End the forgivable loan program

Last year, Larry Sager, former dean of UT School of Law, loaned himself $500,000 from a private fund used to sweeten employment offers. When a group of disgruntled law school professors filed an open records request that disclosed Sager’s loan to himself and the whole forgivable loan operation, UT President William Powers Jr. asked Sager to step down from his post, and big questions were raised about the methods our law school employs to compete with higher-paying private institutions when recruiting faculty members. While UT may have one of the best law schools in the country, it’s also a public institution and cannot, in trying to compete with private universities, compromise its responsibility to be transparent. Barry Burgdorf, UT System vice chancellor and general counsel wrote in a recent report, “The idea of Dean Sager’s $500,000 forgivable personal loan was his. 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’s report, which the UT System released on Tuesday, determined that the forgivable loan program is not illegal but “inappropriate.” Burgdorf looked into the relationship between the University of Texas Law School Foundation and the University following Sager’s resignation.

Burgdorf’s report found that the forgivable personal loan program began in 2003, while Powers was serving as dean of the law school prior to his appointment as University president. The forgivable personal loan program expanded under Sager “in response to the departure of various law school faculty members … The report recognized the foundation’s significant role in the School of Law’s development helping supplement faculty compensation and providing adequate funding to retain the top faculty, but determined it inappropriate for a public institution to grant forgivable personal loans to faculty through an independent foundation.” We applaud Burgdorf’s call for sunlight when it comes to the law school because, in the words of former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, it is the best disinfectant.