UI Faculty Senate committee report recommends more resources for General Counsel’s Office to mitigate risk

According to the latest Faculty Senate administrative review, the General Counsel’s Office Office provides high-quality service to the University of Iowa but is limited by a small staff and tight budget.


Emily Wangen

The Old Capitol is seen on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Editor

A University of Iowa Faculty Senate review committee recently reported that the General Counsel’s Office could benefit from a bigger budget and a greater number of staff members to mitigate risk to the institution in the organization’s latest central-administrative review.

The General Counsel’s Office, which advises and represents the UI in legal matters, provides high-quality legal service to the campus community, and is primarily challenged in areas of inadequate staffing and a lack of resources, according to the Faculty Senate review documents.

“The Office of the General Counsel appreciates the thorough review and is pleased our campus partners value our work,” Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Carroll Reasoner said in a statement.

Compared with peer institutions, the UI General Counsel’s office is not only small in staff but also in pay, the documents read. These disadvantages are offset by the fact that members of the office work in an academic setting that provides for a “good mix” of cases and lacks the pressure of maintaining billable hours common in private law practice, according to the report.

The report added that nearly everyone interviewed from within the office noted its “outstanding” nature, but emphasized that it is indeed understaffed. General Counsel attorneys are often unable to respond to issues in a timely manner, the document reads, especially when there are urgent matters — in turn delaying other important but less urgent matters.

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“It can be challenging for [General Counsel’s Office] staff to keep track of all the active cases in an efficient way,” the document states. “Work often gets completed through heroic efforts by the attorneys and staff.”

The staffing shortage poses a significant institutional risk to the UI, the review reports — particularly because of the increasing volume and complexity of the work.

The review committee recommended that the university provide funding to hire at least two additional attorneys for the General Counsel’s Office, and additional support staff as needed.

According to the Faculty Senate review, the General Counsel 0ffice’s annual budget is $1,567,463 and has not changed in two years, and increased by just 1 percent in the two years prior.

Under the UI’s new collegiate-economic analysis budget model introduced in 2017, the General Counsel’s office could increase its budget by state-appropriation or tuition-revenue allocations, or the office could request increased funding to fulfill specific needs, the review documents report.

Because of their service on various campus committees, General Counsel attorneys participate in ongoing legal-education activities so that they can learn and specialize in specific areas of law, the review states. Time constraints and the office’s tight budget, however, limit these activities.

“Because legal issues faced in higher education are highly complex and change rapidly, and they pose a high level of risk to the university, it is critical that … attorneys have access to sufficient ongoing legal training,” the documents read.

The Faculty Senate committee stated in its review that interviewees in the General Counsel’s Office emphasized that the UI — as a public research university with a large medical center — is regulated by “highly complex” compliance requirements. Because these requirements are constantly changing, it can be difficult for General Counsel attorneys to keep up.

To avoid negative outcomes of compliance-violation risk such as lawsuit, monetary risk, or the university’s reputation, the review committee recommended that the university consider the creation of a centralized Office of Compliance.

In an email to The Daily Iowan, review committee chair and UI internal medicine Professor Pete Snyder said the review found Reasoner to provide exceptional leadership to the office and be a vital member of the campus community.

“The main message of the review is that the Office of the General Counsel provides outstanding legal representation for the university,” Snyder said. “The attorneys and legal assistant are very talented and have developed strong trusting relationships with their clients.”

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The review of the General Counsel’s Office is part of an ongoing effort by the Faculty Senate to regularly review central-administrative units on the UI campus. The last review of the General Counsel was completed in 2004.

UI Faculty Senate President Daack-Hirsch said she feels the Faculty Senate is doing well in keeping up with its calendar for the reviews, considering each must be done during the academic year and members of the review committees are balancing those responsibilities with other things.

“Our goal is to have two done an academic year,” Daack-Hirsch said. “Some of them take longer than we anticipated … You don’t know exactly what you’re going to do until you get the self-study [from the unit] and then from the self-study the committee forms a plan.”

In terms of review results, Daack-Hirsch said faculty aim to be facilitative in its observation and make constructive recommendations.

Daack-Hirsch added that she expects the next central-administrative review, of the Vice President for Medical Affairs’ Office, to be completed by the end of this academic year.

“We’re looking to understand how these offices work and support the things that faculty do,” Daack-Hirsch said.

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