Law Prof Rips School for Helping Poor Grads and Not Giving Him a Raise

Hell hath no fury like Rob Illig, University of Oregon securities law professor, emailing furiously for ANSWERS as to why his school is indulging in "white-man's guilt" by assisting recent graduates working in nonprofit law instead of raising his six-figure salary.

In what local media characterized as a "wild rant," Illig insists he could be making a cool million out on The Street as an M&A lawyer, but he stays around UO because he bleeds for his students—"Today, I spent the morning trying to get one of them a summer job at Nike."

Illig, a tenured associate professor who attended law school "tuition-free" in the '90s, reportedly makes more than $138,000 annually, plus a $10,000 university bonus; the average grad at Oregon Law leaves with about $105,000 in debt.

But he can't stand for this injustice, this iniquity, of making only $100,000 or so more than his former students, while the school plans to fund "a post-graduate fellowship program for new law grads, in lieu of accepting a pay increase" for him and his colleagues. So he sent the faculty some stern letters, and the faculty leaked 'em to a bunch of blogs.

Via the Tax Prof Blog, here's letter No. 1 to UO Law School Dean Michael Moffitt, in which Illig blasts the school for its plummeting U.S. News ranking and also its plan to "stiff" him:

Michael,

To my shock and amazement, I just learned – three days after the faculty meeting – that someone (you? the faculty?) is trying to take away my one-in-a-decade chance at a raise WITHOUT MY KNOWLEDGE OR CONSENT.

Why did I not know that this was on the agenda for the faculty meeting? Was the lack of notice intentional? (And was there a quorum?)

Why did no one announce the result? Certainly, someone changing my salary without my knowledge seems like something I would like to hear about. Was someone hoping I and the others who were unable to attend simply wouldn't notice until it was too late?

Note that I was unable to attend only because the regularly scheduled faculty meeting was recently re-scheduled to conflict with the Oregon Law Review's long-planned academic symposium at which I was presenting.

(And, by the way, the complete absence of the deans and faculty at that symposium was noticeable and embarrassing. A number of the very students we are trying to support asked why their other law review advisors, their deans, and their friends on the faculty failed to show up to support them. I was, in truth, ashamed and had no good explanation – and many of the students were clearly angry and disillusioned. Expect another class to graduate with ill feelings toward us. And throwing a few scholarships their way won't make up for our failure to be there when they need us.)

But back to the point – voting on this important a decision without notice and without serious consideration was a gross breach not only of procedure but of TRUST.

What did the agenda say? "Discussion of Graduate Fellowships." Pardon my French, but this is absolute bullshit. Colleagues do not ambush one another like this.

How can I trust the administration or any of my faculty colleagues? No wonder we've become a third-tier law school. Who's going to want to come here to study or teach in this kind of poisonous atmosphere?

As soon as money got tight, we seem to have turned on one another as if this was a zero-sum game. Well, it isn't. And enough is enough.

I've watched as our culture has eroded now for almost three years. Everyone is in everyone else's business, instead of their own. Everyone is worried about what everyone else is getting, not what they can personally contribute. If some professor or professors want to donate their raise to the students – or to some other worthy charity – that's their business. (Personally, i give to Food for Lane Country, Planned Parenthood, and the United Way. I feel that having given up the chance at a seven-figure annual income is charity enough for the students, and I am particularly saddened by hungry children. Maybe I should move that the recipients of summer stipends donate those funds to the poor and needy?)

We need a strategy. We need teamwork. We need an Oregon culture where everyone can trust one another. Please, please, can we go back to the Oregon I love?

Apparently, there was some backlash among the email's recipients, because Illig felt the need to expand on his thesis about being treated unfairly:

Folks,

I'm sorry, but I just can't stop thinking about what I've just heard. I am truly in shock. Who is paying attention at this law school to our culture?

No wonder the students and faculty are disillusioned and our ranking is plummeting.

As I learn more of the details of Friday's proposal, I am even more perplexed by its logic and frightened by its poison.

Is this some kind of faculty version of white-man's guilt? We see students without jobs and think that if we throw them a few of our dollars we can go back to our scholarship and not worry about whether they are getting real careers and real training? We can study the 17th Century and believe we are preparing them for the 21st?

Is this some kind of faculty version of white-man's guilt? We see students without jobs and think that if we throw them a few of our dollars we can go back to our scholarship and not worry about whether they are getting real careers and real training? We can study the 17th Century and believe we are preparing them for the 21st?

What we owe them is our time and effort and skill, not our paltry raises (which, by the way, don't even cover the increase in the cost of living).

And why stop at our raises? Why didn't the proposal include the summer stipends that a shrinking minority of the faculty received? Why not donate those to the students as well?

We each face different financial pressures. And we each make all sorts of charitable and other contributions, in both money and kind. Should we put them all on the table? Do I get to keep more of my raise because last year I gave more to the United Way than any other dean or faculty member, even though I am by no means the highest paid? or because I gave up the most salary when I joined the academy? or because my wife is chair of the city's budget committee and personally pushed through a multi-million dollar bond measure to rebuild a number of 4J's aging schools?

And what about faculty with no children or elderly parents to care for? Should they give more? Or faculty who purchased their houses when prices were low instead of high? i have only one daughter whose college I must pay for, but [names deleted] have more. Should I be asked to donate more to the student fellowships since my expenses will presumably be lower? What if my daughter does to a lower priced state school instead of a private college? Should that make a difference?

And am I to blame for the bad economy? Are my efforts so lacking as to make the difference between students with jobs and without? Is my teaching and mentoring so deficient as to merit what is essentially a pay cut, given that Johnson Hall has already approved the monies?

These are questions we just shouldn't be asking. That's why faculty don't set each other's salaries. It is nothing but poison to start digging into what is fair in terms of needs.

We are the most underpaid unit on campus, according to Johnson Hall figures. Is it possible that our third-tier status is actually related to the fact that our incomes are falling as compared to the cost of living? as compared to our competitors? Is it possible that when you pay more you get more?

And what are the sponsors of the proposal doing to raise law school income? My Summer Sports Institute – which the faculty voted wasn't a priority – is already projected to bring profit into the law school, not to mention a reputational boost. I've got faculty from top 50 schools, plus students from places like Michigan and McGill. Our reputation has spread as far as South Africa and Turkey, with interested students there trying to raise the funds to come to Eugene. The students are also close to 50% minorities. And, again, it's going to be profitable in its very first year.

Telling me (or anyone else in this law school, whether they are faculty or staff) that I (or they) don't deserve a raise approved by Johnson Hall is simply insulting. And going down that path starts to put us in the place of K-12 educators, where well-meaning teachers would like to do more but aren't being rewarded to do more. It puts the teachers against the students. And without an occasional raise, where do you think I'm going to be incentivized to put my efforts?

The culprit here isn't us. So let's stop turning our anger and our efforts on each other.

If you want to lead, lead my example, not by fiat. And certainly not by ambush.

We had a once-great culture that I was proud to join. But it isn't standing up to the test of the economic uncertainty. We need to work together and be proud of one another's many varied achievements. And we need to help the students with our real, individual efforts, not with symbolic gestures that undercut our trust in one another.

This is not the Oregon I knew.

There's too much awesomeness in these letters to parse point-by-point. And it all pales compared with how Illig defended himself in online comments:

In my former life, I was an M&A lawyer at a large New York law firm, where I was all but certain to be earning more that $1 million annually. No one can tell me I'm not on the students' side.

My students are my life. I sacrifice for them every day. Today, I spent the morning trying to get one of them a summer job at Nike. I do the same every day...

So while I respect that many CAS faculty might envy my salary, I envy the salaries of CEOs, many of whom only attended graduate school for only 2 years. And don't forget the doctors – they went to school for 4 years, not the 6-8 that you put in.

But my larger point is – why attack me and my salary? I'm not the problem. The problem is the paltry sums the state allocates to public education. The problem is the way we allocate money in our society.

You shouldn't be angry that I earn so much. You should be angry that you don't earn more. Instead of trying to bring me down, let's all work together to try and bring everyone up. We're actually in the same boat, whether you realize it or not...

It is worth pointing out that Illig's salary and the earnings of his UO peers are actually a bit higher than comparable faculties.

For its part, Oregon's law school publicly responded on its blog that the plan for student fellowships is not a done deal, but the faculty remains "committed" to solving the "employment issues facing our graduates." The next post on UO's blog was by a current student, who argued that "a professional person should never send an email to a large group of people when he would not feel comfortable with the whole world possibly seeing that email."

What does Illig say about all that? Not much; he hasn't commented to the press. But the final line in his final online comment appears relevant: "Everybody please just stop confusing who the bad guys are!"

[Photo credits: U. of Oregon]