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Law School Dean's $5 Million Retirement Payout

January 8, 2020

John F. O'Brien has been dean of New England Law, a freestanding law school, since 1988. The compensation package he'll receive after retiring later this year will be worth at least $5.3 million, The Boston Globe reported.

New England Law reported O'Brien's scheduled retirement package in its 2018 federal tax filing. His total annual compensation that year was roughly $800,000. The law school said the retirement package, which would vest this year, would be worth an estimated $4,048,000. O'Brien also would qualify for payments for unused sabbaticals, which would be worth roughly $1.3 million.

The law school said it created the retirement package for O'Brien to recognize his "30-plus years of distinguished service." In the previous year's tax filing, New England Law said that in 2008 a school committee spent four months working on a compensation plan for O'Brien, drawing guidance from independent law and accounting firms.

Critics, however, told the Globe that his compensation was "outrageous" and much too large for a nonelite law school that enrolls 700 students and has had operating deficits in recent years. A spokeswoman for the school told the newspaper that its finances, enrollment and selectivity are improving.

It's not the first time that O'Brien's pay has drawn fire. For example, observers took issue with his $867,000 compensation in 2013, which may have been the largest in the nation for a law school dean.

Scott Brown, a Republican former U.S. senator, will become the law school's dean later this year.

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Paul Fain

Paul Fain, Contributing Editor, came to Inside Higher Ed in September 2011, after a six-year stint covering leadership and finance for The Chronicle of Higher Education. Paul has also worked in higher ed P.R., with Widmeyer Communications, but couldn't stay away from reporting. A former staff writer for C-VILLE Weekly, a newspaper in Charlottesville, Va., Paul has written for The New York Times, Washington City Paper and Mother Jones. He's won a few journalism awards, including one for beat reporting from the Education Writers Association and the Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award. Paul got hooked on journalism while working too many hours at The Review, the student newspaper at the University of Delaware, where he earned a degree in political science in 1996. A native of Dayton, Ohio, and a long-suffering fan of the Cincinnati Bengals, Fain plays guitar in a band with more possible names than polished songs.

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