A recent case before the state Claims Commission provides a window into yet another instance of taxpayer-supported lawlessness at the Bowen Law School.
In 2004, Professor Tom Sullivan was appointed the Howard Professor of Law at the UALR Bowen School of Law. At that time, the university also granted Sullivan a salary raise and the honorific “distinguished professor.” In 2009, then-Dean John DiPippa refused to renew Sullivan as the Howard Professor. In fact, he was the only named professor who wasn’t reappointed. To add insult to injury, the university subsequently lowered Sullivan’s salary and took away his imprimatur “distinguished professor.”
After giving the university some time to correct its mistake, Sullivan decided to sue in the Arkansas Claims Commission. Sullivan’s complaint aptly emphasized that it is illegal to reduce a tenured professor’s salary once granted.
Associate University Counsel Sarah James argued against Sullivan at the Claims Commission that it was “understood” that non-renewal automatically required loss of annual compensation originally awarded after garnering a named professorship. When lawyers argue that an outcome is “understood,” they generally have neither the facts or law behind them. I think it is impossible to avoid the legal conclusion that the compensation that the university provided Sullivan was derived from his tenured professorship – and that, therefore, it was not lawfully subject to reduction.
Oddly, DiPippa testified by affidavit that he had no “personal animus” toward Sullivan in reducing Sullivan’s salary at the time when he awarded the last of four distinguished professorships to Professor (and now Associate Dean) Theresa Beiner.
“I thought it odd that Dean Emeritus DiPippa would deny ‘personal animus’ motivated his decision, since I had never claimed that he had any personal animus toward me,” Sullivan told TAP.
DiPippa also told then-Chancellor Joel Anderson that he gave a named professorship to Professor Beiner, rather than Sullivan, based on her national reputation for scholarship. Sullivan told TAP: “I have spent a great deal of my scholarly efforts publishing on issues arising in Arkansas law, and still do. I would think that a state funded school would value that.”
Sullivan also pointed out that the university’s lawyers attached an affidavit from the Law School’s chief financial officer, Robert Fleming, who testified that the Howard Professorship was awarded based on teaching excellence – which is in apparent conflict with DiPippa’s decisional criteria: namely, reputation for scholarship by faculty members.
Sullivan explained that he delayed in bringing his suit when the now-departing Bowen Dean, Michael Hunter Schwartz, assumed the deanship in 2014: “I waited to see if Dean Schwartz would address the situation. Instead, I have experienced nothing but retaliation from the Dean since. I think this is because I am sort of ‘old-school’ and don’t agree with the departing Dean’s ‘new age’ approach to legal education. In my view, his approach explains, at least in part, the fact that a third of our graduates failed the law Bar examination. I decided to file with the Claims Commission only after Dean Schwartz gave me the lowest raise of any member of the teaching faculty last summer. I appealed his decision to the Provost, who ruled in my favor and increased my raise for this year to average level.”
Sullivan gave notice of appeal to the Arkansas General Assembly on December 30, 2016. Under state law, the only appeal from a ruling by the Claims Commission is to the General Assembly.
In fairness, I tend to think that Bowen is not the only entity with egg on its face here. The Claims Commission didn’t only find that the substance of Sullivan’s claim was lacking — a conclusion I disagree with. I take no position on the Commission’s other finding: namely, that Sullivan missed the filing deadline set by the statute of limitations. Nonetheless, this case provides yet another example of the long train of mismanagement at Bowen – in this instance, one aided and abetted by the (thankfully) soon-to-be-departing dean of the Bowen Law School, Michael Schwartz. Schwartz recently announced at a faculty meeting that he was leaving to accept a deanship at another law school: California’s McGeorge School of Law. McGeorge acquired a kind of negative fame in 2014, when it was found to be the nation’s lowest-ranked accredited law school — perhaps in part because the fruits of a McGeorge legal education in 2013 were that less than 14 percent of its graduates were employed at graduation.
The Arkansas Project has broken numerous stories about UALR’s law school dean, Michael Hunter Schwartz, in recent years. The Arkansas Project has publicized Schwartz’s attempt to create an unconstitutional affirmative action program, his illegal spending of $100,000 of public money designated for legal education on a law school gym, his attempt to bar a journalist from a public meeting, his instigation of an investigation against a conservative faculty member in a manner that violated academic freedom, his attempts to block access to public records, and his manifold contributions to the law school’s dwindling bar passage rates. Four days after the Arkansas Project broke last year’s newest Schwartz story – an announcement to students in which he suggested that the outcome of the November elections was so uniquely abhorrent that he intended to make mental health counseling available to law students – UALR’s chancellor accepted Schwartz’s resignation.
I hope that Schwartz’s not-so-lateral transfer to McGeorge marks an end to the continuing series of management embarrassments that Bowen has seen in the last few years. And I hope, for Dean Schwartz’s sake, that the McGeorge community is eager to see him arrive. Regrettably, I suspect that more than a few in the Bowen community are eager to see him leave.