College to hire in-house attorney

Three on-campus interviews were held last week to evaluate final candidates for the position of general counsel. Once hired, the general counsel will act as an in-house attorney for the College.

According to College President R. Barbara Gitenstein, the funding for this cabinet-level position became available after the restructuring of various administrative offices, including the Division of Student affairs (formerly the Division of Student Life).

During the restructuring, the responsibilities of formerly separate offices were merged. Gitenstein said this allowed funding to be redirected elsewhere, including toward the creation of the general counsel position.

“We’ve been asking these questions forever,” Gitenstein said, referring to the various questions posed by College administrators to the three candidates. She said the general counsel position is commonplace throughout institutions of higher learning. She also said that in the past, the College has relied on the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General for legal advice.

Gitenstein said although the Attorney General has been helpful, the office is both “understaffed” and tasked with the broad and time-consuming occupation of managing the state’s legal affairs.

“The Attorney General is representing both the state and us,” she said, adding that with an in-house counsel, “there’s only one client – it’s us.” Once hired, the general counsel will provide legal advice on a wide gamut of issues including labor and construction contracts, immigration issues, academic policy, risk management and campus safety.

Thomas Mahoney, current deputy general counsel at Villanova University, was the first general counsel candidate to visit the College. His interview, which took place on Sept. 24, was moderated by Curt Heuring, vice president of Facilities Management, Construction and Safety.

“I really have a broad variety of legal issues that I deal with on a daily basis,” Mahoney said in his opening statement. “These issues include compliance, intellectual property, risk management and human resources.

Magda Manetas, associate vice president for Student Services, asked whether Mahoney had any experience with risk management pertaining to student-run events. Mahoney said risk can be managed in these situations by requiring proof of insurance and by determining speech code appropriateness.

The second interview, held for Brian Nelson, current associate general counsel and executive director at the University of Houston, took place the same day as the Mahoney interview. Nelson said a major challenge faced by public institutions is compliance with state regulations. Compliance issues include student privacy, the Americans with Disabilities Act and financial management of the College.

“Compliance is a major focus in any institution,” Nelson said.

Susan Albertine, Dean of the School of Culture and Society, asked Nelson what advice he would offer regarding the formation of a formal grade complaint policy.

“Once you have a policy, you have to be consistent,” he said. Nelson also said the policy must be “clear and upfront with its presentation.”

Nancy Williamson, current assistant vice president and deputy general counsel at the University of Maryland University College, was the third candidate to be interviewed.

“During my eight years, I’ve handled a wide variety of legal matters,” Williamson said. These matters have included employment, contractual negotiations, equal opportunity and student issues.

During the interview, Lynette Harris, director of Community Standards, asked Williamson what she thought some of the “hot topics” in higher education are today.

“I think the largest issue affecting higher education today is campus security and safety,” Williamson said.

Williamson said she “loved everything about the College.”

“It sounds like a really great place to be.”