On Dec. 8, William Powers Jr., president of The University of Texas at Austin, says he requested and received the immediate resignation of UT School of Law Dean Lawrence Sager.

Powers, himself a former dean of the UT law school, says Sager already had announced his plans to leave in 2012 and his decision-making was creating “a divided atmosphere among the faculty that is not conducive to being productive.”

Sager confirms he was asked to resign, but says, “This has been a wonderful deanship.”

In August, Sager emailed law school faculty stating that he would “not ask to be appointed for an additional term” once his current six-year term expired in 2012. In the email, Sager noted accomplishments under his tenure, such as the appointment of 16 new professors, nearly $80 million in fundraising and UT’s rise in U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings from No. 17 to No. 14.

A graduate of Columbia Law School in New York City, Sager joined the UT law school as a professor in 2002, and became dean in 2006. Described as “one of the nation’s preeminent constitutional theorists and scholars” on UT’s website, he came to Texas from New York University School of Law, having previously taught at Harvard, Princeton, Boston University, UCLA and the University of Michigan.

Stefanie A. Lindquist, associate dean for academic affairs, now is interim dean of the law school, Powers says.

He says the search committee established when Sager announced his 2012 departure will continue looking for a permanent replacement and most likely will announce a new law dean by March 2012.

Powers says he had hoped Sager’s announcement that he would not seek an additional term as law dean would quell faculty concerns. But the dissension continued, Powers says, and faculty members “remained very concerned about some of the judgments of the dean [Sager].” So Powers says he decided to ask Sager to step down immediately.

Powers declines to give specifics on the faculty concerns saying, “Leave that for another day.”

Making the matter more urgent, Powers says, is that the law school is engaged in recruiting new faculty members and the divisive atmosphere had threatened to hinder those efforts. Powers says recruiting will be easier now that prospective hires know “a change is under way.”

UT law professor Julius Getman says some faculty members “felt that the system of compensation was not fair” at the law school. “I don’t want to say bad things about Dean Sager. But I understand why President Powers felt he had to act when he did. There was the possibility of faculty dissension and the acting dean is someone the faculty trusts and who is not at all divisive.”

Three UT law school professors sent an Oct. 10 open records request to UT officials, confirms Jack Sampson, who along with Getman was one of the law professors who made the request. They sought detailed information about faculty compensation beyond salary figures, such as signing bonuses, tuition payments for spouses and children, and housing allowances, he says. UT officials responded on Nov. 15 with detailed financial information that includes faculty compensation and a list of $4.65 million in loans made to law school faculty members from May 15, 2006, through Sept. 15, 2011. That list shows a $500,000 loan made in 2009 to Sager to be paid back over five years. Sager could not be reached for follow-up comment on that loan. [See the open records request and response.]

In a seven-page letter Sager sent to faculty on Dec. 8, before Powers asked him to resign, he wrote: “This has been a terrific run, and it has not been easy.” He identifies his “highest priority” as dean: to build and maintain faculty. In the letter, Sager wrote that he has used nonsalary commitments to attract and keep faculty, which other law schools do as well. [See the Sager letter.]

“All that said, I may have not gotten every case right in the course of our sustained effort to build and hold on to our faculty. Given the importance of the objective, I was surely drawn to the side of generosity. And, whether perfectly calibrated or not, the compensation packages that have resulted from our hiring campaign have raised concerns about disparities in our overall salary structure, disparities which in some cases are attributable to long-standing, systematic judgments of the Budget Committee and former deans,” Sager wrote in the letter, which he provided to Texas Lawyer.

In an interview, Sager characterizes the faculty compensation issues as “circumstances that undermine” the success he has achieved at the law school. He says he became a dean at a time when nontransparency regarding faculty compensation was the norm at UT and other law schools. But during his tenure, he says, “transparency began rolling in” and “the transition between transparency and nontransparency” created problems. Specifically, in the 2009-2010 academic school year, he says he shared compensation information with a budget committee composed of faculty members but due to privacy concerns, he allowed only a subcomittee to see one-time loan arrangements with certain faculty members. Subsequently, some faculty members sought and received the open records information regarding compensation, he says.

 Sager believes that after he announced his plans to leave UT Law by August 2012, he became “a lame duck . . . Once I announced I was stepping down I was in a very exposed position.”

As a member of the UT law faculty, he says he will continue to teach in the spring 2012 semester but he may take a sabbatical in future years. After that, his plans are unknown. 

He adds that UT Law has tremendous resources and a first-rate student body. Notes Sager, “I’m hopeful that a potential candidate for deanship will see past the static.”