UALR law professor adds to complaint about handling of named professorships

Arkansas online reports

LITTLE ROCK — University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor Robert Steinbuch has focused much of his complaints about the awarding of named professorships in the William H. Bowen School of Law on the Arkansas Bar Foundation Professorship.

His latest amended complaint to the Arkansas State Claims Commission includes new details of what he argues is improper handling of the Byron Eiseman named professorship.

The complaint, filed Monday by Steinbuch’s attorney Chris Corbitt, takes issue with a proposed revision from August 2022 that would focus that named professorship even more on a tax attorney and call it the Byron Eiseman Professorship in Taxation.

Eiseman, who has supported the Bowen law school for decades, including as an adjunct professor teaching estate planning and estate and gift taxation, established the endowed professorship in 2000.

It was to be known as the Byron M. Eiseman Distinguished Professorship in Taxation, with the holder known as the “Byron M. Eiseman distinguished professor in taxation,” unless the holder was not recognized in the area of taxation, in which case he or she would be the “Byron M. Eiseman Distinguished Professor,” according to the original agreement.

The holder was meant to be accomplished in teaching or scholarship in taxation, but if the dean couldn’t find such a person on the faculty, the recipient could be a full or distinguished professor recognized for accomplishments or scholarship in any area of law.

So, while the named professorship was meant for a tax specialist, it wasn’t restricted to that, and while “no one would dispute that I am not a tax attorney,” Steinbuch did serve as deputy senior counselor to the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, he said. In addition, he served on a commission to revamp the criminal investigation division of the IRS while at the Department of Justice.

The revised gift agreement was drafted roughly a month after Steinbuch emailed Bowen Dean Theresa Beiner with his arguments for him being awarded this particular named professorship, which was vacant.

The draft of the revised agreement states that the purpose of the endowed professorship is to attract, recruit and pay highly qualified individuals to the position of full professor in taxation at the law school, supplement university support for outstanding faculty in the law school and provide the holder of the professorship in taxation with the resources to continue and further contributions to teaching, research and public service at the law school.

Beiner noted last year that she planned to hold the position open to attract someone with expertise in tax law to the faculty. But late last year, a faculty appeals committee said “named professorships cannot be used in recruitment and hiring because tenure cannot be offered to new hires” — university policy classifies named professorships as “rewards” eligible only to tenured faculty members with the rank of full professor — “and rank for new hires is limited to the level of associate professor.”

Steinbuch argues in his complaint that the terms for this named professorship were set when it was established in 2000 and that they cannot be changed, even with a Feb. 9 email from Eiseman to Beiner stating that he hopes “you can find another Phil Oliver” — an attorney who taught tax at Bowen and held the Eiseman named professorship before retiring — “to join the faculty who could benefit from my gift.”

A donor “cannot change the terms of a gift agreement after the gift is given,” according to the latest amended complaint. “To do so would violate tax law.”

Steinbuch and Corbitt also filed a motion Wednesday to disqualify university counsel from this case, because head university counsel JoAnn Maxey was “part of the redrafting effort” for the Eiseman named professorship last August, he said. That redrafting/revision is “part of the wrongful behavior subject to this very proceeding.”

“If anyone is a witness or party to an action, he or she can’t be the attorney for anyone but” himself or herself, he added. “The whole entity” of university counsel “should be disqualified” from this case.

UALR and the University of Arkansas System declined to comment, with Nate Hinkel, director of communication for the UA System, and Carrie Phillips, chief communications and marketing officer at UALR, saying it’s against policy to comment on “pending litigation.”

Steinbuch would like this named professorship opened up so any faculty member could apply, not only someone devoted to tax law, and then filled, because it’s “past due,” he said. In addition, the draft of the revised agreement from August 2022 “shows the ongoing machinations at the law school [and that there’s] not been enough oversight of the law school’s administration.”