A University of Arkansas at Little Rock law professor’s claim that he was wrongly denied an appointed professorship when he was the most qualified faculty member for the post moved a step closer to being reviewed by the five-member Arkansas State Claims Commission.
The law professor and his attorney filed a response Monday to a Nov. 1 motion to dismiss by the university’s general counsel’s office. Along with this response to the motion to dismiss, Professor Robert Steinbuch and his lawyer, Chris Corbitt, filed a revised complaint containing more information and “clarifying some things”, Steinbuch said Tuesday.
The university and attorney can now refile the motion to dismiss in response to the revised complaint, admit liability, or allow commissioners to review all documents from both sides.
The commissioners can then, based on evidence, either dismiss the complaint or set it for a hearing, where both parties would argue their case, similar to a case in civil court, and the commissioners would ultimately decide in favor of a party or the other, according to the Complaints Commission. The next hearing – and the last for this calendar year – will take place on December 15 and 16.
Steinbuch said his failure to receive the Arkansas Bar Foundation professorship — which comes with a stipend of $10,250 a year for four years — was “at least an abuse of discretion.” by Dean Theresa Beiner of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. He seeks compensation in the amount of $10,250, payment of his attorney’s fees, and “any other just and proper relief.”
The complaint was first filed with the Claims Commission in September, but UALR Associate General Counsel Mindy Pipkin filed a motion to dismiss the claim earlier this month. Steinbuch and Corbitt filed a response to that motion to dismiss on Monday, as well as to the revised complaint.
The motion to dismiss calls Steinbuch’s claim “insufficient” and states that “administrative decisions of state agencies are not reviewable.”
“Furthermore, the Commission has no jurisdictional power to make an award for any claim or action which a court would dismiss as a matter of law, [so] this Commission should respect its jurisdictional limits and dismiss Steinbuch’s request,” according to the motion to dismiss. Nor is there an employment contract “entitling Steinbuch to a discretionary appointed professorship”.
Beiner, who originally joined the Bowen School of Law in 1994 and became dean in 2018, “failed to use the donor selection criteria required for the position and erroneously adopted a series of her own substantive criteria, in particular by arbitrarily limiting the period of achievements considered to five years, which obviously benefits candidates without a long history of achievements”, according to Steinbuch’s initial assertion.
“Nominated Chairs are designed to reflect a career of achievement, which inevitably includes the past few years, but are not designed to consider only recent achievement at the expense of considering” applicants’ full records.
“Beiner has filled the only appointed professorship she advertised with a candidate,” Lindsey Gustafson — who has been on the faculty since 1998 and was named Associate Dean for Academic Affairs in 2020 — “who at least obviously and of significantly did not fulfill the requirements for the Arkansas Bar Foundation Chair as well as Steinbuch did, if she [did] at all, which does not appear to be 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 claims in damages. -interests.”
“The crux of the complaint, really, is a breach of contract,” Steinbuch said Tuesday. “I have a job handbook,” which includes the rules for appointed chairs and their standards, “and there are very specific requirements for the Arkansas Bar Foundation chair, but the dean clearly has violated these rules” in this case.
In his candidacy for the position of Arkansas Bar Foundation Professor – which emphasizes excellence in teaching and research in Arkansas law, as well as “meaningful contributions in the service of bench and bar of Arkansas” – Steinbuch cited qualifications such as receiving the faculty’s award for excellence in public service, being the only Fulbright scholar to teach at the faculty, regularly advising and writing legislation for state legislators and litigate public interest lawsuits for free as a practicing attorney in Arkansas.
“I have published extensively on Arkansas law, and I am the sole author of the definitive treatise on [state Freedom of Information Act]which has been cited by the Arkansas Supreme Court in virtually every FOIA case,” he said. “I received ongoing training on FOIA and other legal issues, and appeared regularly in court to clarify the law.
He also practices in state and federal courts, chairs the Arkansas Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission, 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 in 2005, also claims that Beiner — who announced earlier this fall that she would step down as dean effective July 1, 2023 and return to a professorship — unilaterally extended the term. appointed professorship she holds, Emeritus Professor of Law Nadine Baum, for a fifth year.
Appointed Chairs at the Law School are four-year terms for incumbents, although the Dean may extend them beyond four years if “developmental activities generate sufficient additional Appointed Chairs” or if the specific conditions of ‘a donor in the creation of a named chair differ, according to the complaint.
For Beiner, the first non-acting dean of the Bowen School of Law, extending her own appointed chair beyond four years not only violates rules set forth by the law school — no new appointed chair has been created recently, which is a condition for extending an appointed professorship beyond four years for the same incumbent — but it is a conflict of interest, according to Steinbuch.
“It’s remarkable to me that the university doesn’t seem scared of the dean unilaterally extending the term of her own appointed professorship,” given the “conflict of interest,” Steinbuch said. “She can’t do this for anyone, [least of all] himself.”
Carrie Phillips, UALR’s director of communications and marketing, said Tuesday that the university would not comment further at this time, noting “we are unable to comment on pending litigation.”
Also in his filing, Steinbuch said he was discriminated against because of his past disputes with his superiors over the appointment of a professor named after former President Bill Clinton, as well as the long-standing practice of Steinbuch to have guest lecturers for his classes when he observes Jewish holidays.
Although the motion to dismiss portrays Steinbuch as “a serial plaintiff”, he was “a serial winner on his complaints against Beiner” in the two aforementioned cases, as Beiner was “twice taken down for his inappropriate conduct” – by UALR Chancellor Christina Drale in the case of President Clinton’s appointed professorship, and by an academic panel in the case of guest lecturers on Jewish holidays — after Steinbuch complained, according to the response to the motion in rejection.
“These are pretty dramatic results from my ‘serial complaints,'” Steinbuch said. “I’ll take the nickname ‘serial complainant’ if they’re honest and give myself the nickname ‘serial winner’ too.”
The motion to dismiss states that the Claims Commission should strike out sections of the complaint regarding the renaming of the Clinton Chair and Steinbuch’s use of guest speakers on Jewish holidays, as they “do not affect the this complaint”.
“The motive is still relevant,” he said. “I exposed the Dean’s misdeeds, and then I wasn’t given this appointed professorship.”
The Response to the Motion to Dismiss also asserts that Beiner does not have “unfettered discretion” in awarding Nominated Chairs, but rather that it “is bound by the rules for awarding the Nominated Chair.”
In their motion to dismiss, “they say the dean has ‘discretion,’ but that discretion has been abused,” Steinbuch said.