally and ethically problematic and should therefore be abandoned,” Hodge wrote.
In December 2011, Sager resigned as the law school dean in the wake of pressure from faculty members who complained about what they saw as his administration's lack of transparency, particularly concerning compensation issues. According to a statement released in response to Burgdorf and the AG, Glenn Smith, a spokesman for Sager, said: The assertion “that Dean Larry Sager in any way ‘authorized’ compensation for himself is grossly inaccurate and not based upon any of the findings or interviews contained in the study by the UT general counsel.” The statement says Sager’s “deferred compensation” was “authorized and approved” by the Foundation’s independent executive committee. The statement also says Sager “made no attempt whatsoever ‘to avoid oversight by more senior University officials’ as the Attorney General's letter asserts.”
UT President Powers also responded to the Burgdorf report, issuing on Nov. 15 a statement: “For more than a half century, the Law School Foundation has been invaluable in helping transform UT Law into one of the nation's premier schools. The report released by the UT System recognizes the Foundation's vital role in maintaining a nationally ranked law school. … I welcome these recommendations and look forward to working with the foundation to make our relationship even stronger.” Ward Farnsworth, who replaced Sager as dean of the law school, and John Massey, the Foundation president, did not respond to emailed inquiries by press time.
-- Miriam Rozen