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UALR law professor files claim with state Claims Commission over Named Professorship

Claim seeks stipend amount by Ryan Anderson | September 23, 2022 at 3:42 a.m.
Robert Steinbuch (left), a University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor, and Theresa Beiner, dean of the W.H. Bowen School of Law at UALR, are shown in these undated file photos. (Left, courtesy photo; right, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette file photo)

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor has filed a claim with the Arkansas State Claims Commission saying he was improperly denied a named professorship despite being the best-qualified faculty member for the position.

Robert Steinbuch said that his failure to receive the Arkansas Bar Foundation Professorship -- which comes with a $10,250 stipend annually for four years -- was "at least an abuse of discretion" by Dean Theresa Beiner of the W.H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and he seeks an award of $10,250.

Beiner "did not employ the required donor selection criteria for the position, and improperly adopted a series of her own created substantive criteria, including arbitrarily limiting the time period of accomplishments considered to five years, which obviously benefits candidates without a long history of accomplishments," according to the claim. "Named Professorships are designed to reflect a career of accomplishments, which inevitably includes recent years, but are not designed to only consider recent accomplishments at the expense of also considering" the full records of candidates.

"Beiner filled the one Named Professorship she advertised with an applicant," Lindsey Gustafson -- who has been a member of the faculty since 1998 and was appointed Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in 2020 -- "who at minimum demonstrably and significantly didn't fulfill the requirements of the Arkansas Bar Foundation Professorship as well as Steinbuch did, if she (did) at all, which does not appear the case," according to the claim. "Had the rules been properly applied, Steinbuch would have received the Named Professorship and the accompanying $10,250, which he seeks in damages."

In his application for the Arkansas Bar Foundation Professorship -- which emphasizes excellence in teaching and in scholarship in Arkansas law, as well as "significant contributions to serving the Bench and Bar of Arkansas" -- Steinbuch cited qualifications such as receiving the Faculty Excellence Award in Public Service, being the only Fulbright Scholar (in teaching) on the faculty, routinely advising on and drafting legislation for state legislators, and litigating public-interest lawsuits for free as a practicing attorney in Arkansas.

He also practices in both state and federal court, chairs the Arkansas Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and is a member of the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Task Force, the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act Coalition, and the Arkansas Transparency in Government Group, among several other groups and organizations.

Steinbuch, who joined the law school faculty in 2005, also claims Beiner unilaterally extended the Named Professorship she holds, the Nadine Baum Distinguished Professor of Law, for a fifth year.

Named professorships in the law school are four-year terms for the holders, although the dean can extend them beyond four years if "development activities generate sufficient additional Named Professorships," or if specific terms of a donor in creating a Named Professorship differ, according to the complaint.

Beiner extending her own named professorship beyond four years violates not only the law school's stated rules -- no new named professorships have been created recently, which is a condition for extending a Named Professorship beyond four years for the same holder -- but a conflict of interest, according to Steinbuch.

Also in his filing, Steinbuch said he's being discriminated against because of his past conflicts with his superiors regarding naming a named professorship after former President Bill Clinton, as well as Steinbuch's longstanding practice of having guest lecturers for his classes when he observes Jewish holidays.

Steinbuch is represented in his complaint, which was filed Wednesday, by Arkansas attorney Chris Corbitt.

The claim will be reviewed by Claims Commission staff to determine whether it meets all filing requirements, and if it does, the Claims Commission will send the claim to the "agency" -- the UALR law school, in this case -- which will have 30 days from that point to file a response, according to the Claims Commission. "If the agency admits liability, then the claim can usually be completed (including payment) within several weeks after the filing of the agency's answer."

However, if they don't admit liability, they must file a response to the claimant with their reasons, and they may make a motion to dismiss the claim, according to the Claims Commission. The claimant would then have to respond to the motion to dismiss, and, if done so, all of those filings would be submitted to the five commissioners for review.

The commissioners can then, based on evidence, either dismiss the motion or set it for a hearing, where both parties would argue their case, similar to a civil court case, and the commissioners would ultimately rule in favor of one side or the other, according to the Claims Commission. Commissioners have several hearings scheduled throughout the year, with hearing dockets the rest of this year slated for Oct. 13-14, Nov. 17-18, and Dec. 15-16.

UALR declined comment, noting the university "does not comment on personnel or legal matters."

Print Headline: Wrongly denied distinction, says professor of law


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