Thursday, June 04, 2015
The Side Deal: Avoiding Transparency
A colleague at my law school has been schooling me on the side deal. It's not that I did not know they existed. If I had not known they existed, all the exposure of UT's "loans you don't pay back" would have enlightened me.
I am most interested in the forms of side deals and the motivation. First, though, what is the side deal? Say everyone gets a base salary and then a summer stipend ranging for 15% to 21% depending on whether you do research or teach in the summer. If you teach it varies with the credit hours. These are not side deals because the amounts are easily found and are available to everyone who complies with some basic rules -- write something in the summer.
Two other compensation "deals" are probably not side deals even though they are not available to all. Some folks have chairs that add to their base salary. Some people are on 12 month contracts. As far as I know these are not kept secret and everyone has a chance. Others get paid (a finder's fee) for supervising externs. At my school, however you cobble all these things together, your summer salary must not exceed 33% of your base salary. But if one of your side deals can be eased over to the base salary you can actually have all the summer deals you want.
Their are two characteristics of a side deal. First, administrators would strongly prefer not to reveal them which means, if you are interested, you have to dig around. Second, they are customized --something the law school would not have done if just trying to be the best school possible. Instead it only exists because of a desire to benefit one faculty member
A side deal could work like this: You have your base salary and your summer stipend and then the pot is sweetened by a payment that comes out of another budget line that no one would be likely to examine. For example a full time professor may be also found listed as an adjunct for teaching a specialized course that created for that person alone. Or, as we had at one time at my school -- the mystery leave. They seemed to be handed out to whomever was supporting the dean at the time.
Some side deals come in the form of release time, small sections, vanity courses, and directorship of yet another meaningless center. You might say those are not secret so why are they side deals. First, in some cases, it is difficult to determine what the deal is exactly. The main factor, though, is that it is a custom deal.
More interesting than side deal and all its manifestation is why are they so popular with law deans -- or at least some Law Deans or, perhaps, former law deans.
One reason they are popular is the personality of most law professors -- everything in life is a zero sum game and the weak knees of deans So the Dean may feel that Professor X should get 2K more than professor Y but realizes that Professor Y will have a melt down if he or she knew that X was making more than Y. So, the side deal allows the pay increase without causing Professor Y to have a breakdown or to file a lawsuit. Of course, and I know this is the craziest thing ever, the Dean could actually be prepared to defend a salary difference.
I will have more to say about the ridiculous matching offer obsession in the next post but sometimes Professor X gets an offer from another school (at my school, usually one you would never take) and the Dean matches it, This can be a front deal or a side deal. A straight up base salary match is not a side deal but paving the way for the professor to pick a little coin that is only found somewhere else in the books and only available to that professor is a side deal
Basically, a side deal is a way a dean buys a little more time as dean, He or she makes someone better off and, if at all possible, keeps it quiet or makes everyone else feel they have their own side deals.
The most interesting thing about the side deal is the tad of irony involved. Once it is know that side deals are possible people get suspicious, especially if they have their own side deal. They think, "if the dean is a shameless side dealer, how do I know someone else's side deal is not better than mine." A Dean who hands out side deals to keep his or her job creates a side deal feeding frenzy because even those benefiting know not to trust that dean.