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New Book by Lou Guard Unveils the Intensifying Legal Landscape in Higher Education
Lou Guard at the podium speaking

A groundbreaking new book by Lou Guard ’12, adjunct professor at Cornell Law School, and Joyce Jacobsen, former president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, grapples with the unprecedented legal challenges that have reshaped university governance and administrative strategies in recent years. On April 15, members of the Cornell Law community gathered in the MacDonald Moot Court Room for a thought-provoking discussion that marked the release of All the Campus Lawyers: Litigation, Regulation, and the New Era of Higher Education.

Moderated by Kristen Underhill, associate dean for faculty research at Cornell Law School, the event featured a distinguished panel that included David Wippman, president of Hamilton College; Barbara A. Lee, editor of the Journal of College and University Law and distinguished professor at Rutgers University; and Risa Lieberwitz, professor of labor and employment law at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The ensuing discussion among the panelists underscored the critical role of legal counsel in steering educational institutions through an era of heightened regulatory and litigation pressures.

Lou Guard, vice president and general counsel of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, shared his insights and motivations behind the creation of the book. “Most of the headline news coming out of higher education is related to the law or to some explicit or underlying legal issue in some way,” said Guard. “We argue that in the past ten to fifteen years this has grown in intensity.”  By highlighting these trends, he aims to foster a greater understanding and proactive management of legal issues within higher education, encouraging a broader dialogue among stakeholders to better anticipate and respond to these challenges. “If there’s one thing that I want to do in the book, it’s to open up a discourse and to broaden this,” he said. “I want to get these conversations going.”

Barbara A. Lee delved into the evolution of the university legal counsel’s role, discussing the balancing act required to navigate a complex array of civil rights, free speech, and employment law challenges, while still fostering an environment conducive to education and inquiry. Her insights emphasized the critical importance of legal strategies that support rather than undermine the foundational values of higher education.

“This book is an honest assessment and description of the role of general counsel [in higher education] and it could not have come at a better time,” said Lee. “The university counsel is right smack in the middle of all of these difficulties and they have to deal with more issues than ever and not just in numbers but in complexity. To call this book timely is a huge understatement.”

Risa Lieberwitz emphasized the balance between preemptive legal strategies and their potential to either support or undermine the educational mission, highlighting the constant challenge faced in aligning legal actions with institutional values.

“This contradiction between the prevention of problems and addressing risks ahead of time and not interfering with or undermining the mission, there’s the rub,” said Lieberwitz.  “We know that this danger of this contradiction is true in times of heightened tension as we’ve been experiencing over the past six months and as my colleagues have referred to. But this danger is also true at other perhaps calmer times where higher education institutions adopt policies and practices that serve goals that undermine the public mission of higher education institutions.”

David Wippman, brought a unique administrative perspective to the panel, illuminating the tangible impacts of the “lawyerization” of higher education as discussed in the book. Reflecting on his experiences, Wippman highlighted the shift towards legal and regulatory frameworks that now dictate many aspects of university operation. “The lawyerization that the book talks about and that it chronicles so effectively is real,” Wippman remarked, emphasizing the increasing legal entanglements that command his daily attention as a college president. He shared how this evolution has necessitated a strategic realignment at Hamilton College, where legal considerations now permeate decisions once made primarily on educational grounds. His insights underlined the practical challenges and the necessity for adaptive legal strategies that can safeguard institutional values while complying with burgeoning legal requirements.

All the Campus Lawyers provides a vital, up-to-date assessment of the impact of legal concerns on higher education and is a crucial resource for university administrators, legal counsel, and policymakers engaged in the academic sector.

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