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January 15, 2013 11:30 AM New England Law’s Very Expensive Dean

By Daniel Luzer

NESL

Purdue’s new president, Mitch Daniels, might be making news due to his decision to accept a lower salary than his predecessor, and receive pay raises only for demonstrated, and specific, effectiveness, but it’s clear the Daniels plan isn’t exactly standard at this point.

The Boston Globe reported this weekend that John F. O’Brien, the dean of New England Law School, is incredibly well paid:

John F. O’Brien, may be the highest paid law school dean in America, pocketing more than $867,000 a year in salary and benefits, includ¬ing a “forgivable loan” that he used to buy a Florida condominium.
But O’Brien’s story is more than the tale of a richly compensated school administrator. It is also the story of a professor who vaulted, just a few years into his academic career, to the top job at a lower-tier law school in large part through shrewd networking, sheer persistence, and a close relationship with the school’s board of trustees, many of whom have served on the board for most or all of O’Brien’s 25-year tenure as dean.

This is crucial here, because it’s not really clear that O’Brien has done an amazing job, but he does enjoy a very good relationship with the people in charge of paying his salary.

O’Brien earns about three times the median salary of law school deans nationally, despite the fact that his law school isn’t, well, really that good. Less than 30 percent of its 2011 graduates found long-term, full-time positions that required bar membership. The institution ranks in the “fourth tier” of law schools in the United States, but costs $42,490.

O’Brien doesn’t deny that he’s well paid, but explained to the Globe that “I think most people would tell you I come to work and I work very hard, day in and day out.”

Well yes, but coming to the office every day and working hard does not justify $867,000 a year; that’s just basic competence.

The trustees maintain that O’Brien is worth it, but it’s not really clear if he’s worth it to students or to maintaining the real academic quality of the program.

But he might be very well worth it to NESL’s bottom line. According to the article, during O’Brien’s tenure the school has increased tuition by more than 80 percent and essentially doubled the percentage of applicants it accepts. All of this raises a lot of revenue for the school. According to the Globe, in 2011 NESL “reported that revenues exceeded expenses by $10 million… which would represent a profit of roughly 30 percent if it were a for-profit company.”

I guess by some measures that is worth $870,000 a year. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer